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Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Gaecheonjeol (National Foundation Day) is an annual National holiday that is celebrated in both North and South Korea. This seems to be one of the quieter holidays in Korea, but each year the whole country has a day off on October 3, so no one seems to complain. This holiday celebrates the mytholical foundation of an ancient Korean kingdom which occured around 4,500 years ago. Since I had the day off I decided to go check out the annual celebration at Dangun's alter on Manisan, which is located on the southern portion of Ganghwa-do.


The first Korean kingdom was said to be created by by Dangun, the ledgendary Demigod who established his divine kingdom in what is now Pyongyang, North Korea. Dangun's father was the son of god and his mother was a former bear who was transformed into a woman through her devotion to god. This is an ancient creation myth that has been gaining popularity in the past several decades due to the rise in Korean nationalism and new found interest and pride in Korean Shamanism. This story implies that Korea and her people decended from the grandson of god, so that would techinally make all Korean's the direct desendents of god himself.

Ceremony at Dangun's Alter

A ceremony is held every year Chamseong-dan, which is an ancient stone alter that is located on the top of the island's tallest mountain (Mani-san). The ceremony starts around 10AM each year, but you must make sure you get there on time because it get crowded and when the ceremony starts they will not let you in. The surprisingly difficult hike takes over an hour, but it offers some amazing views.

Deborah and I were a little late because we didn't expect the hike to be an actual hike. About 75% up the hill I decided that the only way to make it in time was to jog up. Unfortuanetly, the last 25% is the hardest part, and worse yet, when I made it to the top the gates they were already locked. No one was happy about that, but I didn't just run up a mountain for no reason.

I managed to sneak through the gate. I waited until the guard (yes they had guards) wasn't paying attention and then I snunk in. A few people followed my lead, and luckily Deborah was one of them!

This is said to be the actual alter that Dangun performed animal sacrifices to his grandfather and to the other dieties. The alter is quite big and I find it hard to believe that it's acutually 4,500 years old...That would make it the oldest man made thing I've ever personally seen...

The alter was quite packed, so I understand why it was closed…

We managed to see the last several minutes of the ceremony. There were several priests and a nice table full of offerings. Some chanting and Confucius rights were going on, but I didn't see any Shamanistic rites, at least not that I'm aware of.

Several Confucius priests walked up to the top of the alter and continued chanting. Everyone was talking and scrambling to get a picture. It certainly didn't feel very sacred.

Several beautiful women were dancing at the top of the alter. One lit a metal torch by using something that looked like a satellite dish. 

The women walked down and lit the insense burner which was the signal that the ceremony was over. That's when the real craziness started!

After that everyone made a dash for the offering table. People took handfulls of offerings and stuffed them into sacks. Unfortunately, but probably for the better, some of the priests had already removed the money. It was quite chaotic and left me feeling a little confused and somewhat shocked.

 Some people were just taking handfuls of grain and shoving them into their mouths. I did the same after a slight hesitation. I got a few good pieces. 
Deborah decided to go for the flowers. She had to wrestle them away from a greedy middle aged woman who was hoarding them, but Deborah's no push over.

Overall I felt a little disapointed. I was hoping for a genuine Shamanistic ceremony, but I felt like I just watched another show for the newspaper. Since I've been here I've been in search of traditional Korean culture. More often then not I've been left disappointed, which makes me wonder if those days have entirely passed on.

Thanks for reading and,

P.S. Here are some great website for a little more indebth information

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