How to meet women with an ethereal qualityAccording to the current code of Roman Catholic canon law, may a man marry his widow's sister?
Don't think too hard about it. This is a riddle. The question is absurd, the situation impossible. That is the joke.
Yet I have a similar problem. As a Catholic, am I allowed, without annulment, to marry a second time? True, my wife is dead.
But she was dead when I married her.
It was a whirlwind courtship. I was visiting Guksadang, a temple sacred to Seoul's witches, or mudang, on a sunny afternoon. An exorcism, or gut, was in progress. Curious, I hovered at the door. An attendee invited me in and offered a seat.
She had lived in Montreal. In French, amid the din, she gave a running commentary on the performance.
A gut is a noisy affair. A table is spread with rich foods, to attract hungry ghosts. The spirit is summoned. Clanging cymbals, flute and drums drive the mudang into trance. She dances; various spirits take control. Finally the dear departed possesses her and speaks. There is much emotion, for it is unsatisfied emotion that makes a ghost. Listeners moved from tears to laughter within seconds, as the mudang spoke.
Most mudangs are women. At this gut, the mudang was a man. This made what happened next unexpected.
For the ghost in residence was a woman. Because she had died a virgin, she could not give up this world and pass on. She had missed an important event in life.
Virgin ghosts are common. There is a standard procedure to set them free: Find an unmarried ghost of the opposite sex and perform a posthumous wedding ceremony. The couple leaves for their honeymoon by the waterfalls of Styx and die happily ever after.
But anyone who thinks they can control the spirit world is mad. Ghosts have nothing if not a will of their own. In this case, the ghost took a liking to one of the wedding guests and would hear of no other mate.
She only had eyes for me.
I understood little; only that I was becoming the focus of the proceedings, and especially the focus of bawdy gestures. But I was the only foreigner present, so this was not too surprising. I presumed my host was trying to keep me informed, but French was a second language for both of us, and events were moving quickly.
Who can follow the way of man with maid? As I was offered the wine cup, my host tapped my shoulder and urged me to refuse -- but a moment too late.
I was already married in a brief but moving ceremony.
I don't remember much about the wedding night. Perhaps it is as well. But that was no passing succubus; that was my wife.
The full implications are unclear. Beyond the matter of bigamy, there is the troublesome fact that I am now, technically, demonically possessed.
Yet my ghost wife is remarkably undemanding. She never nags. At worst, a truly strong demonic possession, for shamanists, only means you must yourself become a shaman.
I saw a recruit put through her paces that same afternoon. When the spirit took her, she jerked about like a marionette on strings. She had the look of a rabbit in conversation with a cobra.
So I recall with some concern the parting words of my host. As I left the ceremony, she turned to me and said, "You're next."
She said it in English.
To visit Guksadang, the temple that houses the gods of heaven, water and earth, as well as the body of the revered Buddhist monk Muhak, take subway line No. 3 to Dongnimmun station. Take the street running diagonally off to the east just south of the hospital. Follow it up Inwangsan and look left for the gate of Inwangsa temple. Proceed to the rear of the grounds.
It's the best place in Seoul for meeting women.
Stephen Roney, formerly of the Seoul Mystery Tours, now teaches at University College of the Cariboo. Visit him on the Web at www.seoulmysterytours.com.
by Stephen K. Roney