This dissertation shows how contemporary Korean shamanism (musok ) continues to flourish in a hyper technological society, thanks to various adjustments and innovations in the material culture that supports this religious practice.
It was often thought that with the advent of technology and modernity mystic experiences and animistic practices would become extinct while giving way to scientific approaches to life. However, in contemporary South Korea, fast technological progress co-exists with traditions of direct communication with multitudes of gods and spirits. Such communication is enabled by several hundred thousands of professional mediators, mostly women called manshin, who perform possession-trance techniques.
In the process of mediating between people and supernatural entities many objects are deemed indispensable. Costly offerings of food, drink, animals, and decoration are displayed on elaborate altars, and manshin's bodies attract spirits and gods to possess them by wearing symbolic outfits. In musok worldviews, not only humans enjoy beautiful artifacts, tasty meals, and festive dance and song. Manshin are therefore engaged in a reciprocal relationship in which they provide respectful and amusing rituals and in return receive supernatural help in divining the future, healing the sick, and preventing misfortunes.
This investigation of the material aspects of musok is based on a year of fieldwork and analysis of historical photographs. During the research, interviews and participant observations of musok practitioners, artists, art dealers, museum curators, collectors, media people, and scholars were conducted in order to review the topic from a holistic perspective. The findings unfolds a wealth of information on how commodification, the penetration of digital media, and a national need for indigenous culture displays are the main processes that drive the production, use, circulation, and exhibition of musok artifacts in South Korea. The various chapters discuss specific rituals and entities, representations of the supernatural in artifacts, and recontextualization of musok in museums, collections, and digital media.
This research suggests that musok material culture is designed and used in discursive contexts where cultural identities, meanings, and values are created, maintained, and manipulated by various agencies and people who work to mediate between humans, objects, and supernatural entities.