To many foreigners, a Korean wedding is an odd blend of Korean and Western cultures. While the ceremony itself is pretty Western with the bride in a typical white wedding dress and the bridegroom in a tuxedo exchanging rings, the procedure before the final event of tying the knot is strewn with Korean traditional rites.
One of them is gunghap. In the centuries-old practice, Korean couples or their parents would go to a fortune-teller to predict their gunghap, or marital harmony.
Centuries ago, when a marriage was decided through a go-between by parents, not by the couples, an auspicious or decent gunghap rending was a precondition of any talk of a marriage.
In modern Korea, however, a fortune-teller’s reading carries less weight than in the past.
Still, in rare cases, it does determine a marriage, according to wedding consultant Shin Sung-ja.
“If a gunghap becomes a make-or-break factor, it is most likely that the parents didn’t like the person their son or daughter wanted to marry for some reason in the first place and that on top of that, gunghap happened to turn out bad,” Shin said. She has been in the wedding business for over 10 years.
While the old generation ― the parents ― tend to put more weight on gunghap, the couples do it just for fun and out of curiosity, she added.
So how is gunghap read?
According to Jeong Su, who has practiced fortune-telling in Seoul for over 25 years, a couple’s marital harmony is inseparable from their “saju,” the four components of one’s destiny decided by the year, month, date and hour of one’s birth.
A fortune teller deciphers one’s nature, character and fate, using the saju data and analyzing them according to the theory of yin and yang, which literally means shadow and light, and that of Wu Xing (O-hang in Korean) which refers to wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
For instance, a person born with too much water energy is not a good match for a strong fire-type person as water extinguishes fire, Jeong explains.
A good match is the two people who supplement each other’s weak or excessive points.
“Gunghap is not about telling couples to ‘marry or not marry.’ It is more like advice based on a statistical study that your partner is this type of person and you’re this type, so you have to make extra effort to live harmoniously together.”
“After all, what matters most is the couple’s commitment and efforts to make their marriage a happy one,” he added.
A couple-to-be interviewed by The Korea Herald didn’t seem to care much about their gunghap. They have no plan to see a fortune-teller, but they think their parents probably will.
What if the gunghap turns out to be bad?
“We’ll just go see another fortune-teller and another until we find one who makes good predictions for us,” they said.