Bison refers to a simple rite performed by rubbing one’s palms together to pray for a wish to come true or for a cure for a disease. The first syllable bi is a derivation of the verb bilda, “to pray, ” and son means “hand.” Variations of the term include sonbim and binyeom, in Jeju dialect.
It is assumed that hand-rubbing is a gesture to make an appeal to the divine beings of the human fragility against higher forces of Nature. In the course of history, this humble act evolved into the complicated formal ritual of gut, accompanied by song, dance, channeling and myriad instruments including drums, gongs and flutes, but the simple rite of bison has survived as well.
The rite requires only plain sacrificial foods, including a bowl of clear water or a small serving of sirutteok, rice cake steamed in thin layers with red bean filling. Sometimes it is held in the woman’s inner chamber of a home, with simple offerings of rice cake, fruit and cooked vegetables set up in the warm end of the room, accompanied by prayer recitation. Since the rite does not require musical instruments, it is often officiated by an eloquent and experienced village elder or the woman of the household.