Sometimes a word comes along that just sums up everything in a simple, compact way.
This week the notion of chakdu came to me booming as "Liberation".
There are many thing that can be said for the Korean shaman tradition of standing high overhead of the crowd barefooted atop the twin rails of two razor sharp chakdu, rice straw cutting blades.
It defied belief that a person wouldn't severely slice through skin when I first heard of it and even saw photographs.
It defied belief the first time I saw a shaman whip one across her bare-skinned arm and inserted along the lip line into the mouth. It defied belief the first and only time I saw and heard them being sharpened. It defied belief when my finger was close enough to feel the sharpness attract my own skin.
Liberation from one's comfort zone while still being a resident of that bunker is exhilarating!
The moment of liberation for me came when I realized that it happened then and on subsequent occasions, both watching in the "audience" and then even as a confidant of the people who "performed" it in ritual. It happened without needing me to "believe" that it happened, for I did and continue to believe that it can't be done without severe injury, much less, death.
I mentioned what I had seen to an intelligent, sophisticated Korean man once and he just shook his head. "I don't believe," he remarked about the act. "That's just it," I replied. "It does not require you to believe it.
The shaman climbs the tower atop which her assistants have place the twin rails of the assembly of two chakdu with the sharp edges facing upwards like two hands in prayer. She carefully steps one foot after another, steadies herself with tall bamboo poles festooned with ribbons of five colors that echo the colors and fringes of her spirit costume, and then begins to pronounce the gifts from the god she embodies.
She, too, is liberated from the mundane plane and need only to receive the blessings to deliver forth.
Then she gets down, returning to the every-day, and to the blessings needed to get through the every-day.