귀신 is a generic term for a ghost or spirt. A 귀신 is a spirt that has already died but for one reason or another has not passed on to the afterlife. In other words, a Korean 귀신 is a spirit roaming the earth. In Korean ghost stories, the 귀신 is often in the form of a female with long black hair covering the face. The typical reason for the 귀신 to remain on this earth seems to center around carrying out some kind of revenge, or unfinnished business on earth. If you look at some of the rituals performed by Korean shamans, the rituals typically try to appease or release the ghost’s inner torment.
So where do Korean ghost stories come from? They may have formed from an old misconception or perhaps an exaggeration of an ancient Korean practice. The practice stems from old funeral rites. Long ago when a parent died, it was not unusual for an unmarried daughter to untie her hair in a gesture of grief. Nowadays some people in Korea wear black when someone dies, but white was actually the color of mourning in the olden days. Not coincidentally, Korean ghost stories describe the ghosts as wearing a white 한복 with unkempt, untied hair in the form of a female. Perhaps this is where the first Korean ghost stories come from.
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