Samjae, or three calamities, are bad fortunes that occur in regular cycles according to one’s year of birth.
The three calamities are divided into water calamity (sujae), fire calamity (hwajae), and wind calamity (pungjae); or into calamity caused by tool or weapon (dobyeongjae), plague calamity (jilyeokjae), and famine calamity (gigeunjae). It is not clear exactly when this concept was formed, but the folk song (sogyo) version of “Cheoyongga (The Song of Cheoyong), ” from Goryeo, includes in its lyrics the term “samjae, ” and a three calamities prevention amulet sheet was discovered inside the stupa at Yongjusa Temple, also from Goryeo, so it is assumed that the concept dates back earlier than Goryeo (918-1392).
The three calamities is a cycle of bad fortune that everyone goes through in life, and is believed to occur over a three-year period. The first of the three years is known as deulsamjae or ipsamjae (entering the three calamities), the second, nuulsamjae or jungsamjae (middle of the three calamities), and the third, nalsamjae or chulsamjae (exiting the threecalamities). It is believed that bad fortunes accumulate as the cycle progresses.
However, the three-year calamity cycle, which comes by every nine years, does not necessarily bring only disaster. Lucky events can also occur, according to individual fate and fortune, in which case the cycle is referred to as boksamje (luck of the three calamities).
Upon the arrival of a samjae cycle, one purchases a three calamities prevention talisman sheet; seeks help at a Buddhist temple or a shaman by requesting a ritual to undo the cycle (samjaepuri) or a recitation of Samjaeg yeong (Three Calamities Script); or attempts prevention through rituals like burning the undergarment of a person who was struck with the three calamities curse and burying the ashes in a threeway intersection.