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It will be winter but hopefully Seoul will still be bustling.

So tomorrow Rory and I leave for Seoul and attempt to leap the second major hurdle in our quest for matrimony. The first, of course, was meeting Rory’s mom earlier in the year. That time, I was nervous until I saw that she was just as nervous, having never been outside Korea and meeting her daughter’s Canadian fiancée for the first time. Then, the language barrier was accepted and Rory translated for us both.

This time it’s different because I will be the one out of my element. Not only will I have to present myself to Rory’s father and brother, I will also be bowing low to grandma, uncles and some neighbors. I promised Rory’s mom six months ago that I would learn Korean for when I come to Korea and meet the rest of the family, as they might not be as accepting for Rory to translate everything.

I have been trying for the last six months to be at least a little conversational in Korean. Unfortunately I am not going to be able to understand a lot. I find that Korean is difficult to hear because of all the formal endings attached to everything. The ‘aiyos’ and ‘imnidas’ mask the root words and so I have to try very hard to hear what few words I might recognize. I hope that they are a little impressed with what I’ve learned and maybe being in Korea will help me too.

The ceremonies will require me to dress formally, bow in unison with Rory in front of each person, say a phrase that I have yet to learn and present gifts. I will be spending a good amount of time on my knees, nodding in feigned understanding and most likely looking to Rory to translate. I hope hope hope that they respond to me similarly to Rory’s mom. Even though we can hardly speak, she seems to like me a lot.

Some of the Gifts we will be presenting:

Chinese medicine, fine spirits, diamond jewelery and envelopes filled with cash

And then there are Rory’s friends. I actually look forward to meeting some young, fun Koreans as I expect they will understand English even if they are uncomfortable speaking it. I look forward to going out for Korean BBQ and eating great kimchi. I look forward to exploring the city again, even though it will be cold. I look forward to spending time with Rory visiting the old Korean house where we will be married in May as well as checking out the hotels and places we will recommend to our guests. I look forward to cold weather (and maybe snow) after living in a desert for 2 years. I am just nervous about meeting the family.

Wish us luck!

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Korean Shamans

I like this pic. There are a few Korean iconic symbols that maybe I'll let Rory explain. 🙂

When Buddhist priests and temples were prohibited in the walled towns three centuries ago, anything like a national faith disappeared from Korea, and it is only through ancestral worship and a form of  shamanism that Koreans were able to fill that human need for spiritual guidance.

Though Korea is now more religiously diverse (see Korean evangelist Reverend Moon Sun-myung and photo below from his recent marriage of 20,000 people) Shamanism is still a very common practice and the blessings of shamans are still sought after for everything from taking a new job to, in our case, deciding if we are a good match, making sure we don’t have any opposing energies, advising on the best possible date to get married and predicting the success of our marriage. This is decided not only on our Chinese zodiac signs but also on major recent personal events, for example we shouldn’t be married if there is recent death in the family or on the same month as our parents, etc.

Mass Wedding

This isn't how Rory and I will be married. It seems a little generic...


The process is kinda good because so many factors are out of our control that it actually takes some stress off of us during the planning process. It is proving to be a bit problematic for some of our friends and family though, as we tried to have a fall wedding and told people to plan as such, but in the end we are now marrying in May. (Sorry if this caused you strife) Technically it is out of our hands and hopefully this will explain why.

The Korean Shaman interprets the Chinese sexagenary cycle, a 60 year astrological and elemental cycle, and also takes into account other religious, spiritual and personal history to heal, predict and council on major life decisions and events such as political elections, divorce, employment and marriage. As far as their involvement in our marriage (so far), the shaman based their interpretation primarily on the scientific 60 year cycle which maps the earthly and heavenly positive and negative energies to predict the best possible date for the wedding. It is also the same process which will suggest when the children should be conceived and whether the marriage will be happy and healthy. Sounds a bit frightening really.


The Korean word for Shaman is 'mudang' 무당

It’s an interesting calendar based on the Heavenly Elements 木 (wood), 火 (fire), 土 (earth), 金 (metal) and 水 (water). Each of these elements is further divided into positive and negative energies (yin and yang – but negative isn’t necessarily bad, but more like a battery has two poles). Yin and yang are tied to the moon and the sun, female and male respectively. The five elements multiplied by the two energies make the 10 possible Heavenly Stems of the calendar. These correspond to a repeated cycle of ten years in the lunar calendar and are paired with the repeating 12 animals of the more commonly known Chinese zodiac (Earthly branches). However, there are corresponding hours each day for each animal as well, which further determines personal traits of each individual. It is a bit complicated, which is why people probably consult shamans in the first place.

The combination of 12 animals and 10 elements repeat every 60 years. It’s interesting because apparently the 61st birthday (hwangap) is a significant milestone in a person’s life as pre-industrialized Koreans rarely made it to this age but also because it means you have lived an entire cycle. Rory’s dad turns 61 in April and so we are expecting a big party in advance of our own celebration.

korean shaman

Shamans in Korea are almost always women.This one is performing a ritual dance.

Hopefully this explains some things about how we came about the date for the wedding and why it took so long to nail down. There are plenty more interesting Korean traditions and rituals though so keep visiting the blog to learn more.

By the way, according to the Shaman, I am metal monkey.

Interesting extras:

Shamanism – NY Times article

Fact – There are an estimated 300,000 shamans, or one for every 160 South Koreans, according to the Korea Worshipers Association, which represents shamans.

Korean Shamanism

Performing a ritual

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Korea photos