The Afterlife in Korean Literature

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The Afterlife in Korean Literature

Shin Dong-hun


Quote:In many religions and myths around the world, the afterlife is perceived as located under the ground. Greek and Roman myths offer a clear example of this. The notion of this subterranean location also relates to the fact that humans bury their dead in the ground.

In Korean shamanic myths, by contrast, the afterlife is located across from the world of the living. Those making their way there cross wide fields, pass over hills or cross water—all horizontal movements. The decisive boundary is generally some form of water. This is sometimes referred to as Yusugang (Yusu River) or Hwang-
cheon (Yellow Stream). It is sometimes crossed by a ferry boat, and sometimes by a single log bridge.

In Korean myth, the afterlife is said to lie to the west of the world of the living. Though this belief is doubtless related to the fact that the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean lies to the east of the Korean Peninsula, Koreans’ worldview is a more important factor. The world of the living, located in the east where the sun rises, is a place of morning and spring and creation, while the afterlife, located in the west where the sun sets, is a place of evening and autumn and extinction. In terms of attributes, the relationship between the world of the living and the afterlife corresponds to that of yang and yin.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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Death, burial and bereavement customs of Jeju, part I

Anne Hilly


Quote:Those of Jeju highlight its cultural uniqueness. Steeped in the indigenous shamanic religion, local traditions of burying the dead also draw upon the complex cultural milieu that is Jeju.

These rituals additionally serve to highlight the very complicated status of Jeju women.

Independent scholar Kim Yu Jeong of the Jeju Culture Institute has made this study his life’s work. His office is stacked to the ceiling with resources, his computer equally filled with photographic evidence. He has written multiple articles on this topic for a number of newspapers and finds it endlessly fascinating.

“I will study this to the day of my own death,” he said. “Even though others, including my own parents, cannot understand my interest, it captures me completely.”


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The end of a life: In memorium


Quote:There are three primary phases of the traditional funeral and mourning process. The first is an elaborate processional through the village streets, the occupied casket supported on a large wooden pallet carried by 12 young village men who are unrelated to the deceased.

Pausing at favorite sites of the departed, a symbolic last visit of the community is made, complete with the pouring of a white rice soup onto the ground. Ahead of the procession, village women line each side of the path holding a white cotton rope by which the spirit of the deceased may travel forward.

Burial proceedings follow, and the dead are buried to the accompaniment of Confucian rituals. Men attend while women serve; the casket is draped with a banner displaying the lineage and, if the deceased is male, his name, profession, and standing in the community.


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The end of a life: Concepts of afterlife


Quote:One other Jeju folk concept of afterlife exists in legend: Ieodo.

An actual submerged island in the East Sea and today the site of an ocean research station, Ieodo also represents a mythical island of fantasy and utopia in the folk tales of Jeju people, much like the lost lands of Atlantis or Lemuria.

Fishermen lost at sea were said to reside on Ieodo. Widows went there upon their deaths, in reunion with their mates. The old dreamed of going to Ieodo; the diving women longed for it as their ancestral home.

Legends regarding Ieodo abound, which reflect the duality found in Taoism that further informs the beliefs of this region. The island was envisioned both with longing and apprehension, as could be said about any image of paradise: a desire to go there, but only after death. Ieodo was a mythical, and thus liminal, place outside of space and time.(*)

Perhaps Ieodo represents the lost kingdom of Tamna, the Jeju that is long gone, the idyllic past – of a people, of one’s childhood, of innocence – for which we all experience a deep longing.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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