About Dr. Anne Hilty
Dr. Anne Hilty is a Cultural Health Psychologist with a focus on the interplay of Eastern and Western theories of mental health as well as the mind-body connection. Her grounding is in the fields of cultural, transpersonal, and health psychology; she is additionally influenced by classical Chinese medicine, somatic psychology, and Asian shamanic traditions. Originally from the city of New York, Dr. Hilty lives on bucolic Jeju Island in South Korea, having previously lived in Seoul and Hong Kong.
Latest Posts by Dr. Anne Hilty
Jeju Sin-gwa-se-gut, or first ritual of the new (lunar) year, is held to honor a village’s patron gods; the shaman entreats the gods for a propitious year, performs divination to receive the gods’ response, and facilitates a blessing for the village leaders. Devotees bring bountiful offerings which typically include fruit (three colors: apple, pear, and orange are common), grilled fish, a bowl of rice or stack of glutinous rice cakes, and a hard-boiled egg, as well as libation.
Songdang Village ritual, Shaman Jung Tae-jin presiding.
Songdang villagers’ offerings, beneath spirit-tree and before spirit-house.Waheul Village ritual, Shaman Kim Sun Ok presiding.
Blessing the leaders of Waheul Village.Offerings of Waheul villagers.
The stage is set: Ipchun altar, prior to ritual, paper art of traditional figures in background beneath Jeju’s oldest (1448) and most significant building, Gwandeokjeong (National Treasure No. 322).
Shaman Suh Sun Sil (left) welcomes “Ja Cheong Bi, Earth Goddess” (right) in a dramatic portrayal of the goddess’ gift of 6 grains to the Jeju people.
Shaman Suh Sun Sil with supporting shamans and devotees in the background.
Yongnuni Oreum, thought to look like a dragon at rest, is a beautiful volcanic crater with soft ridges. This oreum [volcanic cone, in Jeju dialect], 247.8 meters high, is a good place to go trekking up along gentle ridges and takes only half an hour to walk the circumference. While walking along the rolling hills and soft curves of the oreum, you may feel as though you are playing hide-and-seek with other oreums peeking out beyond the opposite ridge. You may walk down to the bottom of the crater from which the oreum is viewed as waves of soft curves. The coziness within it is like being in a mother’s arms.
Yongnuni Oreum is many people’s favorite, for example, the late photographer Younggap Kim who wandered throughout the island’s mid-mountain grasslands with the wind; his works are now permanently installed in his gallery known as DOMOAK which was transformed from an abandoned primary school in a farming village. He lived with a primitive feeling of loneliness and bottomless longing while dedicating himself to capturing every momentary beauty of nature – a combination of light, wind, color, temperature and moisture – and his works present a set of variations on the theme of nature, a full of wonder and mystery.
We meet and are thrilled with such nature of Jeju at Yongnuni Oreum.
Gotjawal (“goht-jah-wahl” – in Jeju dialect, meaning “forest” and “rubble”) is one of the more unique and mysterious features of Jeju, for centuries deeply significant to the island’s people.
Densely forested regions over rocky volcanic soil, these areas provide both an oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange to purify the air and an aquifer system to purify, recharge, and control the flow of fresh water. Numerous plants traditionally used for medicine grow here, along with a variety of edible greens, roots and fungi, and wild fruits. Game was once hunted and trapped in gotjawal areas, including pheasant, boar, deer, and badger; wood was gathered as firewood and building material, and kilns erected for the making of pottery and charcoal. In all, gotjawal provided the basic necessities of life.
Refusing to be tamed, however, this bramble – called ‘wasteland’ by would-be developers – is unsuitable for residence or agriculture. Providing a rich and safe pasture for horse and cattle grazing, it is rife with low stone walls once containing livestock and marking boundaries. A slash-and-burn style of small-field farming was possible and popular, which, coupled with the need for wood and making of charcoal, replaced old-growth with secondary trees.
These mid-mountain regions of Jeju, 200-600m above sea level, represent an astonishing biodiversity and a unique landscape, including volcanic sinkholes and vents which regulate the temperature and allow for plant varieties of both northern and southern hemispheres. Development, however, has removed great swaths of this forested land. Government and civic initiatives to protect these areas are underway; in 2012, at the World Conservation Congress [WCC] of the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN], held on Jeju, an international resolution was passed for their conservation.
Gotjawal, a giver of life, magical and mysterious – under threat, and in need of protection.
In the dead of winter, take heart: spring is not far away.
Ipchun, one of 24 seasonal divisions by the lunisolar calendar, marks the onset of spring. On Jeju, people traditionally celebrated it primarily by affixing a handwritten poster, ‘Ipchun-daegil’, to the main gate of the house to wish that the day bring great luck.
Historic record establishes that Ipchun Gut [shamanistic ritual] was held on the day to ask the gods for both wellbeing of the people and prosperity of the island for the year. This tradition died out in 1925 during Japanese occupation period; however, it was revived in 1999 with the inception of the Tamnaguk Ipchun Gutnori festival, now an annual event.
Ipchun falls on February 4th. Certainly, Jeju is not the only place to traditionally celebrate this first day of spring; In China it is known as ‘Da chun’, the name originating from an act in which people whip an earthen ox figure on the day, observed on February 5th.
It is an important occasion for the Chinese based on the traditional agricultural society as spring signifies the beginning of the farming season. Japanese also celebrate ‘Setsubun’ at this time, in which people throw roasted beans in and outside of the house to cast evil away and to welcome good luck.
Although the way people celebrate is different, Ipchun Gut of Jeju shares meaning with the celebrations of China and Japan.
Ipchun Gut at Tamnaguk Ipchun Gutnori festival is prepared by the preservation committee of Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeung Gut and led by shaman Yunsoo Kim, designated by the government as an ‘intangible heritage holder’. As several ritual features of the Gut are similar to those shamanic rituals held in village shrines, it provides a good opportunity to witness Jeju Gut. The festival lasts two days: a Confucian ritual called ‘Nangsha Kosa’ opens Day One and is followed by the procession; along with Ipchun Gut, programs of Day Two consist of traditional plays and a variety of performances.
This year, the festival is held February 3-4, 2012. (Photo: Ipchun Gut at Tamnaguk Ipchun Gutnori, 2012.)
In Jeju, ‘halmang-dang’ or goddess shrines dot the island.
The word ‘halmang’ can mean both ‘goddess’ and ‘grandmother’ or ‘old woman’ — the veneration of an elder female, perhaps reminiscent of the clan structure.
The shamanistic shrines of the Korean mainland are typically perceived as ghost-filled haunts, inspiring a certain measure of fear and avoidance except for those times of ritual during which the shaman serves as mediator. Jeju shrines, in contrast, are sites of comfort regularly visited, as Jeju people relate to their deities in a familial way.
One must arrive early, however. Goddesses, like all women of Jeju, are hard-working, and shortly after sunrise, they have already left their shrines in order to travel about the island and tend to their duties.
Those who cannot visit the shrine so early have an alternative: they carry a white sheet of paper close to their hearts, on which they have superimposed their concerns or desires — either literally or metaphorically — and, after saying prayers and providing offerings to the goddess, leave the paper tucked in a cleft of the central tree or rock altar.
The halmang-dang typically consists of such an altar and tree, surrounded by a low stone wall. Multi-colored ribbons are tied to the tree, and food offerings left on the altar along with lit candles and incense, to attract and please the resident deities.
Those by the sea, referred to as ‘haesin-dang’ or ‘seaside spirit-shrines,’ may not have a tree but altar only, often with an inner compartment to keep the paper prayers dry. While shamans facilitate public rituals, supplicants are permitted to visit the shrine on certain days of each month as needed.
Often, baring one’s soul to ‘Grandma’ in this way is sufficient. By releasing the burden within, it is said, the answers — or perhaps simple comfort — can take its place.
At the grassy base of this UNESCO-designated mountain  jutting out to sea, Seongsan Ilchulbong, an annual overnight New Year’s Eve festival takes place. People enjoy the party and performances throughout the night, and climb to the crater at the top in time to see the sun emerge above the watery horizon, the first sunrise of the new year.
Seongsan Ilchulbong, beloved by Jeju people, figures into their mythology as the site at which Seolmundae Halmang, creator goddess and a Great Mother archetype, placed her giant oil lamp upon an equally towering stone lampstand (a structure adjacent to the main path upward). Thus, going to Seongsan in search of light bears deeper significance than one might think at first glance.
Seongsan Ilchulbong, often referred to in English as “Sunrise Peak” (though this is not a literal translation), is a parasitic or secondary volcanic cone, one which rose from the molten lava during the various eruptions of Mt. Halla, the central volcano. Seongsan Ilchulbong is specifically a 179m high tuff cone, unique among Jeju’s nearly 400 volcanic cones (called ‘oreum’ in Jeju dialect), with multiple (“99″) points around the crater that give the appearance of a crown.
Festivals on other well-known Jeju peaks have recently developed in celebration of the year’s first sunrise, and climbing Mt. Halla on the first day of the year is a ritual for many Jeju people.
Women’s Empowerment Principles, known as WEP, were co-created by two United Nations organizations: UN Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM; and, UN Global Compact.
UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses around the world which base their economic principles on universally accepted standards of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.
UNIFEM is now a part of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women. The six focus areas of UN Women include prevention of violence against women, peace and security issues, leadership and participation, national planning and budgeting, economic empowerment, and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
The WEP were launched in March of 2010 on International Women’s Day, for the purpose of achieving economic equality for women across the globe. They are based on an earlier version known as the Calvert Women’s Principles, developed in 2004.
Many women’s organizations around the world have adopted these principles. One such example is Business and Professional Women International, known as BPW, an NGO which began in 1930 and now has member groups in 80 countries on 5 continents.
The 7 Women’s Empowerment Principles are:
- Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality;
- Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination;
- Ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all women and men workers;
- Promote education, training, and professional development for women;
- Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women;
- Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy;
- Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality.
These 7 empowerment principles, however, while designed to be globally applicable, cannot simply be applied as is to each cultural setting. It’s imperative that they be made as culturally relevant as possible in order to achieve maximum success in outcome.
The principles can serve as goals. The objectives – the steps taken to achieve each of these goals – can and must differ from one location to the next.
Thus, as a so-called “western woman” living in Asia, as a professional with a keen interest in culture and how it affects the individual and societal psyche, I would ask each of you: when contemplating how best to achieve these very worthy goals in your country: how can you work within your own cultural matrix in order to effect change?
Jeju women have a longstanding reputation of strength. “The Strong Jeju Woman” is legendary. Feminists in Korea’s mainland point to Jeju women as an example of indigenous feminism. Words like “matriarchy” and “amazonian” have been frequently – if erroneously – employed.
On Jeju, scholars, feminists, and professional women question this identification somewhat.
It’s surely true that the women of this island – and, without a doubt, those of many societies that have endured hardship – share qualities of diligence, fortitude, and courage.
It’s also true that, within the societies of Jeju’s famed diving women, highly structured economic cooperatives and collaborative labor practices have long existed, and women have historically been the backbone of Jeju’s economy.
Thus, Jeju women value independence, individualism, strong will and a certain freedom of thought in ways that differ from their mainland counterparts.
As an example, Jeju women grow up expecting to work – and state that they feel they would be a disappointment to their parents, grandparents, and in-laws, if they did not. They also typically continue working well into their elder years. This is a marked cultural distinction from peninsular Korea.
Women within Korean society, and certainly in Jeju, also wield a great deal of power in matters of the household.
And so, to an outsider, this can look like economic equality. The diving women once represented a primary occupation of Jeju, their history stretching back approximately 2000 years. While it is very difficult and dangerous work, these women of Jeju nevertheless have historically enjoyed a good deal of economic equality and even superiority to men.
This, however, does not represent true equality.
Aside from the labor collectives, Jeju women have not yet attained substantial positions of leadership within the society. Indeed, even within those collectives known as “eochongye” which govern the work of fishermen and diving women and typically have more female than male members, fewer than 20% of the top leaders are female.
In Jeju society, there are also comparatively few female CEOs or top-level managers in corporations. In the several hundred villages throughout Jeju Island, women are also not made chiefs of the village councils.
In government, there are very few females in management positions. And no woman has ever actually been elected to public office, though Jeju legislation now provides for the appointment of five women to the Provincial Council.
Further, although Jeju women have historically contributed strongly to the economy of Jeju, today women throughout Korea are ranked in last position of OECD member nations for the status of women in business, in categories of gender-based wage gap, employment of women, and senior management positions held by women.
According to recent surveys, Jeju is ranked first for the greatest wage gap between men and women among Korea’s 16 provinces, and 10th for the percentage of women in council or public administration.
Therefore, even for such strong women, there is still a great deal of progress to be made before it can be said that any true measure of equality and economic sustainability has been achieved. In actuality, as Jeju’s economy has shifted away from agriculture and fishery to one of tourism and industry, the economic power of Jeju women has diminished.
In the past two years, according to regional statistics, the percentage of Jeju women in the workforce has actually decreased.
And the daughters, the next generation of Jeju women? As the element of hardship and adversity decreases in this increasingly affluent and modernized, technologically driven society, mothers express concern that their daughters want easy lives and lack the strength of their forebears.
(Part 2 to follow.)