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Muism (Mugyo, "religion of Mu") also known as Korean shamanism or Shinism (Shingyo or 신교, "religion of the gods", with shin being the Korean character derivative of the Chinese shen, is an ancient religion originating from Korea that believes in a spirit world full of gods, spirits, and ghosts. Much of Mugyo is often associated with Confucian beliefs; after the Korean War, Muism as a religion has faded, but it is so engraved into Korean culture that many of its traditions are kept. There are also many myths and legends about how the 'Creation' came to be, but they are now mostly old folktales that are taught to children. It is unsurprising that, from an outsider’s perspective, most of Muism is more superstition rather than religion. It is also often confused with Shintoism.
A Muist shaman is known as a mudang (무당, 巫堂). The mudang, who is usually a woman, acts as an intercessor between a deity and humans. The first 8 mudang were born to a mother goddess associated with a mountain, the myth varies by region and in the most popular version she is a princess revered for her healing powers. Some archaeologists believe that she is based of an older paleolithic mother goddess depicted in neolithic Venus Figurines like those seen elsewhere around the world.
There are three elements in the Muist sacrificial ritual, or gut: the spirits from whom a favor is sought, the client who seeks to obtain the favor, and the mudang who makes the connection possible. The gut is usually held to improve fortunes, cure illnesses by exorcisms, or propitiate local village gods, or to celebrate any number of special ceremonies, such as the birth of a child or the guidance of the spirit of a deceased person.
Types of mudang
There are two main categories of mudang.
- Kangshinmu (강신무; 降神巫) and Seseummu(세습무; 世襲巫)
Kangshinmu must undergo an initiation ceremony, in which she/he enters a state of shinbyeong, which is supposed by believers to be possession by a spirit during the ceremony, often accompanied by pain or mental illness. To be healed, a naerim-gut is held, which serves as the main initiation for the new shaman. There are two types of Kangshinmu.
- The mudang (or paksu if male) is a shaman that can be possessed by a momju (a form of god).
- The myǒngdu can channel the spirits of dead persons instead of the spirit of a god.
The sessǔmu are shamans that descend from a bloodline of shamans; again, they are split into two categories:
- The shimbang, who like the mudang have hereditary rights to summon gods, but unlike the mudang does not become one with the spirit.
- The tang'ol, who have rights to perform ceremonies or the gut to serve or entertain a god.
- Jung Young Lee. Korean Shamanistic Rituals. Mouton De Gruyter, 1981. p.9