Photo courtesy of shaman Ms. Cho
Photo courtesy of shaman Ms. Cho

Fortune tellers all the craze in Korea

by Chihon Kim
Stripes Korea

Let’s admit it, everyone is curious what their future holds. In Korea, a lot of us rely on fortune tellers or Mudang (shamans) to look into our futures. Of course, we go to the ones who are known to be accurate.

With a new year upon us, Koreans are flocking to these knowers of the future to ask them about business, health, family, marital and career matters.  Even some politicians visit them to know the result of an election. And this is before the voting has even begun!

According to recent statistics from joins.com, four out of 10 South Korean adults have gone to a fortune teller. Korea’s fortune-telling industry generates an estimated $3.7 billion annually, the Korea Economic Daily reported. The Korean Association of the Gyeongsin and the Korean Association of Fortunetellers estimate the number of Korean Mudang who provide foresight while being possessed by spirits and perform exorcisms and fortunetellers has reached 500,000 nationwide. This includes non-regis Unlike in the United States, where fortune tellers are often recognized as swindlers out to scam those desperate to see what is in store for them, they are respected and a part of the everyday consciousness of the average Korean.

Why are so many Koreans interested in fortune telling? Although South Korea is primarily made up of Buddhists and devout Christians, fortune telling continues to thrive as both a form of entertainment and as a dependable guide for seeking answers to daily problems. Whereas Koreans regard going to a psychiatrist and receiving formal treatment as disgraceful. So, if someone has mental problems or has difficulty handling their problems, instead of looking for a psychiatrist, many turn to fortune tellers, which are quite easy to find. You could say that in South Korea, Mudang and fortune tellers are more prominent than psychological consultants or psychiatrists.

In addition, it’s an extension of traditional shamanistic beliefs and is part of the culture. And it’s not only older people going fortune tellers. In recent years, more younger folks have begun having their fortunes told. In line with this change, some fortunetellers are running their stores wearing suits instead of traditional clothing. 

My visit to a fortune teller

Earlier this year, my mother and I went to a fortune telling house to ask about our family’s fortunes.

Because I don’t go often, the creepy ambience of the place wasn’t easy to adapt to. As I entered the room, I spotted a traditional painting of local deities. The fortune teller, seated at the low table, immediately scattered rice after asking the year and time of my birth.

“What on earth could she see in the rice?” I said to myself. The fortune teller confidently told me I had luck and would move to a new job in October. For about an hour, my mother asked her many questions about our family.  As soon as I got home that day, I turned over the calendar and wrote down her predictions so I wouldn’t forget.

In October, I changed jobs. My family and I were all surprised when I got this job offer. It may have been a coincidence, but the fortune teller’s prophecy motivated me to prepare for the job interview and I think it helped me a little. Whether it was pure luck or skill is unknown, but the fortune teller was right!

When the new year comes, my family will go see a fortune teller together for fun. But people who are about to get married, move out or start a new business, take the prophecy quite seriously.

The opinion on fortune tellers may vary from person to person, but there are those who truly believe they are the gateway to a successful year and life.  Because of this, many fortune-telling businesses are undergoing certification tests and having their employees get special training so they can offer professional counseling to customers who visit.

Whether you’re a sincere believer in fortune telling or a complete skeptic, visiting a traditional fortuneteller is certainly a great way to experience Korea’s deep traditional culture. But, you’ll need to bring a Korean speaker with you. Here’s hoping that your future is bright!

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