Maje is a ritual for worshipping the horse or to prevent illness in horses, and is related to the sacred horses enshrined at village shrines as horses ridden by Sansin (Mountain God) or Seonang (Village Guardian Deity).
Maje was carried out on various levels, organized by the state, the community or individual households.
State-organized horse rituals date back to the kingdom of Unified Silla (676-935), as seen in records of a range of rites including majoje (horse ancestor ritual) for worshipping Cheonmabangseong, the guardian deity of horses; seonmokje (first shepherd ritual) for worshipping the deity that taught herding to humans; masaje (horse deity ritual) for worshipping the land tutelary god of the stable; and maboje, a ritual to appease the deity that brings harm to horses. Historical records also remain of state-run horse rituals in the dynasties that followed, Goryeo and Joseon.
In a number of village shrines today horses are still enshrined in the form of sculptures or paintings as village gods or as animals that serve the village gods. Horses were also enshrined for the purpose of protecting the village against tigers, and when there were cauldron or earthenware makers in the village, the blacksmiths and other craftsmen enshrined metal horses (cheolma) at the village shrine to pray for success and prosperity.
Horse worship was also related to the belief in the masculine reproductivity of horses, as shown in devotions offered to horses to pray for a son, and also to the worship of Madangjanggun (Horse Shrine Martial God) to pray for the safety and proliferation of cattle in the village.
In homes, simple devotions were offered on the year’s first day of the horse and on horse days in the tenth lunar month.