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Modern Gosa, Korean shamanic ritual with ‘pig’s head’

by AcklinEHuey

Recently, we were invited to the opening of a new business. So the question was would there be a traditional Gosa ceremony?

고사 Gosa

This ritual involves arranging food on an alter as an offering for the spirits. The essential part is a pig’s head and traditionally guests put money in the pig’s mouth. Then they bow at the alter to the household gods wishing for a successful business.

The pig’s head bit sounds rather macabre these days and actually having a real head on the alter is not so popular anymore. But the ritual dates back to a time when animal sacrifices were the norm. And I thought it would be particularly fitting in this case as the new business that was opening was a BUTCHER’S!

Anyway, yes, there was a gosa ceremony.

And yes, there was a pig’s head on the alter.

But the pig’s head was NOT real. It was made of cake!

Guests put envelopes with money in a pile in front of the pig.


In shamanism, it’s believed that spirits are all around us, living in nature as well as in manmade objects. Anyone from family ancestors to great historical figures can become deified spirits after they die.

But these spirits have to be treated well. So ceremonies with lavish food offerings were a way to try to keep the spirits happy.

There are lots of gods of the household including a house guardian god, a goddess of childbirth, and a kitchen deity.  

Gosa for a new car

When we bought our car, my mother-in-law did a little Gosa ceremony. She put a piece of dried pollack fish in front of the car on a makeshift alter. Then she poured makgeolli on all the tyres and asked the gods to keep us safe in our new car. 

I’m NOT superstitious. But it has been working so far. Touch wood…

What’s on the alter?

So the pig’s head is still the centrepiece. But it can be made of cake or rice cake. There are even DIY origami paper pig heads you can buy and make up yourself. Or virtual ones.

Here are some #고사 gosa pictures on instagram. 

Other food on the alter could be sirutteok (adzuki bean rice cake), dried pollack, steamed rice, jjeon (Korean pancakes), pears, apples and chestnuts as well as alcoholic drinks including makgeolli (fermented rice beer) and soju.

Why a pig’s head? 

The pig represents money because the pronunciation of the word for pig and money (don) are the same. In the year of the pig I wrote about this and more in 10 interesting facts about pigs in Korea!


Anyway, I like how traditions are kept and modernised for a contemporary society. And in these difficult times I hope the business is a success.

see more from dramasrok about life in Korea on Facebook Pinterest and Instagram 

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