These Compasses Find Evil Spirits as Well as North

Home > Culture > Features

print dictionary print

These Compasses Find Evil Spirits as Well as North

In a small village in Gochang-gun, North Cholla province, lives a 68-year-old craftsman who specializes in making yundo, traditional Korean compasses. Kim Jong-dae is, in fact, a yundo master: He was formally recognized by the government as an intangible cultural asset in 1996.

The craft of making compasses has been handed down in his village for over 300 years. Mr. Kim's grandfather, who was taught the skill by another family, began the tradition in his own.

Mr. Kim, wearing reading glasses, begins by engraving tiny Chinese characters on a round jujube wood board 30 centimeters wide. With each move of his chisel, the symbols that represent the principles believed to underlie the universe begin to appear on the board.

"A yundo is not a mere compass. People who want to make a yundo need to have more than just handicraft skills. They should have some knowledge of oriental philosophy, as well as Chinese letters," emphasized Mr. Kim.

The compasses made by Mr. Kim are quite different in appearance and function to those used in the West. In many Asian countries, the yundo is mostly used by jigwan (geomancers). Because the needle indicates magnetic fields and lines, they are often used by practitioners of pungsuseol (known more commonly in the West as feng shui), the theory of geomancy - divination by means of lines and figures or geographical features.

Pungsu, or "wind and water magic," was widely used in the past, and practitioners would be consulted on important decisions such as where to situate houses or family graveyards.

So it makes sense that during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), yundo were produced in astronomy and meteorology centers along with things such as water clocks.

Yundo are also referred to as paecheol ("portable magnets") or jinamcheol ("magnets that point to the south").

In the 15th century, yundo gained popularity among astronomers, who used them when trying to determine the precise location of a meridian in order to place portable sundials correctly.

A yundo is made by placing a needle at the center of the jujube board, which is engraved with various Chinese letters that represent all kinds of things, such as the 24 mountains important in Korean geomancy or the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac.

The needle is surrounded by a taegeuk, a circular symbol also found on Korea's flag that symbolizes the origin of all things.

There are four different types of yundo: the seonchu, where the compass is attached to the handle of a fan, often sported by scholars; the myeonggyeongchu, with a mirror on its back; the paecheol and the geobuki-paecheol, which looks like a turtle and was designed by Mr. Kim himself.

Yundo are divided into different groups depending on the number of concentric circles each one has engraved on its surface - any number ranging between one and 24. Seonchu and myeonggyeongchu are the simplest yundo, used solely for determining direction. Yundo used by geomancers, however, are more complex, with 24 concentric circles and over 3,000 Chinese characters engraved on them. According to Mr. Kim, it takes about a month to complete a complex yundo.

He added, "The hardest part of the work is engraving the tiny letters. It is easy to make a mistake and chisel the wrong letters if you don't have perfect concentration. Concentrating is the most important skill of my work."

It is also crucial that he makes thin needles for his yundo, as thick pointers can cause geomancers to make errors. To make the needle less than a millimeter thick requires a lot of hard work hammering and filing. To level the needle with the surface of the yundo is also important.

Yundo produced in factories are priced between 60,000 won ($45) and 70,000 won, whereas yundo hand-made by Mr. Kim sell for about 4 million won each.

by Kim Sae-joon

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now