Pig Heads in Korea

Okay… here’s a custom I was totally unaware of.

In Korea, at the start of a new school year or a new business, or on the acquisition of a new car or new house, etc., there’s a custom in Korean shamanism of setting up an offering altar to the gods and ancestral spirits. The producers of many South Korean TV shows also do this at the start of filming a new season. The offerings are mostly various foods, but the main offering is a pig’s head with money stuffed in its ears and mouth. After various prayers and ceremonies asking for the blessings and favor of the gods (often described as “bowing to the pig’s head”), the attendees eat the food offerings (I’m not sure what’s done with the money). This is called “kosa” or “gosa.” There’s also a pig-less ritual called “jaesa.”

Every so often, this is done in the US by Koreans also. (Although most Koreans in the US are Catholics or Protestants, who wouldn’t.) And of course a lot of Americans end up on US bases in South Korea or doing business with South Korean companies. So it’s probably good to know about this, so you won’t end up entangled in anything you don’t intend. Apparently it’s usually not offensive to just observe (or excuse yourself from going), as of course many Koreans are Christians too.

However, people also eat pig’s head for other reasons, just like anywhere else in Asia, or in frugal countries that use every part of the pig.

Here are some accounts of this:

At a Korean science and engineering university. An non-Korean Christian finds himself attending such a ceremony at another Korean university. Another non-Korean runs into a pig-head ceremony in the computer room at work, for a new server. Another non-Korean teaching at a school.

Kosa for new construction at a hospital. This non-Korean actually ends up as one of the main participants doing the offerings, which would seem to definitely be a no-no for a Christian! I don’t think this guy realized it was religious, though; it sounds like he just thought his co-workers thought it was lucky, and he was going along with it for politeness’ sake. And it sounds like a lot of Koreans just think it’s lucky, also, so he might have been right in his interpretation.

Kosa for a new car.

More details. Sometimes the pig head is replaced by a cake that looks like a pig head.

Problems with getting a head during the hoof and mouth disease epidemic.

Comparison of Hawaiian and Korean ceremonies for new ventures.

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