TABLE OF CONTENTSKorean Folk Magic Masterpost
(korean gong sounds)Scapegoat Rite
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~What aspects of the culture influence it? What defines it from other folk magic?
Since this is a korean folk magic post, of course korean culture is 100% included within it. You can’t take out korean from korean folk magic. If someone did, they’d have some shade of a torn up bramble. Growing up, the most prevalent culture influence was ancestor veneration (as is pretty typical through China, Korea and Japan) but also traditional medicine. My mother often (and still does, though she doesn’t view it as magic I find it to be a pretty important aspect of our folk magic) dries herbs on newspaper and then grinds it to a powder, minces it, or keeps it whole to add into tea or food. The side effects to a specific herb (e.g. ginseng boosts energy levels) are the main thing to keep in mind. The practice actually works alongside spiritual reasoning. The active ingredients in ginseng helps to influence blood pressure and insulin production, and increase metabolism. As for the spiritual reasoning, ginseng boosts energy because it is said to affect the Gi (기) and is used to treat a “yang” deficiency in the spleen and kidney.
I would say what really defines it from other folk magic I’ve seen is that buddhist/taoist religious views are integrated into cultural views, so you’d probably see a bit about 기 and keeping that in balance. And to do that, one would need to eat something that would help your ailment both physically and spiritually.What differences does it have from European folk magic?
Korean folk magic has a very animist worldview. So, like the Cunning Folk and rootworkers, prayers has its place. Except we prayed to Korean gods (some of which absorbed Buddhas and Bodhisattvas), even Jesus and deities not from the local folklore were included. It is believed that each stone, plant and animal has a spirit. If your life has recently turned to shit, we didn’t think someone would have cursed you (since it was somewhat uncommon). Instead we would use divination to see if it was a spirit that was upset at you causing your troubles to run amok. 80% of the time, it’s because of a spirit. It could be your recently deceased great aunt because she thought she didn’t have a grand enough ceremony for her passing. It could be the roadkill because you didn’t try to *not* run its body over - and if you didn’t have the space on the road to avoid it, the least you could have done is sent it a quick prayer of “Sorry that happened”. Our whole life is filled with our ancestors and other spirits that can help or hinder our day to day.
I would say the main difference I’ve seen is that we would listen to our clients’ problems, figure out if there’s an herbal medicine that we can give them, if we can’t then we will divine if the reason for the problem is because of a spirit. If it IS because of a spirit, we will placate it to leave the client alone. If it isn’t (possibly due to a curse), then we would purify the client and draw them up a 부적 (bujeok - a drawn/written talisman typically on white or yellow paper with red ink. It is said that bad spirits are scared of the color red and even repelled by it) to keep them safe. Whereas Cunningfolk seem to have a lot of saints being called upon, a cleansing would ensue, tobacco smoke seems pretty important, and non-edible items as charms to keep around. And candles, obviously. Just as a really general comparison.What is commonly used?
In traditional medicine, there’s a lot of herbs being used, mostly for teas and powders to add to food. For instance, my mother recently made a dried batch of 도라지 (doraji, Korean bellflower) roots and ground it up into a fine powder. It’s meant to clear the mucous built up in your lungs from a cold and helps a lot with getting rid of coughs. It is, however, pretty bitter so you only want to add a teaspoon to whatever it is you’re drinking (I would highly advise to start with a pinch and go from there). 고추 (gochu, chili pepper powder) is another very important and often used spice. Ginger and ginseng as well (both are very different with different uses). Another important aspect is FOOD. There are ALWAYS side dishes with the main meal (as is typical of a Korean home) and each meal has a “use”. For example, hangovers are said to be cured by eating 콩나물국 (kongnamulguk, soybean sprout soup). If you’re feeling like you’re coming down with a cold (as you can see there’s a lot of ways to combat the cold in a typical Korean home - this is because the climate in Korea can be cold throughout the year, the climate usually being 19 F to 86 F), you can whip up some 삼계탕 (ginseng chicken soup). On a sidenote, it’s a very common belief that if you have a fever, you “need to burn it out of you” with very spicy food and ginger tea. 부적 are also used pretty often, as are other talismans.
SO, in summation, herbs to put into teas and food is most prevalent in korean folk magic to heal and the placation and bribery of spirits and gods to help us get what we want.What is traditional korean magic look like?
This question is phrased a bit awkwardly, so hopefully I’m understanding Anon correctly. Traditionally, during a ritual (for example, 제사 jesa, a ritual or ceremony for venerating one’s ancestors) there will be a pattern of a bunch of fruits, side dishes, rice, 떡 (tteok, rice cakes) and 소주 (soju, korean vodka). There is usually a specific way to do this, depending on the family. All the rituals tend to follow a specific format unless your parents tend to be nontraditional (like my mother) and in that circumstance, the formats are often different from what you’d typically see. It’s also very common for the father and eldest son to take care of specific rituals like 제사 since it was a duty to the family and the family’s ancestors, which usually fell to the man (since Confucianism had quite an effect on Korean society). There will always be candles (typically white to refer to spirits), incense (usually stuck straight up in a bronze urn or bowl), food as offerings (which are eaten by the humans that attended after the ritual because it strengthens the bond between ancestors and the living family). If you’re not referring to specific rituals, on a daily basis, it kind of looks like this: herbs drying on newspaper around the kitchen, containers of whole and minced and powdered herbs and roots, aloe and ginger pots, 부적 around the house, 장승 (jangseung, guardian totem poles) around the yard, 탈 (tal, traditional masks for luck) on a wall. Sometimes, (I know I’m going to have these in my home regardless) a 해태 (haetae, the Korean version of a Foo dog) statue in the home or in the yard to protect from wrong-doers and fire, jade to ensure longevity, prosperity and health. A bunch of different teas. A bunch of candles and incense. What would you call a person who uses Korean folk magic?
I would typically call them 마녀 (manyeo, witch). We incorporate mugyo, sometimes daoism, buddhism (and whatever deities we actively worship) but are not 무당 (mudang, Korean shaman). When a 마녀 is initiated, I would probably call them 만신 (manshin) instead, as 무당 refers to old school Korean shaman traditions and still harbors negative connotations in Korea and in Korean communities in the US. 만신 essentially means ten thousand spirits which refers to the shaman’s ability to be possessed and speak to spirits and acts as a mediary for the humans and spirits. It’s a newer term for 무당 without the negative connotations and because of this, I personally feel it has the ability to incorporate more than muism alone, but incorporates the folk magic aspect better than under the 무당 umbrella as well. Then again, some may simply prefer to be called 마녀 still.Where can one learn more about Korean Folk Magic?
Specifically from a Korean who works with such.
It’s not really a wide spread or known practice like hoodoo, it’s not really published about, it’s not really talked about. Because of the colonialism from the US into South Korea, during recent years (I want to say in the last couple decades) they have been denouncing muism as illogical and “primitive”. It’s only in the last few years that muism has seen a rise in popularity, generally amongst politicians because a mudang’s performances are VERY expensive to pay for all of the offerings and such (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, US-wise) but they’re also popular with teenagers for fortune telling. The colonialism also made Korea one of the top countries to convert to Christianity, and of course the priests and preachers absolutely condemn the traditions.
However, traditional medicine can typically be learned anywhere in books or online. Fairly easy to find, more often than not you’ll read about Chinese Traditional Medicine, and while there are similarities, Korean Traditional Medicine still has some unique techniques.
And obviously, I’ll be open to questions.Do you know of any books that cover Korean Folk Magic? And it doesn’t bother you if a non-korean learns Korean Folk Magic?
There are some books that cover mudangs and Korean shamanism (which is a closed, initiatory tradition). As far as I know, there are no books that cover korean folk magic in all that it entails (e.g. how mugyo beliefs, traditional medicine, and spirits all tie in together to make rituals and spells).
To be honest, I would feel very upset if someone were to attempt to learn korean folk magic from someone who isn’t korean. I mean, this is my whole life. It’s intrinsically tied to how I grew up and is submersed in my culture. My culture is one of the reasons I was bullied and picked on by my white peers in school for as long as I can remember (“Korea isn’t even a real place” - 3rd grade. “I thought Koreans all had perfect skin and looked gorgeous? Are you sure you’re Korean?” - high school. ”-pulls eyes back to ‘look asian’- It’s just a joke!” - elementary, grade, middle, high school AND after. et al)
Just like how some black people feel that non-black people won’t really “get” vodou (and hoodoo, etc). It’s because we grew up around it, constantly surrounded. It’s not something to pick up and learn for fun or just because you’re curious. It’s literally our life.
If someone were learning the language and culture and our history, then I wouldn’t mind if they wanted to learn korean folk magic from a practitioner as well. To me, it already is a part of the word “culture”, specifically my culture. So if you wanted to learn korean folk magic, but weren’t interested in our language or history, I’m going to tell you that there is nothing I can do for you. If you wanted to learn korean folk magic but not from a korean practitioner, it isn't going to be korean folk magic. I'd also take a long hard look at why you specifically want to learn korean folk magic. It's not really an open tradition, it would be very difficult to find a teacher, etc etc.
*Disclaimer: This is how it was practiced in my home with some of it being taught from my ancestors. Not every Korean’s home had folk magic in it (and if it did, it's highly probable it wouldn't look to be the same because it depends on the family), but the aspect of traditional medicine is still very prevalent.
**If I get more questions sent in, I’ll edit this post accordingly.