What Is a Mudang?

Most mudang were (and are) women, but some men dress in women's clothing and become mudang, too.
A wax model of a mudang, or traditional Korean shaman and healer. skinnylawyer on Flickr.com

Mudang: A shaman, usually female, in Korean traditional indigenous religion.

A mudang would perform ceremonies called gut in local villages, to cure illness, bring good luck or a bountiful harvest, banish evil spirits or demons, and ask favors of the gods. After a death, the mudang could also help the soul of the departed find the path to heaven. Mudang communicate with ancestral spirits, nature spirits, and other supernatural forces.

There are two varieties of mudang: kangshinmu, who become shamans through training and then spiritual possession by a god, and seseummu, who receive their power through heredity. In both cases, the mudang is initiated after a process called shinbyeong, or "spirit sickness."

Shinbyeong often includes a sudden loss of appetite, physical weakness, hallucinations, and communication with the spirits or gods. The only cure for shinbyeong is the initiation rite, or gangshinje, in which the mudang accepts into her body the spirit that will bring her shamanist powers.

The belief system associated with mudang is called Muism, and it shares striking similarities with the shamanist practices of Mongolian and Siberian peoples. Although mudang were powerful and generally practiced helpful medicine or magic, the shamans were confined to the chonmin or slave caste, along with beggars and gisaeng (Korean geisha).

Historically, Muism was at its peak during the Silla and Goryeo eras; the highly Confucian Joseon Dynasty was less enthusiastic about mudang (unsurprisingly, given Confucius's negative view of women holding any kind of power).

Beginning in the 19th century, foreign Christian missionaries in Korea strongly discouraged the practice of Muism.

By the mid-20th century, the mass conversion of Koreans to Christianity, and the disapproval of the missionaries drove mudang and their practices underground. Recently, however, mudang are re-emerging as a cultural force in both North and South Korea.

Pronunciation: moo-(T)ANG

Also Known As: sessumu, kangshinmu, myongdu, shimbang, tang'ol

Examples: "Modern-day mudang in South Korea often maintain blogs and advertise their services on web-sites."

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "What Is a Mudang?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-mudang-195367. Szczepanski, Kallie. (2017, February 11). What Is a Mudang? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-mudang-195367 Szczepanski, Kallie. "What Is a Mudang?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-mudang-195367 (accessed October 20, 2017).