Spirit Possession in Korean Shaman rituals of the Hwanghaedo-Tradition

  • Dirk - Schlottmann
Keywords: Korean Shamanism, spirit possession, incorporation, ritual, social anthropology


The Cartesian view of the world influenced anthropological studies of ritual and spirituality. Spirit possession studies in particular suffer from this Western idiosyncrasy, because many anthropologists who write about possession argue that possession cults and rituals are “just” traditional performances for treating psychosomatic illness brought about by disharmonies in the social order. A spiritual reality, as perceived by the participants of religious rituals and shamans is in principle excluded. This reduction of the psycho-social aspects of spirit possession ignores a "transcendent reality," where physical and spiritual experiences can be an expression of individual and culturally specific reality. In this article, I analyse the various anthropological perspectives on spirit possession and compare the epistemological approaches on “ritual reality” with the indigenous terminology for states of possession of Korean Hwanghaedo-shamans from Seoul. The Hwanghaedo tradition of Korean shaman is particularly ecstatic and moments of spirit possession exist in many variations. For this reason, the analysis is focused on this tradition.