Now, let’s turn to how the Chilseong serpent deities are worshipped.
The Chilseong deities are worshipped in a variety of larger ceremonies dedicated to the islands’ highest order of gods. These gods include the House Deities, such as the Door God and the Hearth Goddess that we have already discussed. You might find a table set for An-chilseong, the indoor snake deity who guards the pantry, for instance, during a house blessing or during a Dotchae—a ceremony held on the eastern side of the island in which a large sacrifice is made in the home, and sometimes as a public event. These deites can be feted, and their myth recited or referenced during a Buldomaji (a blessing for children) or Keun-gut (a type of shamanic ceremony often lasting several days). The myth was recited this past year at the Ipchun Ceremony, a public spring-welcoming ritual dedicated to the agricultural gods. Island residents, who partake in the tradition of chilseong worship, make offerings to An-chilseong and Pat-chilseong in their kitchens and their gardens respectively.
Above photo: To the right, an offering placed atop the kimchi refridgerator for the serpent god, Anchilseong. On the kitchen counter is an offering for the Hearth Goddess, one of the House Deities. A village shimbang (shaman) is performing a ceremony as part of an in-house ceremony.
Offerings to pat-chilseong are less common, it seems, today than in the past, but some people still maintain shrines to the deity in their gardens. In this case, offerings are made according to the ritual calendar. Essentially, a small altar for a snake is constructed in the garden. In the old days, roofing material of straw was used, and these days modern roofing tiles are placed atop a rock structure or earthen pot.
This is my own thought and not something I’ve heard directly for practitioners of shamanism, but I’d like to add that, to me, it seems like work ethic is also reinforced by the practice of honoring and fetishizing the serpent deities. This intuition comes from the various times I have encountered houses in Jeju villages that still have intact chilseong shrines.
In the yards of such homes, garden patches tend to be extremely well-cared for and perfectly groomed. I imagine that the act of ritualizing the space of the garden, by introducing and maintaining a religious shrine, help create a compulsion to maintain a clean patch, free from pests—a well-tended garden, so that a bountiful harvest is indeed assured. In the garden, ones own labor is also offered up—the agricultural labor thus creating the substance of religious offerings, the grain and other foodstuffs to be placed on the altar of the god.
Garden shrines dedicated to the chil-seong god of the garden are increasingly rare, but that doesn’t mean the chilseong serpent deites are being forgotten. Conversely, they are represented in shamanic ceremonies all over the island, including ceremonies that aren’t specifically dedicated to them. A representational table can also be set for offerings dedicated to the garden chilseong god inside the home.
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, below for more details.
Help support the project!
Spirits the documentary is now available on gumroad for download for $5. Follow the link below and you will arrive.
Limited amount of Spirits: The Story of Jeju Island’s Shamanic Shrines photo books left! Also available on gumroad.