The Sea God Demands an Exorcism

Did you know a Shaman exorcism has dancing, singing, music and booze?

When I think of an exorcism, I think of someone strapped to a bed with a priest splashing holy water on their body.

In South Korea, it’s anything but!

An overhead view of the ceremony that preceded the gut
An overhead view of the ceremony that preceded the gut

. . .

What is Korean Shamanism?

Korean Shamanism is a fusion of numerous traditional religions that strive to resolve our earthly problems by uniting humans and spirits.

By holding a gut (religious ceremony), devotees hope to gain fortune, cure illness, change their luck or appease a local God.

A prayer during the gut dedicated to the Dragon King of South Korea
A prayer during the gut dedicated to the Dragon King of South Korea

. . .

A Gut for the Dragon King/Sea God

For Shamanistic fishermen in Yeonggwang-Gun, South Korea, keeping the Dragon King appeased is of utmost importance.

Sometimes called the Sea God, he demands an annual exorcism ritual known as the Seohaean Baeyeonsingut.

Through prayers, offerings, song, dance, music and booze, the town hopes to ensure a prosperous year of fishing.

The Dragon King also controls the rain; so, farmers yearning for a drought-free summer also have a vested interest in the gut.

This is where we came in.

A Mudang prays to the Dragon King during a gut
A Mudang prays to the Dragon King during a gut

. . .

A Gut on a Boat

Courtesy of National Geographic Channel, Jesse and I found ourselves in the middle of this traditional, local and exclusive gut.

Jesse and I being fed by our new local friends
Jesse and I being fed by our new local friends

While waiting to board, we joined a densely-packed line of locals and were immediately welcomed into a picnic.

Before we could sit, our new friends were chopstick-feeding us traditional Korean seafood pancakes while pouring soju shots for all.

Saying no was not an option; even if there was a long day of filming ahead.

. . .

After saying goodbye, I realized just how lucky Jesse and I were. While they would watch the gut from a neighboring boat, we were on our way to the main vessel alongside the mayor.


Our boat was the main one with the flags. Most other people would board one of the boats to the left
Our boat was the main one with the flags. Most other people would board one of the boats to the left

. . .

Traditional Korean Farmer’s Music

As Jesse and I boarded, we were greeted by a group of costumed dancers and musicians performing pungmul: a Korean folk tradition often known as “farmer’s music.”

Also called pyeongtaek nongak, this non-religious custom is meant to lift everyone’s spirits before the serious ceremony begins.

I’ll be honest; at first I thought they were the main event and that a gut was going to be the best religious event ever! In the end, I wasn’t far off.

. . .

A closeup of the Nongak's drums, which are called Jang Goo and book in Korean
A closeup of the Nongak’s drums, which are called Jang Goo and book in Korean

. . .

The Jae Sa Ceremony

Before the gut, robed Shaman holy men took turns making offerings to the Dragon King as part of the Jae Sa Ceremony.

One-by-one, they went up to the alter, knelt, said a prayer, took a shot of booze, stood up, bowed, knelt again, said another prayer and got back in line.

Once the holy men were finished, they invited local dignitaries to make their own offering to the Sea God.

This often involved depositing an envelope of money into a severed pig’s head.

The Jae Sa ritual comes right before the Shamanistic Gut ceremony
The Jae Sa ritual comes right before the Shamanistic Gut ceremony

. . .

Now It’s Our Turn

I was in my own world during the Jae Sa ceremony; snapping a million photos and trying to take it all in.

Then, as the ceremony began to wind down, I looked over and saw Hyejung, our director, waving at me.

Jesse and I had been invited to take part in this ancient ritual. 

An overwhelming feeling of honor filled my heart as we walked past the holy men and up to the alter.

With every camera now pointed at me, we performed the ceremony and were showered with smiles and praise for a “job well done.”

No one else had received a similar affirmation, which just made the moment that much more special.

Jesse and I take part in the religious ceremony
Jesse and I take part in the religious ceremony

Dignitaries put envelopes of money in this pig's mouth as an offering to the Dragon King
Dignitaries put envelopes of money in this pig’s mouth as an offering to the Dragon King

. . .

What About the Gut?

… and the Cow’s Head?

… …and the Afterparty?

It’s all in Part II, which you can read here!

. . .