Our visit as well as my lecture in the northeastern coastal region of South Korea was arranged by Ms. Eungyeong Kim. Ms. Kim, lecturer at Gangneung Wonju University, had contacted me three years ago and requested me to visit her region during Mago Pilgrimage. So I did. We visited several cultural and natural sites including the three shrines, Buddhist temple, Rock of Mago Halmi, and Rock of Mago.
The first place we went was an old town of Gangmun in Gangneung (강릉) City. Gangmun is known for her ancient faith practice of Seonghwang (城隍, Moated Stronghold), whose origin I trace in the Magoist Budo civilization in the third millennium BCE.[i] We were there to visit what Gangmun is best known for; the three shrines of the Female Seonghwang Shrine, the Male Seonghwang Shrine, and the outdoor place of Jinttobaegi Seonghwang (진또배기 성황).
The Female Seonghwang Shrine (여성황당, Yeo Seonghwang-dang) sits on the ground under Peak of Juk-so (Big or Bamboo Island), a low hill by the seashore. Below the peak amidst its waist, nettle trees are lined up, looking down the roof of the shine. The shine building, small in size, exudes a swirl of high energy in the air. Having three chambers, it enshrines the female triad in the middle chamber.
Our guide, Mr. Yeongmok Jang (80 year-old), an elder of the village, told us the origin story of the shrine. About four hundred fifty years ago, three geese flew from Mongolia and sat on the current spot. Villagers deemed the place sacred and began to offer rituals. At the beginning, the shrine had no building structure but was marked by a rock and a small edifice made from rice-straw. The present shrine building was from two hundred some years ago, the late Joseon period (1392-1910).
The next shrine, Jinttobaegi Seonghwang, was an outdoor open space made into a park wherein numerous jinttobaegis better known in other regions as sotdaes (wooden poles with carved three geese atop) stood in different heights. This place is deemed as one of the three shrines in Gangmun together with the Female Seonghwang Shrine and the Male Seonghwang Shrine. All three are located in proximity within 100 meters from each other. According to Mr. Wongeun Kim, representative of Gangmun Fishing Community, the tallest sotdae is re-constructed every three years upon the ritual of Pungeo-je (calming the wind for sea voyagers). Other data show that the tallest sotdae is designated as the focus of worship in this outdoor shrine.
The third shrine, the Male Seonghwang Shrine (숫성황당, Sut Seonghwang-dang or 남성황당, Nam Seonghwang-dang), was of a small hut-like structure with only one chamber. It was located in a weedy land near a rice paddy. Nonetheless, pine trees surrounding the shrine added the air of sacredness. Inside, I saw the three ancestral tablets on a crudely raised alter leaning against the cement wall. Each of the three ancestral tablets reads the name of the three Goddesses; the Deity of Seonghwang at the center flanked by the Deity of Earth and the Deity of Smallpox. Although their names are stripped off the female connotation, they are acquiesced to be Goddesses. All three deities are deemed as female nationwide in Korea. Mr. Jang explained how they ended up being enshrined here: Having been abandoned by the Gwon clan, they were re-enshrined in a newly built shrine by villagers. Apparently, villagers named the new shrine the Male Seonghwang Shrine. This is somewhat expected given that the City of Gangneung boasts of its upscale Neo-Confucian culture as the birthplace of such renowned Neo-Confucian scholars as Yi Yulgok and the Heos (including Heo Gyun and Heo Nanseolheon) of the sixteenth century CE.
On April 15 by the lunar calendar, villagers invite Mudangs and offer rituals in all these three shrines. This ritual, Pungeo-je (ritual of calming the wind for sea voyagers), is an old Shaman ritual for fishing villagers in Korea, performed for several days.
[i] On the Budo civilization, see The Mago Way: Re-discovering Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia, Chapter 4.