Sunday, August 30, 2009

Something "Gut"

For me August is the end of a period... the end of the year, the end of a cycle... a time to reflect on the past and the future. September begins the new cycle.

It was in an August that I happened to be in Korea and learned about the Shaman, a cornerstone to Korean culture, even in these contemporary times. As I was about to leave Korea, I came upon a magnificent photograph, so striking that it seemed more like a painting than a photograph. The photograph was of a group of Shamans who were on the ocean between the Korean peninsula and Jeju Island, celebrating a end of the year ritual (a gut) of towing a small boat out to sea filled with debris and painful relics of the past year. Once out to sea, the boat full of the painful and destructive past is cut loose and sunk to the bottom, a symbol of clearing past transgressions to start fresh, with a clean slate.

The gut (pronounced goot) is a shamanistic rite. Through singing, dancing, and chanting, the Shaman intercedes with the forces of life to negotiate the present and the future. Shamans are most often women, wear a variety of very colorful costumes, and often speak in trance. During a gut a shaman changes costumes many times, fitting the attire to the needs of the occasions. Of special interest are the musicians who serve to interact with the Shaman. Using Korean traditional instruments, Shamans and musicians interact setting the mood and the tone for each gut. There are twenty four guts that have specific structure in ritualistic practice. At a service only three or four gut are performed at a particular time.

Three elements structure the gut: spirits, believers, and the shaman mediating between the two. The Shaman served as the core of the community, and the practice predates the arrival of Buddhism in Korea. Shamans assimilated Buddhism into their philosophy and practice. Consequently the Shaman remains an important facet of Korean Culture, although less than it was in ancient days of the dynasties.

So there is something of this end of year gut that resonates with me as September draws near. There is something cleansing about exorcising past demons through the hope of a new tomorrow. So even now, I am looking at the transgressions of this past year, the grudges and procrastinations, the neglect, jealousies, misunderstandings, and ill-fated motives. These I pile onto this barren and broken barge and use my music as a perfomative act of relegating these ruins to the irretrievable reaches of a dissolving cosmos.

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