South Korea has 1 million shamans and fortune tellers
Economic downturn in South Korea sees an increase in practitioners despite fortune-telling houses also being hit by recession
By Chyung Eun-ju
As Korea goes through an economic downturn, the number of Korean shamans and fortune tellers is growing rapidly.
With unemployment growing, the barrier to becoming a shaman or fortune teller is lower than other areas where a degree or license is required. The same phenomenon occurred during the IMF financial crisis.
The groups with the most members are the Korean Kyungsin Federation and the Korean Fortune Telling Association, which each have around 300,000 registered members and 200,000 unregistered people – a million people in all. The number of members has doubled from 10 years ago when there were around 140,000 members in the Korean Kyungsin Federation in 2006.
Shamans and fortune-tellers have a similar goal, but the methods are different. Korean shamans, also called “mudang,” communicate with the spirits to predict someone’s future, while a fortune-teller uses physiognomy to tell the future, or prophecies based on the Book of Changes, four pillars or Eastern philosophy.
According to a Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism report on religious practitioners in 2011, there are 14,483 Protestants, 46,905 Buddhists, and 15,918 Catholics. Shamans and fortune-tellers are not considered religious practitioners, but are categorised as service practitioners.
“As the economy slows down, the fortune-telling houses also suffer a recession, but there is a tendency where the number of spiritual practitioners also increases,” said Jo Sung-je, head of the Institute of Mucheon Culture, who researched shamanism for 30 years. “When households fall apart one after another due to economic difficulties many people get possessed by a spirit and become a shaman.”
An academy affiliated with the Korean Fortune Telling Association promoted fortune-telling as a career path by saying, “In a reality where employment is hard and there is an increase in the ageing community, fortune-telling can be a lifelong and secure vocation.”
“There are job applicants and housewives who attend classes during the weekdays and businessmen preparing for retirement who attend night classes,” said an employee at the academy. “More fortune-telling classes are opening and more people are using fortune-telling apps and reading related books.