When in Korea, do as the Koreans. And for many Koreans, your destiny is in Saju, an ancient Chinese number-based divination system. Before leaving for the Great White North, I go in deep with the Saju columnist for The Korea Times, an intriguing woman who has read for many well-known figures in South Korea.
The Four Pillars of Destiny
Originating in ancient China, Saju is a long-held tradition in Korea that is still immensely popular. Big life events, such as births (i.e. Cesarean sections) and marriages may even be timed according to one’s Saju chart. Some even say that fortune-telling in Korea has become a substitute for counseling.
Saju translates to the “Four Pillars.” This denotes the year, month, day and time of birth that construct the four pillars of a human being. Within these pillars, there are Chinese characters known as palja (팔자) which translates as “eight letters.” This is why “palja” is a common expression used by Koreans for their destiny. Using the five elements of wood, metal, fire, earth and water, along with the energies of yin and yang, it is believed that the road map of your life can be told through these pillars.
Seoul’s Saju Expert
Janet Shin (Korean name Shin Jeung Won, 신정원) is not only known for writing a Saju column for The Korea Times. She is also as an author of her own book on Saju, Learning Four Pillars of Destiny, which she uses as her core text when teaching the art to both Koreans and foreigners. Along with Saju, Janet also does face reading (Gwansang 관상) and Feng Shui.
Janet is no stranger to the public eye – she gives lectures at the massive Hyundai Department Store in Seoul and was also featured in Dalhousie University‘s radio station in Nova Scotia, Canada (the small province I am from, go figure!). On top of this, she has read for many famous figures, from politicians to actors and musicians. As for who, no one can say. With a coy smile, she insists that she cannot divulge such information.
As a fellow Tarot enthusiast, we naturally got along swell. I was overwhelmed by offers to join her public lectures and meet her colleagues who study Oriental Philosophy at Dongguk University in Seoul, with specialties ranging from Tarot to Feng Shui. With a warm welcome to her home, I regret not meeting this woman earlier! I can imagine eclectic discussions with her pals about all the ins and outs of Oriental philosophy, with tea cups, Saju charts and Tarot cards scattered around her table…
Until I make my next pilgrimage back to Korea however, for now I will have to be satisfied with knowing my destiny.
My Saju Palja (사주 팔자)
When my Saju chart flashed on Janet’s phone, it came up predominately the colour brown, the element Earth. I found this interesting as my Zodiac sign, Capricorn, is an Earth sign, and I wondered if there were any mysterious, bygone connections with the Eastern and Western traditions.
“Your symbolic energy is a big mountain,” she says to me. I have the “Yang Earth” energy, and with my birthday in the winter, I can come across as cold to others, though I do have the warmth of “Yin Fire” hidden inside, like that of a fireplace. “Always I want to encourage you to study,” she advises, “because that is very important nourishment for your life, for your success, for your happiness, for your pleasure.” Knowledge is the kindling to the much needed fire to balance my cold, Earth energy.
As for my future? The next two years seem to be ones of very good fortune, where I will be making a huge transition (quitting my job and moving to Canada, anyone?). And you bet I asked about my relationship. As it turns out we’re compatible. But there might be a separation OR a marriage this year (Ha!). Maybe even two kids within the next two years. And I was worried I would be a spinster at thirty.
While I see a future as Betty Draper highly unlikely, I did resonate quite a lot with the personality assessment. It gave this often misunderstood mountain a lot to think about.
I wonder, will Saju die out in popularity, given modernity and the increasing Western influence in South Korea? Janet doesn’t seem to think so. While the use of Tarot has been slowing somewhat in the past few years, Saju holds strong as a Korean cultural tradition. Given the booming use of the internet as a platform for niche markets, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t get even bigger.