Gaehceon-jeol, Opening of Heaven Day at Sajik Park
October 3 in Koreais Gaecheon-jeol which translates in English to “Opening of Heaven Day.” It is a national holiday in the Republic of Korea commemorating October 3, 2457 B.C., the date when the mythical King Hwanung descended from heaven to live with mankind.
SIWA (Seoul International Woman’s Association) led a trip to Sajik Park, where a reenactment of the full-scale Neo-Confucian ritual was held by a private association at the shrine for King Dan-gun. David Mason, a scholar on Korean Buddhism and folk-religion tradition, led the tour. Mason is a professor at GyeongjuUniversity and has been living in Seoul for about 30 years.
Sajik Park is located near Gyeongbokgung Station. Walking straight out of Exit 1, you will come to the Joeseon Dynasty Royal Shrines that were believed to be connected to the Earth and Harvest. These Shrines are called Sajikdan and Jongmyo, and are located to the west and east sides, respectively, of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was at this sacred site, that ceremonies were performed to ask for a good harvest during droughts in the Joseon Dynasty. The altars are now surrounded by a wall, but can still be easily viewed by peering through the gate. There are reenactments of these ceremonies on several occasions during the year.
After viewing the altars and getting an informative history of Gaecheon-jeol by Professor Mason, we continued into the park. Here we found two massive statues of the great Neo-Confucian philosopher Yulgok and his mother Shin Saimdang. These two historic Korean figures are seen most commonly on Korean money. Shin Saimdang is on the 50,000 won bank note and Yulgok – 5,000.
Yulgok spent his life learning and teaching Neo-Confucianism. He contributed politically to Korean society and also had multiple works as an author. He suggested that Korea should expand their military and predicted that the Japanese were going to invade. This idea was ignored, but then proven accurate with the Imjin War.
Shin Saimdang is the only female on a South Korean bank note, and the most recent addition. She is known in Korea for being an example of an ideal wife and good mother. In addition to this she was a self-educated scholar who practiced calligraphy, poetry, writing and drawing.
Walking up a flight of stairs to the left of the Yulgok Statue, we found The Dangunseongjeon (Dangun Shrine). At this location the reenactment of Gaecheon-jeol was taking place. The ceremony began at 11:00 and events continued until 15:45. It started with the traditional memorial ceremony, and several Korean officials addressed the crowd.
High profile guests and Seoul locals alike were in attendance. The ceremony was followed by a Korean Archery show, ritual dress performance and traditional percussion. SIWA stayed in attendance for the initial ceremony. We were popular among reporters who approached us for interviews on remarks about the event. It is not so common to see foreigners in attendance.
Following the ceremony, we walked a small portion of the Fortress Trail, where all in attendance enjoyed beautiful views of Seoul during the beginning of the fall foliage season. The day was warm and fall flowers were in full bloom.
This beautiful path led us to Inwang-sa temple on Inwang-san Mountain. Inwang-san Mountainis believed to be a sacred Shaman ground. The most active site for Shamanism in Korea for the past hundreds of years is located here. The temple is disguised as a Buddhist temple because practicing Shamanism is illegal in Korea. The area’s unique occurrences can easily be missed to the unknowing hiker.
When we arrived at the temple Shamanismworship was occurring. Several members, who knew Korean on our tour, spoke with the women leading the rituals. They became very friendly and offered to show us a full Shamanism ceremony. Two women banged drums and cymbals as a third majestically danced around the room chanting. She repeatedly added additional robes and accessories to her outfit.
At one point the woman picked up a large sword and danced around the room. She also changed head dresses. It was fascinating to encounter. The temple also had a full sacrificial table set up. Meat, fish, rice cakes, fruit, a pigs head, and much more were arranged along the altar. The area surrounding the temple smelled of Soju as bottles were opened and poured to sacrifice.
Our final stop on the trip was the Seon-bawi rocks. The uniquely structured stones are another sacred area for Shaman worship. We encountered several other women lighting candles and praying by the shrine. They also were very friendly and offered us traditional walnut candies upon our arrival. Professor Mason was puzzled by their kindness, as often the practice of Shamanism is hidden to those outside of the faith.
All events of the day were extremely unique and gave everyone in attendance an extraordinary look into traditional Korean practices that helped shape the country into what it is today. Professor Mason’s insight throughout the trip was both entertaining and fascinating. Seeing firsthand, what he has spent years studying helped us to just begin to grasp these abstract Eastern principles.