THERE was a Korean once, called Song Sang-in, whose mind was upright and whose spirit was true. He hated witches with all his might, and regarded them as deceivers of the people. "By their so-called prayers," said he, "they devour the people's goods. There is no limit to the foolishness and extravagance that accompanies them. This doctrine of theirs is all nonsense. Would that I could rid the earth of them and wipe out their names for ever."
Some time later Song was appointed magistrate of Nam Won County in Chulla Province. On his arrival he issued the following order: "If any witch is found in this county, let her be beaten to death." The whole place was so thoroughly spied upon that all the witches made their escape to other prefectures. The magistrate thought, "Now we are rid of them, and that ends the matter for this county at any rate."
On a certain day he went out for a walk, and rested for a time at Kwang-han Pavilion. As he looked out from his coign of vantage, he saw a woman approaching on horseback with a witch's drum on her head. He looked intently to make sure, and to his astonishment he saw that she was indeed a mutang (witch). He sent a yamen-runner to have her arrested, and when she was brought before him he asked, "Are you a mutang?"
She replied, "Yes, I am."
"Then," said he, "you did not know of the official order issued?"
"Oh yes, I heard of it," was her reply.
He then asked, "Are you not afraid to die, that you stay here in this county?"
The mutang bowed, and made answer, "I have a matter of complaint to lay before your Excellency to be put right; please take note of it and grant my request. It is this: There are true mutangs and false mutangs. False mutangs ought to be killed, but you would not kill an honest mutang, would you? Your orders pertain to false mutangs; I do not understand them as pertaining to those who are true. I am an honest mutang; I knew you would not kill me, so I remained here in peace."
The magistrate asked, "How do you know that there are honest mutangs?"
The woman replied, "Let's put the matter to the test and see. If I am not proven honest, let me die."
"Very well," said the magistrate; "but can you really make good, and do you truly know how to call back departed spirits?"
The mutang answered, "I can."
The magistrate suddenly thought of an intimate friend who had been dead for some time, and he said to her, "I had a friend of such and such rank in Seoul; can you call his spirit back to me?"
The mutang replied, "Let me do so; but first you must prepare food, with wine, and serve it properly."
The magistrate thought for a moment, and then said to himself, "It is a serious matter to take a person's life; let me find out first if she is true or not, and then decide." So he had the food brought.
The mutang said also, "I want a suit of your clothes, too, please." This was brought, and she spread her mat in the courtyard, placed the food in order, donned the dress, and so made all preliminary arrangements. She then lifted her eyes toward heaven and uttered the strange magic sounds by which spirits are called, meanwhile shaking a tinkling bell. In a little she turned and said, "I've come." Then she began telling the sad story of his sickness and death and their separation. She reminded the magistrate of how they had played together, and of things that had happened when they were at school at their lessons; of the difficulties they had met in the examinations; of experiences that had come to them during their terms of office. She told secrets that they had confided to each other as intimate friends, and many matters most definitely that only they two knew. Not a single mistake did she make, but told the truth in every detail.
The magistrate, when he heard these things, began to cry, saying, "The soul of my friend is really present; I can no longer doubt or deny it." Then he ordered the choicest fare possible to be prepared as a sacrifice to his friend. In a little the friend bade him farewell and took his departure.
The magistrate said, "Alas! I thought mutangs were a brood of liars, but now I know that there are true mutangs as well as false." He gave her rich rewards, sent her away in safety, recalled his order against witches, and refrained from any matters pertaining to them for ever after.