Thursday, February 16, 2012

KOREAN CULTURE: The First Full Moon Festival (4)

Daeboreum (대보름), and its Superstitions and Customs 

Jisinbapgi, or Jisin Bapgi (Stepping on the Spirits of Earth)

Jisinbapgi (Picture Source)

Now that a tug of war contest (Juldarigi) is over, it’s time to carry on another ritual to wish for good harvests and abundance. The ritual is called Jisinbapgi (지신밟기) which translates to “Stepping on the Spirits of Earth,” and is also called Madangbapgi (마당밟기, “Stepping on the Courtyard”), Maegwi (매귀(埋鬼), “Burying the Spirits”), or Geollip (걸립(乞粒), “Begging for Rice”).1  Jisinbapgi is traditionally carried out starting from the first day of the Lunar New Year through the fifteenth (Daeboreum), or any time they need to collect money or rice to use for the village celebrations and festivities.  The meaning behind this ritual is to ward off evil spirits while stepping on the good Earth Spirits and to bring in blessings, happiness, and peace for the whole village all year round.  The ritual becomes the talk of the village while preparing for it on their own accord, and the funds (money and rice) they raise through it are used for the purposes of the public interest.

The farmers’ folk band gathers together at the mouth of their village, at the village well, or at the tributary junction of the village river.  In ancient Korea, the parade was headed by Sadaebu (사대부(士大夫), “high officials”) and followed by the hunters and others wearing various masks called Tal () then lastly by the farmers’ folk band.  The parade heads first to the village head’s (or the tong2 head’s nowadays) house then to the haves’, with the farmers’ folk band performing Nongak (농악) that narrowly translates to “farmers’ music” – the band plays such musical instruments as Jing (, “large gong”), Buk (, “drum”), Ggwengwari (꽹과리, “small gong”), and Jango (장고, “hour-glass shaped drum”).

1.  Geollip (걸립(乞粒)) originally refers to the act of begging for rice (and also money).  Whenever a Buddhist temple needed funds, a pack of Buddhist monks paid a visit to each and every house of the village, offered a Buddhist chanting and invocation, and then were offered rice or money in return.  It also refers to a ritual of Jisinbapgi.
2.  A tong is the second-lowest city administrative unit or prefecture.

(from top left clockwise) Jing, Ggwengwari, Buk, Jango
Picture Source

Nongak Performance

When the Jisinbapgi team enters into the house of each family, they step firmly and thoroughly on every corner of the courtyard, then the kitchen, the platform for earthen crocks (containing soy sauce, soy bean paste, chili pepper paste, and so on), the storage shed, and then the toilet shed, dancing and chanting, “Good, good Earth Spirits, expel the evil spirits and minor demons from this place and let them stay deep underground!  Let thousands of happiness and tens and thousands of blessings come on in to this place!”  The people of the village try to get ahead of one another in having the Jisinbapgi team over to their house. If the team happens to skip the visit to their house, they will completely freak out.  After the ritual is over, the owners of the house offer the Jisinbapgi team foods (including rice cakes) and drinks as a token of their sincere gratitude.  The Jisinbapgi team, the family of the house, and the spectating crowds all become as one while having a ball.

 Daljiptaewugi or Daljip Taewugi (Burning the Moon House)

Daljiptaewugi (Picture Source)

When all the rituals in the daytime are over, it’s time to light up the fire!  The ancient Korean farmers gathered together to carry out such fire rituals as Daljiptaewugi (달집 태우기, “Burning the Moon House”), Gwibullori (쥐불놀이, “Setting Fire to Catch Rats”), or Hwaetbbulssaum (횃불싸움, “Torch Fight”).  These pastimes or games are in fact fire-worshiping rituals  as the gist of the ancient Korean philosophy is the sacredness of Nature; and in various cultures (such as Korea, southern China, or Baltic Europe), the farmers traditionally perform rituals of setting fire, dancing and drumming around it in hope of good harvests and abundance.

The ritual starts at dusk as the ancient farmers build a straw or pine twig heap that looks like a tepee or tipi; and it reaches a crescendo when the Full Moon appears as an entire circle in the sky and the farmers set the house on fire in order to ward off evil spirits and ill fortune and bring in blessings and luck.  This tepee look-alike house made with straws or pine twigs is called Daljip (달집, “Moon House”) and the ritual is called Daljiptaewugi (달집 태우기, “Burning the Moon House”).1  The ancient Korean farmers believed scorching the moon would prevent droughts hence carried out the ritual in earnest hope of timely rains and breezy winds, i.e., a climate favorable to agriculture.  Besides, this ritual fulfils the desires and aspirations of the ancient Korean farmers for peace and stability in their village, using the banishing and purifying power of the sacred fire that burns up all the evil spirits and impurity.

Even though the exact origin and history of Daljiptaewugi is unknown, but since the Full Moon is the very essence of Daeboreum, we can assume this ritual is deeply rooted in Korea’s agricultural culture:  one, the moon epitomizes female, birth, fertility, creation, and abundance; and two, as Korea’s agriculture is based on the lunar, or Chinese, calendar which is a combination of astronomy (especially, the moon’s cycles) and geography through observation and exploration, the moon symbolizes the revolutions of the spheres of the universe, the order of time, the changes of the season, and the principles of nature.  Needless to say, on Jeongweol Daeboreum or Sangweon (in which sang means “top” and weon “best” or “No. 1”) when we can see the first full moon of the year, the magical power of the moon reaches its apex and this is why the Korean farmers perform various kinds of the moon-worshiping rituals such as Yongalddeugi (용알뜨기, “Scooping up the Dragon’s Egg”), Dalmaji (달맞이, “Welcoming the first full moon”), Daljeom (달점, “Lunar Divination”), or Dalbureum (달불음, “Soaking the moon”).

1. The word dal means “the moon” and jip “house,” and combined, daljip means “the house of the moon.” The name of the ritual, Daljiptaewugi, varies according to the regions:  Daljipbul (달집불, “Moon House Fire”), Dalbullori (달불놀이, “Moon Fire Game”), Dalggeusilleugi (달끄실르기, “Scorching the Moon”), Donghwa (동화(洞火), “Village Fire”), Manguribul (망우리불, “Moon Viewing Fire”), Dalmanguri (달망우리, “Moon Viewing”), or Mangweol (망월, “Moon Viewing”). 

Manguribul and Dalmanguri are the words resulted from the mispronunciation of MangweolDalbullori and Dalggeusilleugi indicate that the purpose of the ritual is to scorch the moon.  Donghwa means a village fire that burns up all the diseases and demons.  In other villages of Korea, it is called Haedonghwa (해동화, 解凍禍 or解凍火) which means “removing ill-fortunes of the village” or “a fire that thaws all the frozen, wintry things.”

When Jeongweol Daeboreum is imminent, all the men from the village start working together to build the cone-shaped Moon House or Daljip with pine twigs and/or straws.  The pine twigs and/or straws are either brought in by the workers or collected from village families except for those in mourning, those with a mom in the postpartum period, or those regarded defiled.  Daljip is usually built either in the village square or on a mountain or hill ridge where they can see the Full Moon rise.  At sunset, when they get Daljip ready for the ritual, all the villagers gather together in front of it with a light heart, buoyed up with hope and good resolutions, waiting for the Full Moon to rise into the sky.  Finally when the moon rises in the east, all the people start shouting, “Moon Fire!  Moon Fire! Let’s watch the moon!  Let’s scorch the moon!” and set the Moon House, Daljip, on fire.  Then they dance around the burning Moon House to the rhythm of the beat rendered by the farmers’ folk band and pray that all the evil spirits and demons may be banished from their village.  (The sound of burning bamboo stems the farmers placed in the Moon House is also believed to scare them away.) This is the most magical moment of this ritual when they are in full accord with Nature.


It is believed that the first person to see the Full Moon rise on the day they perform Daljiptaewugi ritual will have the best of luck all year.  The Korean farmers practice divination from how the Moon House burns: If it burns very vigorously, only good things will happen to their village; if it burns very slowly or the fire dies down, it is considered ominous sign of disasters.  In some regions, it is believed that the more smoke the burning produces or the more the smoke covers the moon, the more abundant the year’s harvest and yields will turn out.  They also predict their fortunes according to which direction the Moon House will fall:  If it falls toward the east or toward their village, it is considered a sign of good harvests; if it falls toward the west or to the opposite side of their village, it is considered ominous and disastrous. (In some regions, it is believed to the contrary; they’d like to have the Moon House fall to the opposite side of their village since it is considered lucky.)  The Korean farmers take the remnant coals from the burnt Moon House to toast beans and eat them since they believe it will prevent skin diseases and strengthen their teeth.

KOREAN CULTURE: The First Full Moon Festival (1)

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