Rite for the Tutelary Spirit of Eunsan(恩山別神祭)
Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 9, Eunsan Byeolsinje (Kor. 은산별신제, Chin. 恩山別神祭) is a ceremony that pays homage to the tutelary spirit of Eunsan, a village located in Eunsan-myeon, Buyeo-gun, South Chungcheong Province. The event combines elements of Confucian and shamanistic rites with forms of folk entertainment and takes place in the first or second lunar month once every three years.
The Eunsan area played a central role in the marketization and commercialization of agriculture during the end of the Joseon period (1392-1910). At that time, Eunsan was a rich farming community with bases of operation for bobusang (Kor. 보부상, Chin. 褓負商), or pack and back peddlers. The people’s desire for economic prosperity and agricultural development led to the establishment of an annual rite participated in by all of the members of the community. The event has since become a spiritual base for local farmers and merchants. During the rite, the participants ask the village’s tutelary deities to bring good fortune, expel evil forces and appease vengeful spirits.
Eunsan-ri’s village tutelary shrine contains portraits of General Boksin and Great Priest Tojin, two important historical figures who struggled to save Baekje, one of the three kingdoms that existed in the southwestern part of Korea between BCE 18 and CE 660. Eunsan Byeolsinje is a sacrificial rite that is held to comfort the spirits of these two patriotic leaders, chase away the demon of ill health, and bring peace to the village. The rite, therefore, is based in the folk tradition of village tutelary deity worship but also related to military patriotism.
On the eve of the main part of the ritual, the worshippers put up a jindae (Kor. 진대, lit. godly pole) at the house of the ritual’s chief officiant, where it stands throughout the festival period. This practice of erecting a pole during the festival period is a distinctive feature of the Eunsan Byeolsinje and cannot be found in other village tutelary deity worship rites. Another important part of the ritual preparations called kkotbatgi (Kor. 꽃받기, lit. reception of flowers) also takes place on the eve of the main ritual and consists of carrying paper flowers to the shrine. The paper flowers are made in a house which has been designated as “clean” of impurities a month or so prior to the ritual. The actual ritual includes three parts and lasts for three consequtive days: bonje (Kor. 본제, Chin. 本祭), or the main ceremony, starts on the evening of the first day after the sacrificial offerings have been arranged on the altar; sangdanggut (Kor. 상당굿, Chin. 上堂-, lit. upper shrine ceremony) is held the next morning; and hadanggut (Kor. 하당굿, Chin. 下堂-, lit. lower shrine ceremony) is performed the next day at dangsu (Kor. 당수, Chin. 堂樹), the several hundred-years old tutelary tree of the village.
The officiants of the ritual are required to clean their bodies and minds preparing offerings and performing their ritual duites. Another unique feature, and the highlight of the Eunsan Byeolsinje, is the performance of godu baekbae (Kor. 고두백배, Chin. 叩頭百拜, lit. one hundred deep bows) which takes place to musical accompaniment. Godu, or kowtow in Chinese, refers to an act of prostration expressing one’s utmost respect to a god or a person such as a king. To perform it, a person kneels down and bows deeply until his forehead touches the ground three times. He then stands up. This one action is considered to be three bows; in order to complete one hundred bows, the worshippers repeat this act thirty-three times and then add one more bow. Godu baekbae may have often been a part of religious rituals in the past, but only the Eunsan Byeolsinje currently maintains this practice. When the god descends in the sadanggut part of the ritual, the participating heads of the households perform soji (Kor. 소지, Chin. 燒紙), or burning of the prayer sheets. They follow the directions of the chief officiant and pray for peace in the community and the happiness of each of its members; clearly the ritual is intended to achieve a greater unity of the community. After all proceedings of the Eunsan Byeolsinje are over, paper flowers that have been offered on the altar are shared among the ritual’s participants and those who donated funds for the ritual. The flowers are kept at home carefully, in the belief that they help repel evil and bring peace to the house.