For many American children, answering the call of nature at night can be a terrifying adventure. We believe that the bogeyman lurks beneath our bed and will lash out at our feet when we get up to use the bathroom. Korean children – and some adults – also have fears associated with the bathroom. No, I am not talking about the Korean ghost who ridiculously makes you choose between red or blue toilet paper – I am talking about the cheuksin.
The cheuksin is a fierce goddess who dwells in the bathroom and manifests herself as a woman with long black hair which she constantly grooms while sitting in the darkness. She is easily angered and relentless with her wrath. It used to be a custom to clear one’s throat three times before entering a bathroom so as to give her time to hide. Failure to do so would incite her anger and subject the careless offender to her implacable rage.
Her attack was simple: from her perch along the ceiling she wrapped her hair around her victim’s neck and strangled them. The mere touch of her hair inflicted a disease that could not be cured by modern medicine or shamanism.
She hated children and was especially powerful on dates ending with a six. Any mishaps occurring in or around the outhouse or bathroom were associated with her, and simple rice cakes were offered in hopes of appeasing this vicious spirit.
In the early 1990s, a number of students recalled ghostly encounters in old outhouses. One boy, who grew up on Jeju, described his family’s bathroom which was in a large building where they raised their cattle and pigs. His elder sister was terrified of the place because she claimed to have seen ghosts racing about in the shadows and cowering in the corners.
Another student recalled his grandmother’s experience. She had moved to an older Korean-style home surrounded by a courtyard and the outhouse was situated near the front gate. On the first night she woke up well before dawn to the cries of a small boy. It seemed to be coming from near her gate, but she assumed it was one of her neighbors’ children so ignored it and drifted back into an uneasy sleep.
The following morning, she we went out and explored her neighborhood and was quite surprised to discover that there were no small boys living nearby. Later, when she went to bed, she laid awake half expecting the cries to begin again but was greeted only with silence. She drifted off into a troubled sleep but was soon awakened by the sound of the boy’s cries.
She got up and made her way to the front door where she was startled to see a small boy standing in the dark, open doorway. Even in the darkness she could see that he was about three or four years old and his clothing was dripping wet. She called out to him, asking his name and where he lived but the child said nothing. When she approached him, he suddenly turned around and ran out the door and into the outhouse. Immediately the air was filled with the boy’s pitiful cries.
She slowly made her way to the outhouse and gently opened the door. The wailing stopped and in the faint moonlight she could see nothing except the dark hole used for the toilet. The boy had disappeared.
In bewilderment, she returned to her house and no sooner had she entered her room did the boy’s crying begin again. The mournful sound continued until dawn broke.
The next day she went to her next door neighbor in an effort to discover who the previous tenant was. She was startled to discover that it had been a woman with a young son who had gone missing. Apparently they never found him and the young mother moved away to help forget her pain.
The elderly woman was convinced that the small boy had fallen into the toilet and she made arrangements for it to be taken down and the sewage searched. As she had expected, the remains of a young boy were discovered in its foul depths. These were buried and a sacrificial rite was given to appease his young spirit. The night following the ceremony the elderly woman unexplainably woke up in the middle of the night. When she looked towards the door she saw the young boy looking intently at her – no longer was his clothing dripping wet – and then suddenly he smiled and disappeared. She never saw him again.
Do ghosts – especially the cheuksin – exist? Perhaps they do and perhaps they don’t, but the next time you go to use the bathroom make sure you knock or clear your throat before entering; embarrassment may be the least of your worries.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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