Case Study: In early Protestant Christianity in Korea (late 19th century), the mainstay lay missioners were “Bible Women,” widows or older women with freedom of movement across class and gender expectations. These Bible Women were often former shamans or “exorcists”, converted and then welcomed into service by the male pastors and missionaries because of the access they had in Korean society. Here is one description of a Christian exorcism in Korea’s church history: Mrs. Sim was one of these crossover mudang (shamans) in Pyongyang. After some training with Bible study, basic theology, and practical ministry, she was appointed as a Bible Woman. Her healing ceremony in 1906 of a female victim was a typical case of Christian exorcism, composed of the following seven elements: First was a confrontational dialogue with the possessed at her own room: Mrs. Sim ask, “Are you possessed of a demon?” She repeated until the spirit answered. The spirits begged to stay. Second, they prayed for the woman, who hissed at, spat at, and struck the Christian women. Third, congregational hymn singing was repeated until the hatred on the woman’s part subsided into a low crying. Fourth, Mrs. Sim ordered the spirits to come out, yet they resisted. Fifth, congregational prayer and hymn singing continued. Sixth, around midnight Mrs. Sim finally ordered the spirits to go away: “Thou foul spirit, I adjure thee in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, come out of her!” Finally, the spirits were cast out and the woman was healed.[ Oak, Sung-Deuk, The Making of Korean Christianity: Protestant Encounters with Korean Religions 1876-1915, (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013), 179.]
What is missing in Shamanism that most religions have? No sense of Ethics. There are usually no well-developed “shoulds” and “should-nots”, Golden Rules, or Divine Commandments that help to create a larger society, community or kindom. No Creation Story. No story of origin that says to its adherents, “You are special among all the peoples of the world.” No Scriptures as well. No eschatology. There is no sense that one’s life here is preparation or anticipation of a future existence. It’s all here and now. No central office, no “Vatican” for the shamanists around the world. No official discipleship or spiritual path to begin the struggle to be a “better” or the best-possible shamanist.
Questions to provoke:
1.If we take a “free association Approach” to religion, what elements of Shamanism are parts of religions and religiosity you know? How do you think these “religious pieces” became orthodox?
2.Shamanism is considered the world’s oldest religion. It is the “first layer” of religiosity around the world, upon which other religions (like yours and mine) build upon and borrow from. If that is true, where would Christianity as you know it be without shamanism?
3.Christian Pentecostalism and Holiness traditions are – sociologically speaking – very close to shamanist traditions. How might one differentiate Jesus the Great Physician/Exorcist from Jesus the Shaman? How might the exercise of the spiritual gifts in Pentecostalism be akin to a shaman world view?
4.In the religion/faith you profess, what might be shamanistic parallels? This could be a “hot” question. Stated another way, what shamanistic parallels have you observed in religions up till now?