Breaking from previous scholarship on Korean shamanism, which focuses on mansin of mainland Korea, The Shaman’s Wages offers the first in-depth study of simbang, hereditary shamans on Cheju Island off the peninsula’s southwest coast. In this engaging ethnography enriched by extensive historical research, Kyoim Yun explores the prevalent and persistent ambivalence toward practitioners, whose services have long been sought out yet derided as wasteful by anti-shaman commentators and occasionally by their clients.
Intrigued by discord between simbang and their clients over fee negotiations, Yun set out to learn the deep-rooted legacy of condemning or trivializing the practitioners’ self-interests, from a neo-Confucian governor’s purge of shrines during the Chosŏn dynasty to the recent transformation of a community ritual into a practice recognized through UNESCO World Heritage status. Drawing on a wealth of firsthand observations, she shows how simbang distinguish ritual exchanges from more mundane instances of bartering, purchasing, bribing, and gift giving and explains why ritual affairs are nonetheless inevitably thorny. This original study illuminates the intertwining of religion and economy in shamanic practice on Cheju Island.
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