Sunday, March 5, 2023

Still Wailing After All These Years!: Women of the Wall Part 1

 (Note: This originally ran in Women in Judaism online journal in 2010. Reprinted here for the author's convenience.)

                                                                                                       Praying in Her Own Voice. Directed by Yael Katzir. 
Produced by Dan Katzir, Yael Katzir and Ravit Markus. Color. Video. 60 minutes. 2007. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles.


Reviewed by Lauren W. Deutsch, Los Angeles, California


Still Wailing After All These Years

I first clearly heard women praying at the “women’s section” of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 1971 and learned why it’s Crusader-period nickname, “Wailing Wall”, is so fitting. I’ve never forgotten its ability to be a sounding board for all forms of women’s utterances: mixture of murmurs of requests and thanksgivings, blessings and more blessings, soto voce songs of the soul, diverse mutterings in accents of women of all ages and dress. It was a perfect place to hear Israel’s eternal gift of “Shema!” Rather than serving to separate one Jew from another, as does the mechitza [i]in traditional synagogues where these physical barriers (curtains, walls, windows) partition men from women, the Kotel is itself a unique mechitza, one that serves to unite all Jews in time and space at this undisputed holy place.

How troubling it is, then, that in the name of the Wall, groups of Jews are fighting bitterly against each other for the right to honor the God of Sarah, Leah, Rachel and Rebecca and their husbands, our patriarchs, through prayer and reading sacred text. Yet, on December 1, 1988, a group of Jewish women, wrapped in talitot and some with teffilin, seeking merely to pray and read from a sefer Torah scroll, so deeply offended the sensibilities of frumm, dare I say ultra-orthodox Jewish men and women, that the fray drew out riot police, has become a significant challenge to Israel’s Supreme Court, and has become cause celébre for Jews at home and in the Diaspora, to vocally condemn the “ultra-orthodox” for their exclusionary hold on religious affairs.  

Yael Katzir’s film Praying in Her Own Voice, which premiered at the 2007 DocAviv Film Festival in Israel and in the USA at the 2008 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, documents two years of the still-ongoing patient, persistent struggle, by the determined self-proclaimed “Women of the Wall”, Neshot haKotel. Not merely a film vérité about the latest clash between contemporary Jewish lifestyles, the film – is an unapologetic propaganda tool to promote the concerns of Women of the Wall, now a full-fledged organization with a Facebook page and website as well as an international support group in the Diaspora. Anyone in Israel and out (through photos on Facebook) is invited to participate in the effort on Rosh Chodesh, monthly celebration of the new moon, to simply pray in talit, holding Torah, and, worst of all, praying aloud. As recent as July 12, 2010, Anat Hoffman, founder of the Women of the Wall movement, struggled with Israeli police who attempted to wrestle a sefer Torah scroll from her arms at the Kotel and was arrested, charged with a felony and a restraining order set against her access to the Kotel.

The Wall Has Ears

What’s all the fuss? The Rabbi of the Kotel raised the mechitza higher when he said, while there was nothing in halacha, Jewish religious law, that the women violated; nonetheless, what they were doing was offensive to the “community of Israel”, that tradition must be maintained. If women still have to be seen, even a little, now, as in the fifteenth century, they at least also should not be heard. The minister of Religious Affairs is described as saying “the Wall can hear.”

The “wail” that I heard at my first visit to the Wall now has the benefit of unprecedented mass media, and now voices are loud enough to be heard, through this film, ‘round the world. For the past decade the Women of the Wall and their supporters, many of whom are practicing orthodoxly, opted to resist public protest and demonstration for publicity’s sake to stake their (and all women’s) claim to be able to pray in full voice in public. Instead they have engaged in costly legal battles as far up to a higher authority in Israel’s Supreme Court, which made some very controversial legal conclusions in the attempt to find a civil response to a religious challenge.

Writer / Director / Producer Yael Katzir said in an e mail to LA Jewish cable TV show host Phil Blazer (Jewish Television Network) following an interview about the film, “What happened in the course of the making of the film is that I realized that the film is not only for Israelis but also for the Diaspora Jews if we want to remain one people. My son Dan and Ravit suggested that I open the film and adjust it to the American Jewry, and I did it (with all the resulting extra labor and cost that it required).” She reflected, “In Israel, secular people are shocked. They didn’t know how violent women can become to women. The TV channels did accept the film as it has a powerful criticism of what is going on in the Wailing Wall.” 

One can sense that Katzir does have some skill as a narrative filmmaker but this film desperately needs an editor. The vorspeise, endorsements through interviews that included a number of prominent Los Angeles women rabbis, was an afterthought, and, literally should have been put into extra DVD features. Just as American Jewish practice does not require politically pro-Israel activism to be legitimate, the mission and efforts of the Women of the Wall does not need “validation” by kol isha, the voice of women, from America. The Facebook page shows how the “movement” is spreading and gaining influence well better as it reflects a greater diversity of kol isha

What was most poetic were the segments of statements by the Israeli Women of the Wall and their lawyers, progressing (and not) from one Rosh Chodesh to the next that is usually sacred to Jewish women. What is at stake is a precedent-setting case where civil liberties were challenged by religious justice. It was eerie seeing female justices in their black robes delivering the sentence that gave the government twelve months to come up with and take action on a solution how/where to relocate the women that was “fair, but not necessarily “near”

It is to the filmmakers’ credits that they were able to get footage during the ruckus that insured. According to Katzir, “Shooting was tough as there were many occasions when we were violently attacked by the hate, screaming and fists of the ultra-Orthodox women.” Clearly among the most stirring segments to this reviewer were the interviews and filming of the haredi Jews – young and old, men and women, not just the rabbinical authorities -- who could articulate why they were offended, not just that they felt so. It’s very disturbing to watch “religious” Jewish women wrestling with other “religious” Jewish women resulting in prayer books falling on the ground, and Jewish men, who would otherwise not touch a woman trying to pull a sefer Torah scroll away from Jewish women. The film shows how these well-intentioned Israelis were told to “Go home!”, “Go back to America!” as if they were carpetbaggers and threatened with shame for disturbing the wall and ruining Judaism by claiming to be so entitled. Chairs and feces have been thrown at them, curses cast and epithets about damnation have become weapons against these women and their supporters, as have the courts. 

The media coverage and film’s promotion seems to focus on the sensational: the women’s struggle is called “courageous”, their protests “colorful”, the efforts to pray at the Kotel and receive a verdict through justice in the Supreme Court a “battle of the sexes”. The effort felt like a reality show. It brings to my mind a presentation by a number of self-declared radical Jewish feminists I met who, in the mid 1980s, visited Mea Shearim, the neighborhood in Jerusalem known for its strict observances of halacha. They were proud that upon entering the well-marked precincts in shorts and short-sleeved shirts without the benefit of bras, they were jeered and attacked by neighbors throwing stones. They wanted just to prove that it was their civil right to dress how they wished. 

The predicament of the Women of the Wall, as Katzir’s film, and Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism's Holy Site, edited by Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut (Jewish Lights, 2008) is a part of the holographic projection of Jewish identity in the twenty-first century, as it has been in the past. Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s got rights? What right? Who says so? 

Why do we Jews need walls? In the Pirke Avos, Sayings of the Fathers, a compendium of wisdom from 450 BCE through 3 CE included in the siddur, weekly prayerbook, each chapter begins with a three part admonition ending with: " ... veasu seag latorah”, “ ... and make a wall around the Torah”. In his 1997 drash for the Library Minyan of Valley Beth Shalom Temple (Los Angeles, CA area), Leo Rain astutely observed, “The danger is that the fence becomes the focus of worship over and above the Torah itself.” 

Rain comments, “One may certainly commend such fences because they keep you out of trouble. But what does it say about self-control, self-discipline, and the moral level of men and women? Women are seen as temptresses who are unable to control themselves and should be kept behind the wall of a mechitza or a veil as in other cultures. Does this match up with freedom and individuality?

Looking for the question within the question, elevating the argument, I wonder, “What should we do when we’re angry with people when they pray to our God?”


[i] The form and function of the Kotel’s lesser long-standing mechitza, protruding perpendicular due west from the ancient stones, continues to challenge the authorities. As of September 2010 the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the body that administers the site, has endorsed the benefits of incorporating a one-way mirror, into the physical barrier’s current design iron with small openings, each only a few centimeters wide. This notion is supported by the Kosel Rov, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, who said that he was” making every effort to replace the mechitza in a way that will accommodate the women on the one hand, and not offend the men on the other hand.” Rabbi Rabinovich has a cameo in the film as well.


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Kim Tong-ni's "Portrait of a Shaman"

BACKSTORY: It's 1992 in Los Angeles. The "Sa-I-Gu" (literally: 4-2-9 a.k.a. LA Riots a.k.a. Civil Uprising) The acquittal of a white LAPD officer for the arrest and brutal beating of African American Rodney King set off a firestorm (again) in the community. It was further fueled by the fatal shooting of 15 year old Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du, a 51-year-old Korean-American convenience store owner. His original sentence - 10 years in state prison - was changed to 5 years probation, 400 hours community service, $500 restitution and he funeral expenses. Considered extremely light, this resulted in a firestorm in Koreatown and neighborhood communities. 

I'm at KCRW, National Public Radio's flagship station out of Santa Monica CA. With Mako and Oh Soon Tek as creative directors, and the participation of other Asian American actors, we're in the midst of producing Contemporary Japanese Short Stories, a series of 13 one-hour readings of English translations of 20th century short stories. I say to my boss, then Ruth Hirschman, "We should be doing a Korean series! So few people in LA know anything about Korean culture.") She said it would be considered after we get this done. (She loved Mishima Yukiyo's writing and knew little else about East Asian culture.)

THE PROJECT - CONTEMPORARY KOREAN SHORT STORIES: So, a few years later, with the flames and emotions still sizzling, I embarked to find Korean literature in English translation (almost none in any local bookstores, whether chains or independent). The California Council on the Humanities and Korea Foundation were supporting the effort, and I turned to the universities. It was extremely difficult to find English translations of 20th century stories beginning in 1994. (It didn't get better for over a decade. Koreana, a publication of Korea Foundation, would publish one story per quarter.) Peter Lee at UCLA was helpful in connecting me with translators. I was able to get books from a few academic presses, including University of Hawaii/Manoa. Robert Fulton chaired my Advisory Committee required by the Humanities grant. 

We assembled our cast from the previous project and Soon Tek was the creative director. He selected Emily Kuroda to read Kim Tongni's classic Munyôdo / Portrait of a Shaman (sometimes translated as The Shaman Sorceress) about the clash of generations, cultures and worlds of humans and spirits. The broadcast was over 6 weeks in 1997.

I have Emily's permission to share it here.

A total of 15 stories (selected for their quality and ability to fit our time slots) totaled 8 hours in length. We were able to create 6 "one-hour" programs with original music, continuity (written by me), recorded (DAT) and broadcast from KCRW throughout Southern California; a few other public radio stations picked it up nationally. I hand-delivered a set of broadcast quality recordings to the KF director in 1997. When I visited the Korea Foundation Library about 10 years later they knew nothing about it. Likely because of shifting priorities ... from the Ministry of Education or Culture or ... who knows! I know the Korean Culture Center in Los Angeles had a set, too. CA Humanities likely has one.

A complete list of the stories and programs follows, including this which were not broadcast. Please contact me to discuss access to other recordings and texts of continuity. All rights acquired for original broadcasts (2) and reserved. Would be nice to have the life of this material extended.

A NOTE ABOUT SOON TEK He was such a generous, kind person. I always enjoyed our time together. When Kim Keumhwa came to visit me one year, I invited him to meet her. Easter and Soon Tek invited us to their home for dinner, The meeting was mutually enjoyed by all. More than a decade before Soon Tek passed away, he asked me to work with him to create a screenplay (rights protected at the WGAwest registry) adaptation. It covered Japanese colonial period, too!) I still have the work. He always wanted to play the main character. RIP Soon Tek. 


KCRW’s Contemporary Korean Short Stories
Executive Producer Lauren W. Deutsch  Artistic Director Soon Tek Oh
The series includes 15 short works by Korea’s acclaimed masters and upcoming stars compiled into 8 independent programs. Some can be sub-divided into half hours to accommodate broadcast formats.
From time-worn rural villages to the emerging modern cities of a conquered and now divided nation, the soldiers and shopkeepers, the farmers, physicians and shamans tell the stories of a resilient, refined culture.
#1 Portrait of a Shaman: Newly converted to Christianity, a son anguishes over his mother’s indigenous faith and profession as the village shaman. (this took one hour itself.)
#2 Seoul 1964: Two men in a sidewalk bar follow a third into an existential black hole; The Rock: Village lepers and beggars consider their future at the onset of the Japanese invasion. 
#3 Wonmidong Poet:  A child’s view of the myriad characters in her neighborhood in a Seoul suburb; Cranes: The division North and South tests the friendship of two villagers.
#4  Kapitan Lee: A prominent medical doctor is determined to survive successive occupations by Japanese, “Russkis” and “Yankees” with his social status and career intact. Fire: A woman villager avenges the brutality of her husband’s family.
#5  Cukoo: Landing a coveted job, particularly with the victorious Americans, drive people to extreme measures; The Crane: A lyrical fantasy of transformation. 
#6  Masks: One full turn of the great wheel of life;  Rainy Season: Newlyweds are initiated into intimacy by the dynamic forces of nature; Suffering of Two Generations: Defeated in war, a father and son join forces for renewed victory in life. (55:56 min.)
*#7 Folding the Umbrella: A surreal tale about a black fish and a black wedding gown; Buckwheat Season:  En route to market, two peddlers realize they are father and son.(39:18 min.)
*#8 Bird of Passage: An enterprising student survives wartime shining shoes and polishing his integrity. (29:44 min.)
Contemporary Korean Short Stories is under the artistic direction of acclaimed actor Soon Tek Oh in conjunction with the Society of Heritage Performers. Broadcast debut was in 1997 on KCRW (Southern California). The program received prestigious grants from the California Council for the Humanities and Korea Foundation. Rights secured for public radio broadcast only -- no tape sales. Transliterated promos and bibliographical material available.
Contemporary Korean Short Stories Advisory Committee 
Robert Buswell, Editor Korean Culture Magazine, UCLA  Department of East Asian Languages and Literature
Bruce Caron, Consultant Cultural and Community Affairs, Korean Cultural Center
Chung Moo Choi, East Asian Language and Literature, UC Irvine
Kyung-Ja Chun, Director Korean Language Program, Harvard University
Stephen Epstein, Professor Department of Classics, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Bruce Fulton, Professor, University of Washington
Ju-chan, Fulton, Translator
Ann Sung-hi Lee, Professor East Asian Studies Center, USC
Peter Lee, Professor Dept. East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA
Walter Lew, Producer Kaya Productions
Soon-Teck Oh, Director / Actor
Carolyn So, Translator
Lauren W. Deutsch, Executive Producer, KCRW Contemporary  Korean Short Stories
Sandy Yi, former president, W.O.R.K.;producer, Festival of Korea for Asia Society
Chang-Kee Sung, Deputy Consul, Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Korea
Craig Coleman, Managing Editor, National English Section, The Korea Times, Radio Seoul consultant
Book Copyright
January 19
Portrait of a Shaman
Kim Tong-ni
Yongch’ol Kim
Flowers of Fire
University of Hawaii Press
Soon-Tek Oh / Emily Kuroda
February 16
The Rock
Kim Tong-ni
Chong-Wha Chung
Modern Korean Literature
Kegan Paul International
Freda Foh Shen
February 16
Seoul: 1964, Winter
Sôul, 1964 nyon kyoul
Kim Sûng-ok
Marshall R. Phil
Land of Exile
M.E. Sharpe / UNESCO
Sung Kyu Park (Steve Park)
March 16
Kapitan Lee
Kkôppittan Ri
Chôn Kwang-yong
Peter H. Lee
Flowers of Fire
University of Hawaii Press
Jungha Suk (Eric Steinberg)
March 16
The Fire
Hyôn Chin-gôn
Katherine Kisray
Modern Korean Literature
Kegan Paul International
Freda Foh Shen
April 20
Hwang Sun-wôn
Peter H. Lee
Flowers of Fire
University of Hawaii Press
Ro-Soo Park (Tim Lounibos)
April 20
Wônmi-dong Poet
Wônmidong shiin
Yang Kwi-Ja
Julie Pickering / Kim So-Young
University of Hawaii
Jeanne Chinn
May 18
The Crane
Yi Ch’ong-Jun
Stephen J. Epstein
Korea Journal
Sung Kyu Park (Steve Park)
The Cuckoo
Kim Yi-sôk
Peter H. Lee
Flowers of Fire
University of Hawaii Press
Soon-Tek Oh
June 8
The Rainy Season
Han Mal-suk
Stephen J. Epstein
Korean Culture
Korea Cultural Service
Jungha Suk (Eric Steinberg)
June 8
The Suffering of Two Generations
Sunan idae
Ha Kun-ch’an
Kevin O’Rourke
Korea Foundation
R.C. Fleet
June 8
Hwang Sun-wôn
Martin Holman
The Book of Masks
Readers International, Inc.
Ro-Soo Park (Tim Lounibos)
Recorded / Not Aired
The Buckwheat Season
Memilggot p’il muryôp
Yi Hyo-sôk
Peter H. Lee
Flowers of Fire
University of Hawaii Press
Ro-Soo Park (Tim Lounibos)
Recorded / Not Aired
Bird of Passage
O Yongsu
Peter H. Lee
Flowers of Fire
University of Hawaii Press
Soon-Tek Oh
Recorded / Not Aired
Folding the Umbrella
Usan ûl chôbûmyô
Hwang Sun-wôn
Stephen Epstein
The Book of Masks
Readers International, Inc.
Esther Hyun

Monday, May 23, 2022

SEARCHING FOR SANSHIN Originally published in KYOTO JOURNAL #25, 2013. Author Retains All Rights


An interview with Hi-Ah Park Manshin, Lover of the Mountain God 


by Lauren W. Deutsch

Contributing Editor, Kyoto Journal


First published Kyoto Journal, No. 25, (Kyoto Japan, 1993) and subsequently as a chapter in Mountain Spirits of Asia (Bolder, Shambhala,1994)


Copyright Lauren W. Deutsch 2013 – 2022 All Rights Reserved. 


No portion of this text may be reproduced in any form or media without expressed written permission of the author. PHOTOGRAPHS ARE REMOVED TO RESPECT COPYRIGHT 


Hi-ah Park is a Korean shaman, specializes in ritual dance. Original artist, healer and teacher, she works at the level of the primordial state through ecstatic trance. Skilled in the healing arts, she communicates the needs of humans to the spirits and oracles of the spirits to humans.


I met Hi-ah Park during the 1990 Los Angeles Festival for which I served as publicity coordinator; the event was third in the lineage of cultural / arts events since the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. She participated in two public events that were primarily for local educators and secondarily, for the general public, a multi-cultural program about spirit and art, along with several Native Americans and a bevy of Buddhists of different traditions. Our first face – to – face meeting was held at the Korean Cultural Center, a facility of the Consulate General during which we were to discuss the details of producing the event. I had heard a report that a group of Native Americans earlier had tried to cancel their plans to present sacred ceremonial rituals at this program if TV cameras or newspaper photographers were present and inquired whether she had heard the same. “What is the ritual for,” she remarked, but to engage the spirits on behalf of people.” With bright eyes and a calm demeanor she added, “Sharing the experience of rapture I have nothing to hide.” She seemed a wise, old person, though she looked only 40. She told me she had “died many times.” 


The night of the presentation in the sanctuary of Kwan Um Sa, a Korean Buddhist temple housed in a former synagogue, now dressed in a Korean shaman’s robes, she “performed” several dance scenes of a traditionally longer gut, ritual, apparently going into a trance and deftly wielding a sword and a rainbow of flags before an altar resplendent with many-layered ddok (Korean rice cakes), fruit, sticks of incense and other offerings placed on the altar in front of a gilded statue of Buddha. Her ritual flowed into heightened movement.


Out of whirlwind of colorful costumes, loud drums (Native American and Korean), cymbals and gongs, she eventually had the audience of some 200 people dancing ecstatically in a more free style festive manner. Seemingly at the height of the joyous the “performance” she indicated to the musicians that they stop, as did the dancing, and the room fell into complete stillness. It was as if we reached the summit of a high peak, the ken, keeping still, of the I Ching, that great mountaineer’s bible created in the Taoist tradition. The buzz of one’s mountain -top - seeking mind dissolved into silence, then plunged through formless ecstatic trance, leaving no footprints, taking the memories, too! It was as if a weather front moved in and blew the clouds away. 


At that point all I knew about Hi-ah Park was that she was born in Seoul and is considered the finest Korean traditional classical dancer of her generation. The first woman to be admitted to the National Classical Music Institute and into the esteemed ranks of Court Musician, she gave by any standards an exquisite “performance”, but this was not just a dance recital on the second floor of a downtown Buddhist temple. She literally went a giant step further.


I have since come to realize that her life mirrored that of an intimate of Sanshin (literally Korean for mountain spirit)As Edward R. Canda explains in Korea Journal (Vol. 20, No. 9) Sanshin is a “tangible, specific and personal entity, evident to human senses through vitality, power and mystery of the physical landmass as well as in dreams and visions”. This, I was to learn, was Hi-ah Park’s personal history. His observation of Sanshin’s “having awesome natural power in service of sacredness and wisdom” became her destiny. 


For centuries manshin had been openly persecuted; their practices were disrupted and shrines destroyed; their ritual artistry barely tolerated but desecrated into folk entertainment. The prevailing religious and social order forced the practice of shamanism and the practitioners “underground”. It is still considered a curse to suggest that someone would grow up to be or to marry a mudang. That one of Korea’s most acclaimed artists, an American citizen and university lecturer became a mudang has had impact in Korea as well as globally. 

After a number of years of quiet reflection, Hi-ah Park decided to fulfill her destiny as Manshin, to put her art in service of the spirit and the people who seek her out. She currently works in Europe and the USA, teaching through performances, workshops and lectures, including many prestigious universities and mental health centers. [Revision Note: In 1984, shaman Kim Keumhwa was honored by the title Intangible Cultural Property by the government of the Republic of Korea. Please see the author’s other articles, including “Kim Keumhwa’s Everyday Shamanism (Kyoto Journal, No. 24, Fall 2000)]


Whether clad in Manshin’s colorful robes performing a formal kut to the accompaniment of chang’go (hourglass drum), and cymbals and gongs, or in a simple flowing white tunic dancing to the sounds of steel cello, bow chime, Chapman Stick, Mongolian drum or a wall of gongs, HI-ah Park shows us how the shaman warrior climbs the mountain, and dances atop the peak in mu-a, ecstasy. 


What was your earliest memory of Sanshin?

From very early childhood, I loved mountains. My memory of childhood is playing in the tiger cave near my neighborhood. Often there, I lost time and space while my family was looking for me. One day I climbed into the mountain deeper than usual, as if somebody invisible being was guiding me into the unknown world, and I found the big tree surrounded by piled with lots of stones. There unknowingly I bowed to the ground after respectfully gathered stones top of the piles. Definitely that was my first encounter with Sanshin.


Of all the Sanshin in Korea, why do you think you are relating particularly to Tangun?

During my illness before my initiation, I had several visions. In one, I saw Tangun, the Korean heroic founder of the nation who later became Mountain Spirit, sitting in a meditation posture within a yurt and wearing a red hat and robe. As I gazed at intensely at that figure, we became one; then I saw myself sitting as Tangun. This clear vision of Tangun convinced me to visit my homeland after an absence of 15 years. I didn't have any specific plan for my visit. However, from its start, everyone I met and everywhere I visited turned out to be connected somehow with shamanistic practices. I was introduced to Kim Keum-Hwa, a well-known manshin from Hwanghae-do (a western province now in North Korea) viewing a video of one of her shamanic rituals. I couldn’t believe my eyes: I saw Kim Keum-Hwa wearing the same red robe and hat I had seen in my Tangun vision of week prior. 


A week later I was introduced to her. When Kim came into the room in her house where I was waiting, we both shuddered. She told me she had the sensation that her spirits wanted to talk to me. She brought divination table and started to pronounce oracles: "Rainbows are surrounding in all directions. The fruit is fully ripe and can't wait anymore!" She told me I was lucky to have surrendered to the spirits' orders and to have come to her. Otherwise, she said, I would have died, like an overripe fruit that falls onto the ground and rots. Kim continued to explain that I had disobeyed two times previously and, consequently, had to go through unbearable pain and loneliness and near-death experiences. She warned that I should not resist anymore. The third time, there is no forgiveness. It was absolutely essential that I undergo the naerimgut without delay. On a more positive note, Kim told me she saw double rainbows stretched around my head, celestial gods surrounding on me. She said that warrior in me was so strong that I would want to stand on the chaktu, sharp blades. She predicted that, in the near future, I would be a famous shaman, and I'd travel all around the world. Then she set a date for the initiation--June 23, 1981. In less than two weeks, I was transformed into a new shaman. 


Did you have personal desire to be a shaman?

When I began studying shamanism in 1975, I had neither wish nor the intention to become a shaman. I initially considered the whole process solely as an artistic endeavor, yet everything I encountered along the shamanic path seemed to create a thirst in me for spiritual fulfillment. I became a manshin after I was called to the profession through sinbyong, or initiatory illness.


What is the symptom of shamanic illness ?

I began to suffer from tedium and loneliness, without knowing any meaning to my life. My interest in mundane affairs and domestic chores waned completely. I suffered unbearable loneliness and longed for the mountains. 


I spent many nights weeping endlessly or dreaming of impending death. In my dreams, I was imprisoned in the under world and chased by wild animals. For about nine months, I endured sleepless and restless nights, until I had an incredible, lengthy dream of an ancient royal funeral procession.


My insomnia stopped right after this mysterious dream. I was happy without any specific reason. I felt elevated into the air, as if somebody was lifting me. After this funeral dream, my dream scenes started to change into lighter, celestial ones.

In one of unforgettable dream journey, a white unicorn with wings took me through the Milky Way to an incredible, infinite space of deep, jet-dark indigo. In that place, I heard a deep and resonant voice ask me, "How are the people down there?" I still remember clearly the conversation with that invisible voice and the ecstatic feeling I had. Then the voice told me I had to go back to teach the people love. I felt boundless joy and, at the same time, sadness that I had to go back. Without any sense of waking up from a dream, I found myself in my room.


For a while, I was obsessed by this visionary dream and felt very connected with that other reality. Although I couldn't understand it, the other space was so clear that I now felt as if my waking state was the dream.


Why do shamans have to go through shamanic illness?

I believe that it happens because a persons spiritual body is starving from a lack of inspirational creativity. The initiatory sickness allows her to escape from the world and withdraw into the darkness, in order to experience her own rites of passage. In order to become a shaman, the person must go through years of introspection, personal torment, and progressive spiritual development. Without understanding the stillness, one will never understand the spirit world.


How do you come out from sinbyong?

By reaching the point of mu a, ecstasy, the death of ego. Ecstasy is a sensation which is encountered in our hearts. It is seeing and hearing with the heart, rather than just with eyes and ears. It is also a flame which springs up in the heart out of longing, to see and to become one with its truth (God). Atop this mountain there is such clarity that there is no duality. 


What place did Sanshin have in your initiation ritual?      

In the preparation for initiation ceremony, I had to climb up to the mountain to receive the Mountain Spirit early in the morning by a purifying bath in a cold mountain stream. My Godmother and I had ascended the mountain north of Seoul. She asked me to climb up a steep, rocky cliff to get a branch from a pine tree. This task was the first test of the day. I did as she requested, performing the task necessary to receive Sanshin. We spoke as little as possible. 


At the mountain altar I offered rice, rice cake, three different kinds of cooked vegetables, fruits, lighted candles and incense and makghuli, home made rice wine.

As my Godmother chanted and beat a small gong, I held up the Sanshin dari, a long piece of cloth called minyong, white cotton bridge, through which the shaman receives the Mountain Spirit. My body started quiver uncontrollably, a sign that the Spirit was entering me. I completely surrendered to the Spirit, turning off my internal dialogue, and entered into inner silence. I sensed light coming from every direction, and I started to feel drunk with the Spirit in me. It was dramatic close encounter with the separated "Lover" at long last. I felt the ultimate completion of my primordial self before separation. I knew that the spirit loved me and forgave my long resistance to accepting it. Bathed by the light of Spirit, I felt clean and reborn. I practically flew down the mountain to the town in the valley below. I returned with my Godmother to her house which would become the site of all-day ritual that was to come.


Could you describe some more details about the initiation?

Korean term for initiation is "naerim kut.” This aspect of the ritual is concerned with the descending spirits and identification and presentation of the deities which have already made their presence known through possession of my body.


At the initiation ceremony, the minyong was placed leading onto the upstage portion of the house as a bridge between the heaven and the earth. To test my psychic ability and to determine if I could identify the deities who had descended on me, my Godmother and her assistant shaman, who serves as a messenger, sat at the end of the minyong, in a sense ending in heaven. A straw mat was placed downstage. Each question asked by the head shaman was repeated by her assistant. Instead of answering the questions directly, I began dancing. Then, kneeling down on the straw mat, I answered the questions orally. The dance seemed to heighten the trance state so that my answer came without thinking as if I know everything already. 


The first question was, "If you become a shaman, through which gate will you enter?


I started singing in an occult nature, previously unknown to me. Again I danced until possessed and knelt down to wait for the next question. 


"Which spirit is entering you?" she asked. 


I answered, "Elwolsungshin and Okhwangsangchae, spirits of the Sun - Moon - Stars and the Jade Emperor, are entering."


"Then reveal your true nature and find the symbolic paraphernalia of these deities," she ordered.


I stood, and walking upstage, grasped the Il wrol dae, sun and moon stick, a pine branch which I took from cliff at the mountain, bundled together with a bronze mirror and covered with a white long sleeved gown, the costume of the deities.


After I danced, she asked me another question, "Which spirit did you received this time?"


My reply was, "I received Sanshin, the spirits from the High Mountain and Sa Hae Yong Wang Nim, from the Four Direction Deep Ocean."


Why did you receive it?, she asked.


"I obeyed the order from Tangun, the founder of Korea. He has told me to help infertile couples, to counsel parents and their children to love each other. Through him I am guided to heal sickness and help those in poverty to find prosperity. Lastly, he advises me to engender love and respect among all people." 


Acknowledging my remarks, the head shaman invited any other spirits that might be present to enter me, and the Deity of the Seven Stars / Big Dipper,Chilseong; Spirit of High Nobility, Taegamnim; Spirit of Ancestors, Chosaengnim; and Warriors of the Five Directions, Obangshinjangnim, came through. 


What other occasions have you encountered Sanshin?

After I teaching summer school of 1977 at UCLA, I retired to an avocado ranch located deep in the mountains. I left all worldly affairs behind, obsessed like a lover longing for the mountains. In the mountains I could feel the presence of something indescribably different, an exotic apparition, the spirit of which one can not find in a human, a beautiful, bewitching spirit which embraced with boundless joy. I journeyed to Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Death Valley, and other places like the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. In the latter I was led by endless double rainbows to the White House cliff dwelling with its ancient kiva, subterranean Pueblo ritual chambers. As I emerged from a ruined kiva a sudden thunder and lightening storm attacked me mercilessly. I fainted onto the sand, and in total surrender I offered myself to the spirits present. I awoke with the most incredible orgasm I have ever known, basking in the most luxurious ecstasy. The sky was replete with rainbows and the reflections of rainbows reaching every horizon. The mountain breeze passing through the canyon seemed to be coming and going in the rhythm on an inaudible chant. As I flowed into that chant my soul ascended as flying unicorn, higher and higher into the sky. At last I was free and flying with such a feeling of exhilaration and joy that I wanted to cry, for I was experiencing the ecstasy, for which I had been yearning so long. 


How has the initiation influenced your dance?

Since my initiation, my understanding of dance changed completely. The inseparability of art and spirit became essential for healing myself and eventually it has helped others. My teaching and performing is at the level of the primordial state, mainly achieved through ecstatic trance. By integrating breath, sound, movement and theatre, I set the stage for the transformation of the audience and society.


How has Sanshin influenced your decision to work globally? Transformation is a fundamental concern of the shaman’s ritual. One important function of ritual is that it makes you a member of the tribe, of society, and hopefully a member of the global community. Today it is especially important to return to tribal integration in a global sense. I’ve been traveling a great deal since 1988 sharing Tangun’s doctrine of “Hong Ik In Kan”, to be of benefit to all sentient beings, to engender love and respect among all people. Sanshin cannot afford any longer to wait on a lonely mountain top. 


What is Sanshin’s message?

The nature and message of spirit is beyond mental condition; it is bliss of pure energy, pervading everything, mu-a / ecstasy. The Spirit, which is formless, speaks through me in ecstatic dance. Spirit is shy, but sword is sharp. It teaches us a powerful but direct process of purification. Through ecstatic dance, sound and breath meditation, it cuts through fear, conflict and confusion. Fear is transformed into plentiful, universal love, and suddenly, we understand that our lives are about much more than suffering; it is also about experiencing rapture. This only works for those who are willing to confront their dark side and surrender to the primal spirit. 



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Over 70% of Korea is mountainous and many of the “most famous” sacred peaks are in the northern part of the peninsula. Perhaps most notable is Mt. Daebaek (Myohyang-san in Yongbyon, north Pyonyagn Province), the spot chosen by heavenly god Hawan-in for his son’s, Hwan-woong, earthly abode. 


Tangun, founder of the Ancient Chosun Empire and considered the first Korean, was born near a sandalwood tree to a patient, obedient bear-woman and Hwan-woong in 2333 BCE. He established his capital in Asadal (old name of Pyongyang) in Baegaek-san where he eventually died, aged 1908 years, and became Sanshin of Mt. Kuwol. Other peaks sacred to Tangun are Mani-san (on Kangwhang-do, an Island near the DMZ in the Wet Sea hear Incheon at the mouth of the Han River in South Korea) where it is said he established a rock altar, and Baektu-san (Mt. Whitehead), also in the north. 


Centuries ago you could find a cozy wooden hut, with thatched straw or tiled roof situated deep in the mountain. Today, anthropomorphic images of Sanshin appear everywhere fine arts and tourist memento are found. Scrolls and screens depict Sanshinas a stately old man with a long beard attended by one young child and hearby a horae, tiger, his messenger, sits attentively. Tigerseven the one playfully rendered as the mascot of the Seoul Olympiad, is also said to be Sanshin and Tangun.


Sanshin icons were once prepared only for religious worship exclusively. To this end they were found only in the mountain spirit shrines in the sanshin-ggakbehind or toward the side / back of the main sanctuary hall in Buddhist temple compounds, shamans’ houses or at the ceremonial grounds of shamanic ritual. Mountain spirit shrines may also be encountered throughout Korea’s numerous mountain landscapes as a simple pile of rocks.


CAVEAT: If you’re really looking for Sanshin in Koreaparticularly Tangun, choose carefully whom you tell. The three “Cs” which have been dominating the political and social order north and south -- Confucianism, Christianity and Communism -- don’t want anyone to find him, his being the national ancestor with all implications that this powerful identity implies. And given the state of the world, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that Tangun has been spotted outside Korea.