There is a village shrine, on the eastern side of Jeju Island, which is very significant in shrine cosmology. This is the shrine, situated in Songdang-ri, where the goddess Baekjuddo or Geumbaekju/Geumbaekjo resides. It is natural that we explore Jeju shrines starting here.
Baekjuddo (ddo or tto signifies a particularly powerful deity) is the mother of eighteen of the island’s prominent shrine gods. She, and her husband Seocheonguk, are the primary progenitors of a great number of the island’s major shrine deities. Being that there are hundreds of shrines occupied by gods on Jeju, the couple’s offspring only make up a minor proportion of the totality of shrine deities. Shamans often talk about classes of shrine gods—those that come from Jeju natively, those that come from abroad, those that miraculously appeared—and a final category—Baekjuddo and Seocheonguk’s descendants.
Baekjuddo is certainly seen, these days, as the highest shrine goddess. People consider Songdang, the village where she and Seocheonguk reside, to be a holy site. Baekjuddo’s altar in Songdang, along with the altars of the couple’s eighteen sons, are a prominent feature in the island’s sacred landscape.
Baekjuddo is a pure, ascetic, and hard-working goddess. People come before her altar with an immense feeling of jungseong or spiritual purity. Twice a year, on village festival days, when shamanic ceremonies are held in the shrine, members of the larger island community visit the shrine to pay tribute to Baekjuddo. Still, it is the local residents of Songdang, along with their head shaman, who plan ceremonies and take care of the upkeep of the shrine. Although, the goddess is known all over Jeju, she still functions locally as the goddess who rules specifically over her own village. If we look at the shrine dieties as functioning in an almost bureaucratic manner when it comes to bookkeeping, we can see Baekjuddo as the head bureaucrat. For instance, when someone dies in a distant village, word of their death is spread across the island by spirit messengers until it reaches her. It is she who reports directly to the supreme deity, the Sky God, who will send for the messenger gods, the psychopomps who finally come to retrieve the soul.
Baekjuddo is an agriculturist, opposite her husband, who is a hunter. She is theorised by some to be the representative originator of agricultural practice on Jeju Island, bringing her knowledge with her from the foreign land she was once exiled from. The village of Songdang could be seen as a physical embodiment of the spot where two cultures, a native hunter-gatherer one and an outside agricultural one, came together. The myth of Baekjuddo and Seocheonguk certainly highlight both agriculture and hunting. While presently most offerings made to shrine deities are from farming practices, there was a time when hunted game was offered to the gods in shrines. Baekjuddo herself, receives vegetarian fare as tribute, except for fish which features prominently on her altar during ceremonies.
In the current era, Baekjuddo’s larger public ceremonies are conducted with much fanfare. The goddess is a major symbol in Jeju Island’s cultural milieu.
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