More North Koreans turning to shamanism in midst of economic downturn

Kang Mi Jin  |  2018-04-06 16:06
As North Koreans continue to struggle through the country's economic downturn due to international sanctions, it is being reported that a rising number of residents are turning to shamanism for solutions. 

"There has been a wildly sharp rise in interest among people in 'exceptional fortune-tellers,'" a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on March 26. "Even people who had not been into clairvoyancy in the past are now looking towards superstition to find relief from their continuing difficulties."

The source said that traders and goods distributors have come to adopt the saying that it is, "dangerous to hit the road without having gotten your fortune told," and that you can, receive the courage to travel long distances as long as you have a good fortune teller.

"These days, people are looking to fortune tellers to decide their wedding dates and even the names of their babies," he added. "Rumors spread about the best shamans in the area, leading to huge lines of people showing up each day from sunrise to sunset outside their homes."

The source said that the turn to superstition has also become the cause of new problems between family members. "A huge fight broke out between children of one family in Pochon County over the occasion of the mother's 60th birthday," he said, explaining the crux of the argument focused on whether to go ahead with the fortune telling on the mothers birthday or the fathers.

A separate source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK that he observed a significant drop in market activity in recent times, which he believes will only worsen under continued economic sanctions. This, he believes, is the primary reason why so many people are turning to the old superstitions for solutions. 

"People are looking to different sources for mental support as conditions get worse. Some [superstitious] phrases are becoming popular, such as, 'Keep your fingernail and toenail clippings in your pocket and you won't lose your things,' and, 'Mix some red pepper powder in with your salt and your business won't suffer," he added.

But the source added that there have been negative side effects from the phenomenon as well, describing a rise in the number of opportunists and scam artists emerging to take advantage of the demand for fortune tellers. 

Practicing in shamanism or other superstitious behavior is illegal under North Korean law. Article 256 of the North's Criminal Law states that any person receiving money or items in exchange for conducting superstitious activities will be sentenced to up to one year of hard labor, or up to three years in more severe cases.

In a video taken in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, obtained by Daily NK in 2013, one middle-aged man speaks with a fortune-teller about healing his son, who was discharged from the military after having contracted tuberculosis. He can be heard asking the middle-aged woman about the healing process. She tells him her price for the transaction, prescribes a recipe of millet cakes and rice water, and says that an exorcism must then be performed.  Video: Daily NK

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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