• Dr Anne Hilty is a scholar-practitioner of health psychology from New York, living in Europe and East Asia since 2005. She has been in clinical practice since 1989 and engages in a variety of research projects for social welfare and cultural preservation. Additionally, she is a well-published writer.

  • ArirangTV video clip

    Profile of Dr. Hilty by Arirang TV, on Youtube (June 2012): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RHfOy0fHo4
  • Headline Jeju article

    Profile of Dr. Hilty on Headline Jeju newspaper (January 2011; Korean only): http://www.headlinejeju.co.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=107569

The Passing of a Jeju Grand Shaman

[My article, reprinted from Jeju Weekly]

The Passing of a Grand Shaman

Lee Jung Chun, 82, was one of only three Keun Simbang on the island

Memorial altar. Photo courtesy Hong Sunyoung.

One of the Grand Shamans of Jeju has died.

Lee Jung Chun, 82, was designated by Jeju Provincial Government’s Cultural Policy Division as a ‘Keun Simbang’ or Grand Shaman, one of only three in Jeju.

He was also designated as Jeju Intangible Cultural Asset No. 2 (1971) for the ‘Yeongnam Nori’ exorcism rite, and as Jeju Intangible Cultural Asset No. 13 (2001) for the ‘Sin Gut’ or Great Exorcism rite.

As Grand Shaman, he was in the company of Yang Chang Bo, 80, and Kim Yoon Su, 66, who remain.

Lee lived in Haengwon Village, Gujwa District, for a majority of his life. Three years ago, following a ritual he facilitated in Japan and where he frequently traveled, Lee had a stroke and remained in poor health for his final three years.

The ‘Keun Gut’ or Grand Ritual was held to facilitate the passing of his spirit. In attendance, in addition to family members and shamans, were researchers, archivists, and devotees.

This ritual historically took place over 15 days but is rarely held today; Lee’s ‘Keun Gut’ spanned five days, each day’s rites lasting approximately 12 hours.

Lee was also the ‘mein-simbang’ or primary shaman and keeper of the Haengwon Bonhyang Dang (shrine). He has no hereditary successor as neither his son nor daughter became a shaman.

Suh Sun Sil. Photo courtesy Hong Sunyoung.

He therefore bequeathed the keeping of the shrine to Suh Sun Sil, 51, a senior shaman from nearby Gimnyeong Village and Lee’s disciple for 24 years. Seven days prior to his death, Lee reported that Suh’s mother, Grand Shaman Yeo Deuli Eomeong now deceased, had visited him in his dreams.

From a maternal line of shamans stretching back 25 generations and a shaman father as well, Lee assumed the role at the age of 24. He inherited his home altar or ‘dang gugeon’ from his mother; it was ritually dismantled by Suh and other shamans at the end of the Keun Gut, as the dang gugeon is only passed to hereditary successors.

The three tools of his profession – the paper-ribboned knives, divination coins, and rainbow-ribboned bell known collectively as ‘mengdu’ or ‘josang’ — would also normally have been bequeathed to an hereditary successor, but instead they were donated by the family to the National Folk Museum and delivered there by Suh.

Suh was a primary facilitator of Lee’s Keun Gut. Many other shamans from across Jeju Island participated as well.

The five-day ritual proceeded through several stages. An elaborate memorial altar was constructed in Lee’s home for this purpose, in addition to his dang gugeon, and ritual altars were built each day in the courtyard where the rites primarily took place.

The first day’s ritual was held at the shrine, the purpose of which was to inform the shrine’s spirits that the keeper of that shrine had died and that a new shaman, Suh, would soon take his place.

In actuality, the shrine has been maintained neither by Lee nor anyone for the past three years, due to his illness.

On Day 4, a two-part, 12-hour ritual known as ‘Jilchiga’ took place. The name of the ritual translates as ‘Preparing the Way’ and refers to the facilitation of the deceased’s passing to the spirit world.

Ko Bok Ja. Photo courtesy of Hong Sunyoung.

Elder Shaman Ko Bok Ja energetically performed the first portion of the ritual over the course of six hours. During this time, a series of 15 gates was constructed before the altar, and the ritual culminated in the family covering these gates with layers of textile, paper, and money tied with ribbon. Each element was symbolic of the journey to the afterlife.

The primary ‘somi’ or assisting shaman for both phases was Oh Chun Ok, also a Skill Holder for the Yeonggam Nori rite. Shamans Kang Sun Seon and Kim Yeong Cheol also assisted.

Suh performed the second part of the Jilchiga, during which she facilitated the family’s mourning as skillfully as a psychologist.

She began by asking them not to restrain themselves but to experience and express their emotions fully. She then spoke eloquently of Lee and her relationship with him as his protege, describing all that he and his teachings had meant to her.

During this time, both Suh and the 30 family members wept openly and vocalized their grieving.

Again, gates were constructed, this time 10 in number and once again lined up in such a way as to create a passage between the ritual’s altar in the courtyard and the memorial and permanent altars in his home.

At the conclusion of each such gate construction and following prayers and bows by the family, the gates were dismantled one by one, symbolizing the spirit’s moving toward the afterlife in stages, and were ultimately burned in a bonfire to send the gates to the world of spirit.

The rites throughout the five-day Keun Gut included the honoring of seven significant shaman ancestors and the acknowledgment of Lee’s descendents.

Another feature common to all stages was the release of the deceased’s spirit from this world and the facilitation of passage to the afterlife.

Each shaman also served as a medium, allowing spirits – of the ancestors, the deceased, and others – to communicate through them to the living. In animated exchange, family members asked questions and sought the spirits’ counsel.

And in this way, Jeju family lines continue.

Lee’s passing will be mourned. But he will not be forgotten. His legacy – in his family, and to the shamanic community – will carry on.

[For more information regarding Jeju’s funeral customs, see the author’s three-part series, “The End of a Life.”]

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