Dr. Helena Soholm - Transpersonal Psychologist and Korean Shaman
Shamanism is the oldest human religious phenomenon and practice. Korean shamanism, called Muism, goes back to prehistoric times, and archeological evidence suggests that it was part of Bronze age culture. During the Three Kingdoms period, the role of the shaman was integrated into the position of kings and other political officials.
Korean shamanism evolved from a male-centered practice where the role was heavily politicized to primarily being performed by women in much more informal settings during modern times. There has been a systematic suppression and persecution of shamans, called either Mudang or Manshin, throughout Korean history by different social movements and religious groups. In modern-day Korea, shamanism is thriving although there is still a social stigma and distrust of mudang, who serve as the intermediaries between the human and divine realms.
Helena will speak about her process of becoming a mudang. As a Korean American woman who was not brought up in the culture and spiritual milieu of shamanism, she speaks to the individual experiences that correspond to the collective phenomenon of mudang in Korea. There are two types of shamans in Korea: Gangshinmu, those who become possessed by spirits, and Seseupmu, hereditary shamans who are born into a family of priestly technicians. As the Gangshinmu type, Helena experienced Shinbyeong (spirit illness) and subsequently traveled to S. Korea to receive a Naerim Gut (shamanic initiation) in 2018. Having not known much about Korean shamanism, her extraordinary experiences of the spirit world highlight the reality of shamanism in Korean society and history. As a social scientist and a practitioner of shamanism, Helena has observed and examined her own narrative within the Western and Eastern perspectives as well as from a phenomenological standpoint, leaving important questions about the role of magico-religious events in human experience.
Helena will perform a Korean shamanic ritual, called Gut after the lecture. She will demonstrate spirit possession trance state, which is usually achieved through dance and music. She will offer a blessing to the group and deliver messages from her pantheon, consisting of deities from the heavenly realms to ancestral spirits.
Helena is a Transpersonal Psychologist and a Korean shaman. She holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Saybrook University, and her research interests are in the areas of contemporary forms of shamanism, spirituality, and the arts. Helena also holds master’s degrees in theology from Harvard Divinity School and existential-phenomenological psychology from Seattle University. She completed her undergraduate studies in psychology and religion at Smith College. As a practitioner and scholar of shamanism, Helena’s work focuses on spiritual development and identity, including both the clearing and honoring of ancestral energy.