If you’ve checked your calendar recently, you might have noticed that last Monday night was a full moon. In fact, it was the first full moon after Seollal (설날), or Lunar New Years , here in Korea, which marks it as the holiday of Daeboreum (대보름). Daeboreum has been traditionally celebrated with a massive bonfire , music, and dancing, making it one of my favorite Korean holidays. In fact, I’ve already posted twice on Daeboreum, with both photos and video of the Gyeongju’s Daeboruem bonfire a few years back, so I won’t say too much here about the holiday itself.
The celebration of Daeboreum has ancient roots among the shamanistic religions of Han cultures, which predated the rise of the Silla, Paekche and Gaya Kingdoms here on the Korean Peninsula. It remained a very important holiday among the rural farming communities for centuries up to S. Korea’s post war drive towards modernization. However, the old ways of “Mugyo” (무교), or Korean Shamanism, haven’t been completely stamped out. But, thanks to sever repression under both Joseon Dynasty and the post-war dictatorships of the 20th century, followers of Mugyo tend to a be a bit shy and secretive about their practices.
One exception to this is on Daeboreum when professional shamans, or “mudang” (무당) as well as lay practitioners hold rituals to honor the local Dangsan Namu (당산나무) . I’ve also posted previously on the Dangsan Namu (or Dang Namu for short), which are old trees typically on the outskirts of farm villages. These trees are traditionally believed to be tutelary protective spirits of the village and can be recognized by their stone alters and unique visual character. There are many legends about the spirits of the Dang Namu, who are not always viewed in a benevolent light. In fact, many of these legends involve calamity befalling those who disrespect or physically harm the Dang Namu, so traditionally it’s been quite important for the welfare of the village that the spirits of the Dangsan Namu be honored properly with the correct ceremonies.
As Daeboruem is one of the most important holidays in Korean Shamanism, it’s often chosen as the time to honor the Dangsan Namu with a “gut” (굿), or shamanistic ceremony. I’ve had a difficult time finding much in English on the rituals honoring Dangsan Namu. But from what I can make out, the Dangsan Namu and the space around it are wrapped with “geumjul” (금줄),or specially woven straw ropes in preparation of the ritual. Both the geumjul and the laying of new soil around the Dan Namu create a sacred space for the ritual. The actually ceremony typically involves the group recitation, bowing and supplications before the Dangsan Namu as well as presenting of offerings of food and Korean rice wine. All of this is followed by traditional music and dancing honoring the Dangsan Namu. In fact, a while back I posted photos and video a public ceremony honoring the pair of 500 year old Dangsan Namu gingko trees at the Gyeongju Cultural Center (경주문화원).
Last Monday I noticed that the Dangsan Namu down the block from our house had been wrapped in geumjul in preparation for the Daeboreum ceremony that night. I didn’t feel right about crashing the ceremony for photos this time as it hadn’t been advertised publicly. However, I did drop by earlier in the day to get some photos as the Dang Namu and geumjul struck a lovely pose in an otherwise drab neighborhood. Unfortunately the weather was also quite grey and dreary, so please forgive me if I’ve over processed the pictures a bit. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this small glimpse into Korean folk religion. If you’re interested in reading more about Dangsan Namu, check out “Folk Religion: The Customs of Korea” by Choi Joon-shik or “The Dangsan Tree: Photo Journal of a Vanishing Korean Culture” by Oh Sang-jo.