When one is asked what the traditional Korean religions are in Korea, one will answer, “Yu-Bul-Do,” meaning “Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.” Some will even say “Yu-Bul-Seon” but here “Seon” is more or less similar to “Do” (Taoism).
The answers are all wrong.
The traditional Korean religion is Mugyo (巫敎) which some translate as “Shamanism,” but which properly means SaengSaeng (生生) implying “Benevolence for All” vis-a-vis Sang Saeng (相生) or “Mutual Benefit.”
Confucianism and Taoism came from China and so did Buddhism which originated in Pakistan (Nepal or India as some claim). Christian religion came later. Mugyo was developed in ancient Korea which then included a part of Siberia as well as the Manchurian region of China (/news/view.html?
Mugyo in Korea, according to JisikBaekgwa (Encyclopedia of Knowledge), shares its roots with the shaman religion of the Ural Altai nations of Mongolia, Manchuria and Japan.
The Korean Mugyo dates back to the Era of Dangun (the legendary progenitor of the Korean nation) 4,348 years ago, and has mixed with Buddhism and Taoism, and has been living with the Korean people for over four millennia of years. The Korean Mugyo flourished until the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty 1392 when the kings started persecuting Mudang (shamans). The persecution continued also during the colonial rule of Korea by the Japanese Empire from 1910 to 1945 as part of its plan to root out any trace of national identity of the Korean people.
Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945 did not bring any good news to the Korean Mugyo because in the midst of influx of Western ideas, science and knowledge, the Korean Mugyo was looked down upon and labeled as a superstitious belief.
However, beginning with the rapid economic development and growth beginning in the 1970s under the late President Park Chung-hee, a sense of self-respect and national identity started growing and an endeavor started to recover the lost identity and traditional culture of Korea.
In this process, the Korean Mugyo was given a re-evaluation with the result that the government designated some of the Mugyopractioners (shamans) as Human Cultural Assets.
Against this backdrop, the number of Mugyo practioners have grown by leaps and bounds.
Records indicate that the number of Korean Mugyo practioners were only 2,600 during the Period of King Sunjong (1907-1910) of the Joseon Dynasty, but continued to grow and totaled 12,380 in 1937 in spite of the severe Japanese suppressions. In 1960, fifteen years after Korea’s Liberation from Japan, the number jumped to 21,930 and then to 40,000 in 1965.
Now the number of Korean shaman practioners total over 300,000 according to a recent official announcement of the government-approved GyeongsinYeonhap-hoe (Federation of Korean Folk Religious Organizations).