Actor Jeong Ho Geun was one of the most known faces in the Korean entertainment industry, thanks to his 30-year-long acting career. He debuted as an actor in 1984, gaining popularity through his supporting roles in many successful shows, including his portrayal of a vicious Korean-Japanese detective in Street King. But in 2014, he made a decision that put an end to his on-screen artistic endeavors.
Jeong is now better known as the actor who turned into a shaman. The 58-year-old actor only made the decision to shift his career path after he suffered from what he believed to be ‘Schamanen-Krankheit.’ It is described as an illness that cannot be cured unless the affected person becomes possessed and turns into a shaman. If they refuse to do so, Schamanen-Krankheit can harm them or the people around them.
Jeong recalled that he had ignored his calling for years because his grandmother was a shaman in her village and his father held prejudices against the profession. But he made the decision to become a shaman after his daughter died 27 months after birth and his son died after just three days. “I was at a crosswalk and just went down on my knees for my children,” he said.
While he took this step to protect his family, people around Jeong were not very kind to the decision. The actor recalled that his friends and extended family started to dodge his calls ever since.
There is a prejudice toward shamans. … It’s as if being a shaman stops you from having a normal life, that you see ghosts all the time, and are possessed all the time. That you face financial difficulties…Why is that? Why should shamans not lead a normal life? I don’t think shaman is such a lowly line of work.
—Jeong Ho Geun
Initially, his family members were shocked at his career change, but now they are supportive.
I say to my children that this is the path I’ve chosen, and you have yours. This is just a career, and the only difference is that I see, hear and feel certain things. They may have such abilities, too, and that’s nothing to feel weird about.
—Jeong Ho Geun
But the industry has not been so kind to him. His acting career has been on a hiatus ever since he chose to become a shaman. Casting directors have refused to offer him work, despite his eagerness to continue as an actor.
Instead of feeling defeated by the systematic prejudice against shamans in Korean society today, Jeong has decided to persevere. He runs a shrine in North Eastern Seoul and also features on a YouTube show where he counsels celebrities. He consciously avoids the “loudness” associated with the usual image of a Shaman in Korea, with bright-colored clothes and heavy makeup. Instead, he presents his calm and collected demeanor on the screen. “I wanted to show (the public) that shamans are not people that act wild and someone you can point fingers at,” he said.
Jeong has made it his life’s goal to reshape Korean shamanism and include character education in the discipline. He wants to found a school with an established curriculum to bring positive changes into shamanism.
I think one’s character is the basic foundation [of a person]. It’s the same with the religious people as everyone else. Anyone can do the performance and carry out the rituals. But I want people to learn the proper attitude and responsibilities of what it means to be a shaman.
—Jeong Ho Geun