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Kut: Happiness through Reciprocity

by Hyun-key Kim Hogarth

size: 169*242mm, 264pages. publisher: Akademiai Kiado, Budapest (distribution: Myongwhasa), 1999.

About this book

Shamanistic practices have more or less disappeared in many societies, rejected and scorned by 'rationalized' people. However, in Korea, a modern nation state, emerging as one of the world's greatest trading nations, shamanistic rituals, called kut, show no signs of receding into oblivion. This book is an attempt to unravel the mystery of its persistence in rapidly industrializing Korea.
Korean shamanism, called musok, reflects the centuries of Korean culture, society and its ethos. Kut is based on the principle underpinning all social interactions in Korean society, i.e. reciprocity.
The participants in kut are back in the Eliadean primordial paradisiac age, when gods and humans freely comunicated with one another. Analysis of the three groups of the participants in kut, the shamans, spirits and sponsors, reveals the common denominator among them, i.e. han (grief or grievances).
Thus kut is a festive gathering of mostly troubled beings (both supernatural and human), who exchange gifts of consolation with one another. Through venting and sharing their grief and grievances, all of them experience catharsis, thus achieving 'happiness', which is the ultimate objective of kut, as its etymology suggests.
An implicit faith in the Maussian obligation to reciprocate, therefore, is the essence of Korean shamanism. When faced with inexplicable disasters, beyond modern science and technology, sponsoring kut is a positive move by the sufferer to alleviate the pain and despair. Their belief that the spirits will reciprocate with blessings in return for their gifts gives them confidence and hope, which helps them get over difficult times. The modern Korean people, therefore, will continue to sponsor kut not only for 'the joy of public giving', but also for the solace that their faith in the spirits' obligation to reciprocate brings them.
The author, a Korean-born British social anthropologist, discusses Korean shamanism whit the insight of a native and scientific approach of a trained anthropologist.

About the author

Hyun-key Kim Hogarth received her PhD in social anthropology from the University of Kent at Canterbury, U.K. She has conducted extensive fieldwork among the Korean shamans since 1993, and has published many articles on Korean society and culture in various journals. Her second book entitled Korean Shamanism and Cultural Nationalism is due to be published shortly.
She is currently a research fellow, editor of the Review of Korean Studies and lecturer at the Academy of Korean Studies.

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