Towards the beginning of the Leftover Affairs of the Three Kingdoms 三國遺事 삼국유사
is the story of a lad who went by “Nose Thorn 鼻荊 비형.” His name certainly gave him enough for the other kids in his 유치원 to tease him about before they even heard about his conception in the union between the dead soul of King Four Wheels the beautiful Peach Blossom Gal. Nose Thorn liked to play with the ghosts and spirits. Probably better company than the neighborhood brats. And Nose Thorn could command his playmates to accomplish astonishing feats. One of those friends of his turned himself into a fox and ran away after Nose Thorn had him complete a public works project.
荊使鬼捉而殺之。故其眾聞鼻荊之名。怖畏而走。時人作詞曰。聖帝魂生子 鼻荊郎室亭 飛馳諸鬼眾 此處莫留停 鄉俗帖此詞以辟鬼。
荊 Thorn 使 caused 鬼 the spirits 捉 to catch 而 and 殺 kill 之 him. 故 Thus [if] 其 that 眾 group [of ghosts] 聞 heard 鼻荊之 Nose Thorn’s 名 name, [they] 怖 feared, 畏 dreaded 而 and 走 ran away. 時 At that time 人 people 作 wrote 詞 a song 曰 saying: “聖 The Sacred 帝 thearch 魂 ghost's 生 born 子 son; 鼻荊 Nose Thorn 郎 the lad’s 室亭 house [is this one]. 飛 Flyers 馳 and runners--諸 all manner of 鬼眾 ghosts: 此 [At] this 處 place 莫 do not 留 stay 停 or stop.” 鄉 The village 俗 commonfolk 帖 pasted 此 this 詞 song [on their houses] 以 in order to 辟 make flee 鬼 the ghosts.
Written words on a piece of paper posted at someone's house to control supernatural forces—an early ghostbuster kit! But I don't remember seeing that one in the movie.
Later, in the same book, we find another story with a similar element. The Dragon of the East Seas 東海龍 sent one of his seven sons to help out in the court of Great King Heon'gang 憲康大王. This son was named “Place-Acceptance 處容 처용.” Heon'gang was so grateful to have a subject that was worth something that he had a beautiful wife arranged for Place-Acceptance and gave him an official position in the government. That was all well and good until one day Place-Acceptance was dragging himself home, bushed, after a long day at the palace. He was looking forward to a little quality time with the wife, but when he walked into the house, he found that his beautiful wife was already enjoying that “quality time” with someone else. Not just anyone
but the Spirit of Smallpox (역신 疫神), no less! Knowing the better part of valor, which of course means he knew he'd get his ass kicked in a fight with Poxey, Place-Acceptance did a little dance and sang a song as he stepped back out of the house, accepting his fate and leaving the two entwined to finish their business.
What sort of song does one sing in this situation while backing out of the house?
Good question. Actually the song itself is written in 향찰
, an old way of transcribing Korean words using Chinese characters. Problem is, we don't know enough about the language that they spoke back then to be 100% sure about the finer points of his lyrics, but the gist is this: “Night settles as I wander under the bright moon of the Eastern Capital. Returning home, I look at my spot and discover four legs there. Two of 'em are mine, but whose are the other two? What can I do when what was mine is taken?”
Maybe Face-Acceptance was tone-deaf. Because his singing was too much for the Spirit of the Pox to bear. It came and bowed before Face-Acceptance and said that it felt bad enough about what it had done, but even more so since Face-Acceptance didn't even show anger. And then, in a true Marvel Comics moment, the spirit said:
[I] 誓 swear 今已後 from now on, [if I] 見 see 畫 painted 公之 your 形容 appearance, [I] 不 will not 入 enter 其 that 門 gate 矣 now.
So what do you think the commonfolk did then? If you guessed “因此國人門帖處容之形,” you would be correct!
(Small hint: “因 Because of 此 this 國 the state's 人 people [on their] 門 doors 帖 pasted 處容之 Place-Acceptance's 形 image.”)
Wheew. Now there aren't gonna be any evil spirits hanging around this little web diary. ^^
Ah, life was just so much more exciting in the old days.
So the people of the Korean peninsula have been pasting pieces of paper with writing or images on them to influence the supernatural for a long time. They call ‘em “부적,” and nowadays, they usually look something like this:
The thing about life as a human is that everybody needs a little something extra…or maybe a little less of something. That's why they make these 부적 in many flavors, to cater to many different demands. It's true market segmentation in action. You have your basic FOR talisman (FOR success at work, success in one's studies, FOR a new lover, FOR a son, FOR a pile of cash, FOR family peace, or just for good luck in general), and then there's the AGAINST model (to protect AGAINST disaster, disease, ghosts, marital strife, AGAINST bad dreams and even to keep bugs and wild animals at bay). Interestingly enough, there is a nigh unto never-ending list of official names for these, most of which are an abbreviated Chinese phrase to describe the effect of the 부적 with a 부 (short for “부적”) appended.
And if you read the fine print, you'll notice that, while the manufacturer might not actually recommend
it, they can also be used in a pinch to immobilize your standard-issue Chinese vampire.
In the old days, anyone could just slap some ink on a paper, say it looked like 처용 and that was enough to keep the ghosts out. But nowadays those darn malevolent forces are becoming sooooooo sophisticated. They're not about to be stopped by such a simple ruse anymore. Nope. Nowadays if you want a talisman that works, you've got to make it the right way. You need to take the best quality Korean paper, made from the fibers of a paper mulberry 닥나무
, and stain it in a solution of gardenia 치자나무 or spindle tree 회나무
berries that have been boiled down to make a potent yellow dye. That'll do for your canvas. Then you need a medium with which to paint. First you've gotta get your hands on some crystal cinnabar
—a naturally occurring mineral that is used as a red pigment and was revered for it's mystic powers in Oriental medicine
and Taoist alchemy
. Grind it up into a very fine powder and mix it with enough oil to let a brush hold it and lay it down evenly. (Incidentally, this is also the same basic recipe as for high-end 인주
, except 인주 is much more viscous and has added some fibrous roots to keep it in a clump.)
In the 1985 Hong Kong comedy Mr. Vampir[e] 강시선생
, they use fresh chicken blood for the same thing, but chicken blood is not as powerful (read: expensive) as cinnabar, so Korean talismanmongers won't bother themselves with that stuff.
The right materials alone won't be enough to guarantee an effective product, though. You've also got to follow the right process. And, according to several prominent internet vendors, the secret process is:
- Sit down with the client and choose a lucky day for the drafting of the 부적 based on his birth year/month/day/hour
- The day before the appointed day, the medium and client must each bathe and avoid inappropriate activities and unclean places
- On the day that the talisman is to be drawn, the medium must arise early (you've got to be a morning person to be a 무속인 now ㅡ.ㅡ;;;;;;; ), wash, put on clean clothing, offer clean water to the east, light candles and incense, clack her teeth together three times, recite phrases of power and otherwise prepare to receive strength from the divine
- Next the medium must prepare the paper and cinnabar mixture
- Finally, when it comes time to write, the medium must have full concentration of mind and body, and dash the whole talisman off in one uninterrupted Taoist flourish of brush on paper, much as 이태백 is famous for having done when composing a poem
This is the only way to guarantee a product with the true power of the supernatural. Just peruse the websites of any of the many 부적 peddlers. They will all assure you of the same process. Actually, their pronouncements of this fact are all so
similar as to give one the feeling that they may have been cribbing from one another. Nah! Best to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the same spirits are inspiring all equally.
These guaranteed-to-work talismans can be (1) stuck on the sore spot, (2) burned and the ashes consumed, (3) carried on the body in a special pouch or in the wallet, or (4) stuck on the wall of a building, usually over the door frame. Cinnabar—since it gets its color from the presence of mercury and all—is a poisonous compound, so you may want to be wary of this ingredient in a 부적 that you intend to consume. Note also it is said that if you take out your #3 type talisman and unfold it, all of the power dissipates, so consider yourself warned!
Looking at a few of these 부적, one starts to get the feeling of recurring thematic elements pretty quickly. The first type of imagery employed on these good luck charms is the written word, generally something inspired by Indic scripts or Chinese characters (but usually combinations or partial characters, called “broken characters 破字,” not actual
Chinese characters). The Chinese-character inspired charms frequently start with “勅令” or “奉令,” informing the ghosties that it is a command from a higher power, so they ignore it at their own peril. They wouldn't want someone going all Nose Thorn on them, after all. The second type of imagery is geometric design, including those Book-of-Changes
stripes that adorn the Korean flag. The third and final type of imagery is depictions of things. Animals, birds, celestial bodies, drawings of spirits and the like. These include designs inspired by Chinese star charts, which may not seem like a “depiction of things” to the uninitiated. Rather like 木 and 山 don't actually look
a lot like the items that they have supposedly been pictographed from. So let's all get initiated. Here is a Chinese star chart:
You can see these elements combined in the following actual 부적s. The driver out of all manner of evil spirits, The talisman to chase away all sorts of illness. Begone! The very suggestively drawn “keep away from my man and his dangling circly bits”부적.
Judging by his expression, the subject is less than pleased about the expected outcome.
Speaking of "suggestively drawn," The “whip it out here and make me happy, baby” talisman for marital bliss
(the Sanchon Hunjang will be handing out bonus points to anyone who can identify that constellation),
And finally there is the fender offer of disaster.
This last one is depicted as a bird with three heads and two, maybe three, feet. Unfortunately the artist seems to have gotten a bit carried away in his drawing flourish because the inscription calls for a “三 three 頭 headed, 一 one 足 footed 鷹 eagle [to] 啄 peck 盡 completely away 三 the three 災 disaster[-bearing] 鬼 ghosts.” Oops. Maybe he got confused with the three-footed crow, 삼족오
, that lives in the sun?
Or maybe it was meant as a joke? Because there is
such thing as your joke 부적:
The Sanchon Hunjang's first introduction to 부적 wasn't anything on fancy yellow paper, but a Chinese-inspired character that someone had scrawled on the tasteful wallpaper above the door in the 여관 room with a magic marker. It looked something like this:
And a relative recently got a 부적 from his favorite Buddhist temple that really underwhelmed me. It was the Korean letters “광명진언,” printed in 72 point 바탕체 with a dot-matrix printer on an ordinary piece of old white A4 printer paper. With tractor feed that you had to tear off by hand, no less! The monk informed Sanchon Hunjang Relative X that the power was in the sounds, so if he pasted them up all over his house, only good things would come to him. Never mind that written letters stuck to a wall don't produce much sound.
I can't vouch for all the good things happening, but those trashy looking computer printouts sure are pasted on many of the walls of his house.
So now we're all the way back to any old schmoe slapping some inked lettering on a piece of paper to keep the ghosts at bay. But now he's using a computer! Isn't progress something?