The Sun and Moon Screen which a background for the throne chairs formerly belonging to the rulers of the Empire of Korea. Such a screen with the Sun and Moon symbolized the physical sway which rulers held over the elements, as well as over the lives of their subjects. The screen still remains in the empty Enthronement Hall, although the Yi family which reigned for over five centuries has given way to democracy.
Sun Myung Moon frequently uses such a screen:
▲ Both of the Moon’s crowns have shaman motifs featuring Cosmic Trees and deer antlers. The seven branches on the Cosmic Tree indicate the wearer could travel through the seven levels of heaven. The pinnacle of each of their trees represent the residence of the chief shaman deity.
extracts from the book Rev. Sun Myung Moon by Chong-Sun Kim (1978)
Numerous articles about Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial Korean preacher, have recently appeared in periodicals and newspapers in the United States. These articles dealt mainly with the way in which Moon proselytized and recruited his followers, and paid less attention to his native cultural and religious background in assessing the dynamics of his movement. Therefore, this work incorporates discussions on shamanism, which is the indigenous Korean religion, as a key to the source of his religious tenets and cult activities. … Although this work utilizes a great many journalistic accounts, its approach is anthropological and sociological as well as historical, in order to broaden the student’s understanding of this most curious movement of our time. …
MOON AND KOREAN SHAMANISM (extract from Chapter 5)
Korea’s legendary founder was called Tan’gun. He was known in folklore as an extraordinary shaman, endowed with miraculous powers, and a bringer of many benefits to his people. Tan’gun means the “King of Sandalwood” because his father, who married the mythical “bear-woman”, descended from heaven through a sandalwood tree on Mt. T’aebaek. This tree is a familiar symbol for the “world tree” or “cosmic pillar” which can be found in many ancient shaman cultures. Tan’gun set up his royal residence in P’yŏngyang ([close to] Sun Myung Moon’s birthplace) and bestowed the name Chosŏn (the Land of the Morning Calm, or Korea) upon his kingdom. Tan’gun was said to have ruled for 1,500 years and then returned at the age of 1,908 to Asadal on Mt. T’aebaek, where he became a mountain god. The legend is interesting in that it reveals the old tradition that Korean kings were also shamans. From antiquity to the present, the shaman has been a key figure in Korean life, and any study of Korean history warrants a close investigation of shamanism. In Korea the links between evangelical religions and shamanism are particularly strong because shamanistic beliefs have persisted down to contemporary times.
Shamans are said to have contact with the animal world, the realm of sky, the realm beneath the earth, and the realm of the dead. The shaman masters the spirits through incantation and ritualized chanting and dancing to induce ecstasy or invoke curses. The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines shamanism as “the primitive religion of the Ural-Altaic peoples of Siberia, in which all the good or evil of life are thought to be brought about by spirits which can be influenced only by Shamans.” As descendants of the Tungus tribes from Siberia, the Koreans have been practitioners of animistic shamanism for many centuries. Within the Korean home, individual members of a family have presided as shamans, and the occupational shaman is sought out as a healer, a fortune-teller, and an emissary who can contact the realm of the spirits. Words, songs, music, and art are the shaman’s tools, which can be used either to heighten or deaden awareness.
Considered to be the oldest religion practiced by mankind, shamanism was particularly strong in Northeast Asia, but it is a phenomenon that has been endemic to all hunting societies. Shamanism, moreover, persists as a technique for manipulating human behavior in countries throughout the world. Among the Tungusians, who lived in a hunting society and depended upon the reindeer for survival, the shaman healer wore a headdress that incorporated the reindeer’s antlers.
The most impressive artifact that gives evidence of a relation between the Siberian shamans and the Korean rulers is the gold crown excavated from Kyŏngju, the ancient capital of the Shilla Kingdom, that bears a mark of resemblance to both antler and “tree-of-life” patterned headgear worn by the Tungus. …”
– from Rev. Sun Myung Moon by Chong-Sun Kim
extracts from the book Folk Art And Magic – Shamanism in Korea (1988) by Alan Carter Covell:
“Every crown discovered at Kyŏngju displays tree-shaped ornaments rising from its headband. Normally three such forms stand upright. These stylized trees, with branches jutting off at right angles, represent the World Tree or the Cosmic Tree, which was a major symbol across the whole northern Siberian Steppes. In nature one species, both very beautiful and unusual, the white birch, became a special symbol for Shamanism. Today very few white birch grow in south Korea, but further north where the winters are much more severe the birch is common. It grows in a northern latitude all the way across Eurasia from Finland and the Scandinavian countries to northern Korea.
The birch and its special significance to northern-type Shamanism may be very ancient. Professor Li Ogg of the University of Paris has pointed out that the first component of the name “Tangun,” Korea’s traditional founder, is “tan” signifying a variety of birch. According to the ancient story, Tan’gun was born under a birch tree on the slopes of Whitehead Mountain, on the border between Manchuria and present-day North Korea. Such a cold climate would produce many white birch.
The Cosmic Tree in itself represents the central pillar of the universe in Siberian Shamanism. Its roots are planted in the underworld, its trunk in the world of man and its branches in heaven, so the shaman may visit all three realms. This would explain why all the crowns of Silla’s shaman-kings display tree designs rising from the circlet, which was itself decorated with waves to represent the ocean or the under world.
On the golden crowns unearthed from Kyŏngju’s burial mounds, the number of branches varies slightly. Most have seven ends, three on each side and the top end branch, although two crowns among those so far discovered have nine. This may be explained if the number of branches refers to the levels of heaven. Some tribes had seven and others had nine levels of heaven in their mythology. The uppermost branch became the residence of the chief deity.”
“A Shamanist tale survives about a “Goddess of the Tree of Life.” She sits amongst the branches of the Cosmic Tree, controlling the fate of men. This magical tree has a million leaves, with each man’s fate written upon one leaf. When the goddess causes a particular leaf to fall, that human being dies.
The jewelry excavated from Kyŏngju evidences two shapes, both of which are similar to the shape of a birch leaf in real life. The long pendants with so many golden leaf shapes clinging to their strands suggest a reflection of the power of the shaman-king over the multitudinous lives of his subjects. Earrings also often have birch-leaf shapes as their decoration.
This jewelry suggests a belief that the shaman-ruler controlled the life and death of his subjects, as, indeed, he did. During the fifth century Shamanism was the state religion of the Silla Kingdom; it was merely the accepted thing that the king, who was the highest shaman in the kingdom, also took the lion’s share of the treasures available, thus ensuring the blessings of the spirits.
The presence of antlers fabricated from gold on most of the major crowns unearthed in Kyŏngju would seem to be another link to the nomads of the northern steppes, where reverence for the reindeer, especially the stag and his antlers, was universal.
The Altai not only used the reindeer as a chief source of food, but they nominated him as a constellation and a magic animal. Ceremonies grew up around this creature’s most notable feature, the antlers. Reindeer became associated with the movement of the sun through the sky. One legend records that a reindeer held the sun between his antlers.
The fact that the reindeer was believed to have been a celestial animal made his antlers into powerful talismans, by associative magic and thus their use on the ruler’s crowns in Silla-period tombs.”
– from the book Folk Art And Magic – Shamanism in Korea (1988) by Alan Carter Covell
▲ A traditional Korean shaman altar. There appears to be a pig’s head on the small table to the left. The Three Spirit (Sam-shin or Sam-bul) and Seven Spirit (Chilsŏng) deities are on the wall, and most likely the Mountain God (San-shin) is between them.
It is official Family Federation for World Peace and Unification / Unification Church teaching that Moon is God. Rev Jin-hun Yong of the Education Department explains that Korea is God’s hometown and God was born in Jung-joo (just north of Pyongyang) – which is where Sun Myung Moon was born.
Shamanism: The Spirit World of Korea
Any understanding of the so-called New Religions of Korea would be difficult without some knowledge of shamanistic influences upon them.