Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Korean Fortune - Saju [사주]

I am a flower. I have lots of water in me. I should seek fire and trees and mountains. South and East are good directions. 2014 will mark the beginning of a good time for me. I shouldn't have more than two children (though if I want more, adopting is OK). I know this, because my birthday tells me so.

Saju [사주], or "human's life", is an ancient form of Korean fortune-telling which uses your birth date and time to reveal aspects of your personality and character, including predilections, positive attributes and talents, and needs. It is based on five elements that are said to make up all things:

  • water
  • fire
  • earth
  • trees
  • metal
The Chinese characters that represent these elements also have corollary meanings, like animals, directions, and family members, so the reader can glean answers to many of the client's questions from the eight original characters formed by their birth date.

Many Koreans believe strongly in the power of the saju, and consult theirs regularly in times of change, particularly before a big move, job change, or prior to a wedding, to see if they or their children are compatible with the spouse-to-be. The fortune teller, or reader, will often become a sort of counselor to her clients, advising them on a particular action based on the revelations in their saju.

On the 6th floor
of Home Plus (CGV) next to the shiwae bus terminal in Pohang, two fortune tellers spend their evenings behind lace curtains in cozy plywood huts, reading birth dates and tarot cards for a steady stream of customers of every age.
Saju consultation: 9,000 won.
Tarot reading: 4,000 won.

I went to visit Min Jung, my friend Tony's girlfriend, who has been studying saju for four years under the tutelage of a 75 year-old buddhist monk living in the mountains around Gyeongju. Min Jung is an incredibly peaceful, yet warm person who I immediately felt comfortable around. We had been rock climbing together on a couple of occasions before, so I already knew her from those outings as well.

She invited me into her small "office" and pulled two giant tomes off of the small bookshelf beside her chair. She asked my birthdate and time, spent a few minutes consulting the books, then drew two rows of four Chinese characters on a blank sheet of paper with a calligraphy brush. She spent another few minutes whispering to herself while she circled characters and drew lines between them, writing other characters beneath them with numbers and dates.

When Min Jung had finished, she began to describe my "human's life". Saju is not "fortune-telling" in the sense that it reveals your future (although Min Jung did tell me that from 2014 would be a good time for me, and that I would be healthy into old age), but rather a picture of your character and how you relate to the world around you. Your character affects your future, though, and your saju can tell you what factors to consider when it comes time for a decision - where you should go, what kind of job you should hold, or what kind of person would be good for you to marry. I asked her questions about food I should eat (stay away from pork, eat lots of leafy greens), sports I should play (be careful with water sports), people I should befriend (look for fire, trees, mountains in others), colors that are bad for me (black and white).

I left feeling quite good, but unsure how I felt about saju and Korean fortune telling. Most of what Min Jung told me about myself I believe, but not because my saju told me I am that way. I believe it because I have already witnessed it in my own life - it confirmed much of what I already knew about myself, or what I felt but had never put words to before. I don't consider myself a very superstitious person, and I definitely don't believe in fate. But I was surprised at the accuracy of my saju, and everyone I know who has heard theirs has felt the same way. For now, I guess my jury's out - not that it matters, in the end. Beliefs are only shadows, after all, of what really is.

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