[FOUNTAIN]No superstitions? Think again

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[FOUNTAIN]No superstitions? Think again

A legend-like yarn of salvaging a sunken treasure ship matches better with a fortune-teller than with the navy or the National Intelligence Service. So there is some symmetry in the involvement of a shaman ?a diviner or fortune-teller ?in the Lee Yong-ho scandal. Kim Soo-young, the shaman in question, reportedly used his self-described mystical talents to pinpoint the location of treasure buried under the sea by the Japanese during the occupation of Korea.

The influence he had on the course of the scandal shows that shamanism is still embedded in the Korean psyche.

"I am endowed with preternatural powers from the spiritual world," Mr. Kim insisted. In shamanism, a medium who has been possessed by a spirit receives a divine revelation or speaks in the spirit's voice while in a trance.

I presume that Mr. Kim has impressed many men involved in the Lee Yong-ho scandal. When he first met with excavators, he pointed out "a submarine cavern near Jukdo Island," on a map as the place where buried treasure was hidden. The excavators began to trust him because the place Mr. Kim named was identical to the place identified by some Japanese with historical information about the treasure's supposed location.

At Mr. Kim's orders, the diggers offered a sacrifice, throwing dumplings into the sea, to comfort the souls of 258 people reportedly killed during the hiding of the treasure. In the "Romance of Three Kingdoms," a Chinese classic, the strategist of the Shu kingdom, Zhuge Kongming, made buns and threw them into the sea instead of offering a human sacrifice when he faced a storm returning from a voyage of conquest. The modern treasure hunters followed suit, offering a sacrifice to ward off evil.

It is said that Kim Soo-young persuaded Lee Hyung-taek, a nephew of President Kim Dae-jung's wife Lee Hee-ho, to participate in the salvage project by telling the fortunes of persons around Mr. Lee. Some of the fortunes were allegedly accurate, and trust grew.

Later, Mr. Lee supposedly showed some name cards to Mr. Kim and asked who among them would be good investors in the treasure hunt. Mr. Kim pointed out the name of Lee Yong-ho, who was later at the center of the scandal. All this because of a fortune-teller?

In that way, Mr. Kim was at the center of the connections between the treasure hunters, Lee Hyung-taek and Lee Yong-ho. They got together because of his "supernatural powers." It is surprising that a scandal shaking the nation is of shamanistic origin.

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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