Shamanistic Exorcism Suspected in Teen’s Death

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Police in Fairfax, Virginia are investigating the suspicious death of a Korean teen who died from “blunt force trauma and asphyxiation” during what authorities believe was an ancient Korean rite of exorcism performed by shamans.

According to a report by The Washington Post, 18 year-old Rayoung Kim fell unconscious in the bedroom of her home in suburban Fairfax County on July 26, 2008, and died of her injuries in Inova Fairfax Hospital four days later. An affidavit recently filed by Kim’s brother said his sister was involved in a religious ritual moments before she “passed out.”

Police have been investigating the case for more than a year and recently obtained search warrants to take DNA samples from Kim’s mother and brother, who they suspect may have been involved in a ritual known as kut.

A kut can last hours or days and involves chanting, dancing, candles, incense, offerings of food and money to the spirits. During the ritual, the shaman enters an altered state of consciousness in which spirits enter them and transmit power or convey important messages. The person being “prayed” over is held down while evil spirits are pushed out of the stomach and forced out through the throat.

In a 1996 case in California, a woman died during the same ritual after suffering 16 broken ribs and a crushed heart.

“Historically, the Korean culture has been very deeply shaped by shamanism,” Peter Cha, a professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois told the Post. The shaman, usually a woman in the Korean rite, communicates with gods or spirits to drive out evil spirits, resolve financial problems or improve a person’s health.

Cha said some Koreans “believe in multiple spirits that are active and present. Whether an illness is physical or emotional, it is evil done by these spirits.”

The girl’s father, Kyung T. Kim, said police have their facts wrong but declined to comment further. To date, no one has been charged in the case.

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