For this ethnographic field study, each member of our group prepared interview questions which are related to the things that we would like to find out from experts. We have visited and interviewed two Korean shamans in Duluth Georgia and two mental health faculties at Emory University. Each member of our group had also researched the background and published literature of these two cultures and familiarized ourselves with it so that we are able to compare and contrast the perspectives on cross-cultural trance and passion disorder.
Finally we have created and distributed surveys to both Korean and non-Korean Emory undergraduate students. The first interviewee that we met was Junghaebosal, a Korean shaman who emigrated from Korea a few years ago. Compared from the other interviewees, we had a much easier access to interview her since we already interviewed her last year for our other project. Because of that, we were able to perform structure interview with our prepared questions that each member of our group wanted to ask. We were lucky enough that she told us her life story of being a shaman as well as her personal experiences like when being possessed.
She also shared to us her perspectives on trance and possession disorder. Junghaebosal is the highest level of mudang (Korean shaman) who worships Chunshin. There are three different levels of mudangs and since Junghaebosal is the highest level, she has abilities to see, call, and exorcise spirits. Usually the other two lower levels of mudangs also have abilities to see and call spirits, but they have weaker spirit to perform gut (exorcising spirits) and therefore there are chances that gut could be imperfect.
Since Junghaebosal was able to posse chunshin spirits, she was able to tell us her experiences and how it feels like when possessed. She exactly remembered her first experience of possession. Although she had visions and dreams that foreseen the future since 19 years old, her first actual possession happened at age of 30. The first few years of her marriage seemed to be better than anything else in the world however, her entire family started to collapse one by one. For example her husband’s business went bankrupt and then her father-in-law died soon after.
When her father-in-law died, she passed out from crying too much. She explained that when she passed out, although hard to explain, she was conscious and was able to listen to what the people are saying but she can not move at all. She described it as if she was playing on the sky looking down at her self. When she returned to normal consciousness after several hours, she began to struggle from sickness without a cause for a long time. Because of that incident, she decided to visit a temple near her house and bow so that she can wish herself a good health.
Instead of feeling better, she suddenly could not stop crying and she began to clap. She could not move her hands voluntarily and could not control her body to the extent of running around the temple. She did not know what she was doing but she knew already that her body was no longer in her control. It was her first time being possessed. Although Junghaebosal’s shinbyung did not last long because she decided to accept her destiny as a mudang, she still went through almost all of shinbyung symptoms that we mentioned earlier.
When we asked Junghaebosal’s opinion on Shinbyung, she said “Shinbyung is something that cannot be cured by any and all kinds of modern medical practices” and “a disease caused by a spirit can only be cured by a spirit”. In other words, no person can cure Shinbyung, not even doctors or any kind of medicine no matter where they came from for only shamans or religiously trained persons who have strong spirits that come from god can do. (For example, pastor, monk etc) While we were performing this project, we faced several difficulties.
First was the financial issue. Since there are not many Korean shamans in Atlanta, the cost of seeing shaman is fairly expensive. Each of us had to spend $50 on each mudang regardless of being clients or conducting interviews. Also there were some difficulties in the interview proper. As mentioned earlier, the second shaman we met wanted to remain anonymous. Ever since Korean Christian community got bigger and bigger in Georgia, a number of people looked down on mudang due to their religious belief.
As a result, some mudangs did not want to be interviewed or if they will agree to be interviewed, they wanted to be anonymous. Interview refusals also happened among Emory faculties. Although we tried to gather as many different perspectives from different fields among mental health experts, we have only heard back from two faculties. Most refusal answers were because the interview study was not their specialized area of study and that they did not want to give us faulty answers.