Eddie Paradise Investigates: A Strange Beauty is Born: The Cult of Paschull in Korea, Part II

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday – As For Me and My House, We Will Serve the Penguin (and the Panda)


Enough of the introductory nonsense. When we last left our hero, I was gearing up to visit an “Orthodox” Paschullian house church in the wilds of Girum-dong. Rumor has it that this area is where the False Prophet is alleged to have begun his fool's errand. I've been sent here against the prevailing better judgment to find out what these people are up to and why they're not doing anything better with their time on a Tuesday night.

The term “house church” is a term from the early Christian church and it bears a bit of explanation as it pertains to the Cult of Paschull in Korea. Back in the day, people would meet in normal houses, partly from the fact that the Roman government didn't want to rent space to a terrorist organization and partly because the early Christians viewed large religious buildings as pagan edifices that they wanted nothing to do with. Mostly being mega-church Presbyterians, a number Korean converts to the Cult saw it as a way of getting back to a simpler method of worship and communion with the divine, albeit in a different form.


I picked my way through the dusk-winding side streets, finally finding the apartment building. I was greeted at the door of the house church by a gently smiling woman who was holding a brown paper bag, instructing me to put in five thousand won. This would have to be the first church I was ever in that had a cover charge. I paid my five bucks, hoping that there would be a drink ticket forthcoming. Oddly enough, all I got for my donation was a powerful smack upside the head and a cheerfully enthusiastic “Pabbo saram!” which means “stupid person” in Korean. I almost turned tail and ran that moment for ajummahs are deadly opponents as any reader of this occasional column knows.


There was then heard a shout of recognition and my occasional translator and Paschullian contact (who would prefer not to be named) from inside the apartment who immediately hauled me inside. He rapidly explained that the five bucks and the smack upside the head were sacred parts of the Paschullian rituals. Mike the False Prophet instructs all who would come unto his organization to give five dollars, or its local equivalent. The smack is then delivered to upbraid the quester for their idiocy at being taken in by a group that believes such ridiculous things. This relentless honesty and ritualism seems to be one of the Cult's core values and they're certainly enthusiastic about doling out the smackings.


Everyone was quite friendly and I was bustled into the kitchen. A paper cup of Kool-Aid and a sticky cinnamon bun were then thrust into my hands. I later learned that the False Prophet does accept baked goods in lieu of the five dollar donation and is particularly fond of sticky cinnamon buns. The assembled worshipers seemed a mixed bunch. I saw young, old rich and poor gathered under one roof to give worship unto the Penguin (and the Panda). It was intriguing that in such a status-driven society such as Korea that the Cult of Paschull has become (much like Baskin-Robbins) a force that trancends social barriers.The apartment-cum-church was adorned with many pictures of solitary penguins and pandas. Following the example of the other worshipers, I bowed to these pictures. This act has been syncretized from the Buddhist practice of bowing to the statues upon entering a temple in order to announce yourself. If this religion has any organizing principle, it would be that of a mad chef using whatever spices came to hand.


The next opening ritual I was put through was the ceremonial petting of Paschull the Penguin, represented here by a large stuffed specimen. It was here I had a powerful moment of deja-vu. A long time ago, before the dramatic escape of '87, I was a member of the local Beavers, the younger version of Scouts Canada. We met in the basement of the local Baptist church. Part of our nightly ritual was “feeding Beaver,” a ceremony that is only odd in retrospect. First, we formed a circle around the “Big Brown Beaver” which the Beaver Parents guide defines as “A large toy Beaver mascot used in Ceremonies.” An orange plastic water dish was then reverentially placed in front of the God, I mean, Big Brown Beaver and we were all handed fragments of Popsicle™ sticks. We then walked in a circle around Him chanting the following song and all the while throwing the fragments into the bowl.


Feeding Beaver, feeding Beaver
Here we go, here we go
Every Tuesday evening, every Tuesday evening
(clap) (clap) (clap) (clap) (clap) (clap)


This was done, I believe, in order to appease Big Brown so that our Beaver Meeting would go well. I recall the meetings generally being blessed with good fortune. One notable exception which springs to mind is the time someone brought in a Teddy Ruxpin™ doll. I proceeded to make an amusing pun on his name which my fellow beavers found uproarious but the leaders did not.


ANYWAY, the local False False Prophet, an amiable gentleman by the name of Park Bin Su called us into the main living room to begin the service. We opened with the traditional hymn to Paschull which translates roughly into this:


Paschull's really great, yay!
Paschull's really great, yay!
Even though He's not real,
Paschull's really great, yay!


Apparently undaunted by the fact that they were attending to a totally fictional deity, the congregation sung the hymn with verve and passion. There was then a reading from the Holy Book of Paschull which, according to tradition, must be written no earlier than one hour before the service and must be immediately destroyed afterwards. The half-remembered scripture is then immediately transcribed and uploaded onto a random web site. Keep an eye out, CyWorld users. There was then a short sermon the basic theme of which was relayed to me later by my faithful translator who may have been making the whole thing up as he went along as well. According to Mr. Park, Paschull had just told him that most things were pleasing unto Paschull because He claims to have made them. This claim should be regarded with the utmost suspicion. What Paschull finds troubling are those who are hurting and hating. He doesn't want to condemn them to any sort of hellfire per se as the Orthodox Paschullian cosmology does not presuppose any sort of eternal punishment. He would simply like to point out that these states of mind and actions are not to the personal or general good so they should cut it out and seek help. And that was it.


Tomorrow, I'm interviewing a young couple I met at the meeting. I'm hoping to find out what was it that caused them to join this group and what it is that's driving the kids out of the Presbyterian Churches and into the flippers (and furry arms) of Paschull. My faithful translator, of course, will be accompanying me. Until I we meet again, over and out, up and at 'em.


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