The house is sacred. The yard is sacred. The lanes are sacred. The village is sacred. The fields and wooded regions surrounding the village are sacred. The mountain is sacred. The sky and earth below are sacred. The sea is sacred.
This world is sacred—populated with divine beings—gods and ancestor spirits.
Halla Mountain, and the oreum—the famed, volcanic hills that populate the island—are traversed by roving mountain deities engaged in the hunt, the honorable eighteen sons of Baekjuddo. Grandmother and grandfather deities reside in, or near, holy trees—the harubangnang (grandfather trees) and halmangnang (grandmother trees) of village shrines. The Yowang—the Dragon King, the island’s major sea deity—his wives and brethren live in or nearby the sea. Snake deities reside around the village, and in the home. Deities of the higher pantheon reign over each division of the earth, sea and sky. Oral myths, recited by shamans, convey the origin of each such deity, the heroic journey they took to become a godhead. Jeju Island’s polytheistic religion isn’t a form of animism. Objects and the holy trees, found in shrines, aren’t the deity themselves (in most cases), yet there is certainly a sacred designation given to certain trees, places and objects. (I will cover the nature of these sacred objects in later posts)
The Sacred Spheres Intersect
The different sacred spheres—the mountain, the sea, the field, the home— and the god-worship that takes place therein are all part of one system. This is Jeju Island’s muism, its shamanism.
Here is one way in which the sacred spheres find cohesion—through myth-telling during shamanic rituals
Let’s look again at the house deities from POST ONE in context of the island, which is itself a sacred land:
The myths and deities from any one sacred sphere are communicated into the other spheres during the chanted and sung myths performed at shamanic rituals. So, if a ceremony is performed at the seaside and directed to seafaring deities, the land deities and village shrine deities are also included. The gods of the higher pantheon are included, as well, such as the supreme deity—the Sky God or the supreme fertility goddess, Myoungjinguk Grandmother.
So, we shouldn’t envision that the house deities are cut off from the rest of the sacred sphere. Familiarity with the gods from other spheres are reinforced to the members of a household during the recitation of myths during in-house ceremonies. The Sky God’s myth, for instance, is always conveyed at the beginning of ceremonies dedicated to the house gods. Myth-telling brings the other sacred spheres and their gods into the present context in any ritual.
Jeju myths, memorized and recited by shamans, almost always reference other myths in the myth canon. The myths refer to one another in this way during ceremonies, so that a great web of oral mythology, including a great number of deities, is spun before the attendees of a ritual. For the ritual attendee, a total immersion in the symbology of their religion is wrought, though the words spoken, the chanting, the music—and visually. The myth-telling of rituals also involves great lists of ancestors, including heroes from the modern era and other distinguished personalities, recently deceased ancestors of those villagers present at rituals—and gods from the epoch of the early creation of the world.
These recitations of lists and references to great ancestors serve to enthrall the attendees, creating an environment in an initial stage of the ceremony, excitement that will quite possibly notch up into a fervor depending on the mood of the day. Those present, villagers and members of the greater community, or a particular family if it is an in-house ritual, will be presented with a great amount of mythic and cultural symbolism, chanting and drumming, myth-telling, and pageants in which the ritual attendees participate.
During a ceremony dedicated to the house deities, the greater pantheon of gods is brought into the house via myth-telling, pageants, play-acting and symbolism. Still, the house gods remain the central focus of the offering.
Joey Rositano is a writer and visual artist currently based in South Korea. He has produced a documentary on the shamanism of Jeju Island which is available now. See below for more details.
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