Shamanism has been spreading in North Korea since the early 2000s despite the prohibition on religious activities, a shaman who defected last year said.
Kang Mi-soon, who used to reside in Pyongyang, spoke Monday at a press conference organized by NK Intellectuals Solidarity, the World Institute for North Korean Studies and the GyeoRe-Eol Nation United organization.
Kang said it seems that shamanism is quite prevalent North Korean life.
“North Koreans widely believe in shamanism. Before marriage they check their marital compatibility, when moving houses they check the site of their future home, and before they leave for business people used to ask me whether the journey would be comfortable or not,” she said.
Kang, who left North Korea in July 2014 and arrived in Seoul this January, said that belief in the supernatural gained popularity in the early 2000s, after the Great Famine of the previous decade.
“Since that point, people lost their sincere trust in the party and nation. People still need a mental foundation.”
She added that survivors who overcame hardships started to have a “crooked head,” meaning they no longer believed in the regime’s ability to feed them.
She indicated that there are some fake shamans who swindle money from people. She once visited a neighborhood family whose son was struggling with uncontrollable misbehavior.
“The parents struggled to provide corn, rice and oil to the shaman for three months. But there was no improvement, the shaman actually was scamming the family.”
Despite their prevalence, the North Korean regime officially restricts the rituals.
“When it is known that the person is a shaman, the person is to be jailed or executed. I used to help really close people, or conduct (the rituals) in a remote mountain,” Kang said.
“The North Korean government punishes superstitious activity. North Korean criminal law, updated in 2012 reads that ‘A person who conducts a superstitious ritual for money or goods faces no more than one year of labor. When the activity is serious, they may receive no more than three years of labor.’ The law on superstitions was lessened in 2012, removing the crime of encouraging superstitious activity.”
The legal prohibition, however, doesn’t seem fully enforced, as middle-ranking officials also check their fortune with shamans.
“They are curious as well, finding it difficult not to believe (in the rituals).”
The White Paper echoes the same point, based on other defectors’ testimonies.
“Without social agitation or problems, it is known that superstition activities are not punished due to bribery,” the report reads.
She said the service is usually paid for with 15-20 kilograms of corn. However, she indicated this is pretty flexible.
“Somebody who is poor, they used to pay only one sack of candy,” she said.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons