CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


Sex Magic in the Early Unification Church?

by Massimo Introvigne


Thanks to a suggestion by Eileen Barker, I was able to order the book Change of Blood Lineage through Ritual Sex in the Unification Church by Kristi L. Nevalainen (Breinigsville, Pennsylvania: BookSource Publishing, 2011). The book is not easily accessible. It has been published by a vanity press, and the ISBN (978-1439261538) does not resolve in any of the major data bases. What appears to be a former version of the same book is available via Internet with the title Marriage with God: Shamanistic Rite of the Unification Church. It is however possible to get the new version via Amazon.

The author is a former member of the Unification Church from Finland, who left the Church in 1979 for political reasons, because of disagreements with the anti-Communist positions of Reverend Moon. Since then, she has obviously done some homework in social science, and seems to be somewhat conversant with Korean language. She quotes both scholarly and anti-cult literature about Reverend Moon. Some information comes from my own 2000 book The Unification Church (Salt Lake City: Signature Books), which is repeatedly quoted. Understandably, given her political proclivities, the author also relies on books exposing the alliance between the Unification Church and the Republican Party in the U.S.

While the general comments of the Unification Church are neither new nor particularly interesting, Nevalainen’s genuine contribution concerns the early years of Reverend Moon’s movement in Korea and his interaction with other Korean new religious movements. Nevalainen shows how Christianity, by interacting with local folk beliefs, Shamanism, and indigenous forms of Buddhism, generated in the 20th century several Korean new religious movements. The idea that Eve had a sexual relationship with Satan in the garden of Eden and that, as a consequence, all humans are tainted by a Satanic bloodline and should be cleansed by a new bloodline originating from a new Messiah, a Lord of the Second Advent, was not invented by Reverend Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012). As of 1945, Nevalainen claims, there were in fact in Korea at least seventy claimants to Messianic titles, although it is not clear how much of them promoted a theology similar to what will later be proposed by the Unification Church.

The author claims that several of these Korean new religious movements, although not all, practiced a ceremony called pigarum (in other sources, spelled pikarun) or yongch’e, whose origins Nevalainen traces to Korean Shamanism and (less convincingly) to Ancient Near East religions. In these ceremonies, the blood lineage was changed from Satanic to Holy, and the member of the group received a new «spiritual body» by having ritual sex with the movement’s leader. The member was then able to pass in the same way the new cleansed blood to his or her partner. Homosexuality was excluded. Male spiritual leaders practiced the sex ceremonies with their female followers (who could then initiate in turn their partners), and female spiritual leaders with their male followers.

Nevalainen describes the activity of a group of movements known as Jesus Churches, one of which was attended by Reverend Moon’s parents. It is important to note that there was not one single Jesus Church, but many, loosely connected with each other. Moon’s first marriage, in 1943, was celebrated within a Jesus Church. In 1945, Moon joined a Seoul branch of the Jesus Churches movement, the Israel Monastery, led by one Kim Baek-Moon. According to Nevalainen (although her claims are disputed by others), the Israel Monastery recognized as its ultimate leader a messianic figure from Pyongyang, North Korea, a lady called Pak Wol-yong (1892-?), the founder of the Wilderness Church (Kwang-ya Kyo-hoe), who claimed to be «the wife of Jehovah». Consistent with Korean Shamanistic traditions, Ms. Pak’s claim was intended quite literally: she claimed that she had a sexual relation with God, and was thus able to transmit God’s bloodline through ritual sex to her followers. According to Nevalainen, Reverend Moon traveled to Pyongyang in 1946 together with Kim Baek-Moon in order to meet Pak, and duly had his blood «changed» through a ritual sex ceremony with Ms. Pak.

Nevalainen’s book, it is worth noting, does not give the impression that Moon or Ms. Pak were simply seeking some sexual gratification, but places the sex ceremony within a specific Korean tradition. The author’s interpretation of both Korean Shamanism and new religious movements of the 1940s is open to dispute. Other scholars maintain that in both Shamanism and some of the Korean new religions the references to sacred sex were largely symbolic, and did not correspond to actual sexual relationships between leaders and followers.

Nevalainen goes on to explain that soon in Pyongyang Moon claimed to have received revelations directing him to take over the leadership of the Wilderness Church from Ms. Pak. The basis of this claim, Nevalainen reports, was yet another sexual blood changing ceremony, performed by Moon with his disciple Ms. Chong Tuk-on, who was in turn receiving instructions directly from God. Since Ms. Pak rejected Moon’s claims, he went on to form his own group, and offer blood-changing ceremonies to his female followers. Nevalainen claims that this was the main reason why Reverend Moon was arrested, first in North and then in South Korea, since adultery was illegal in both countries.

Moon, Nevalainen claims, continued to practice these sexual blood lineage-exchanging ceremonies until 1960, when he married Hak Ja-Han, who later succeeded him as leader of the Church, or perhaps until 1962. In the meantime, he had sex within the framework of these ceremonies with dozens of women. While the Unification Church normally presents Hak Ja Han as Moon’s second wife, Nevalainen argues that she was the fifth or sixth. She does not, however, offers hard evidence that Moon considered as his wife one or more of the female followers who lived with him after he separated from his first wife in 1950. Nevalainen’s information on these alleged «marriages» – including one with Kim Myung-Hee, a student from whom Reverend Moon had a son who later died in an accident in Japan – mostly comes from anti-cult sources. The Unification Church does not deny Moon’s relationship with Kim Myung-Hee and the birth of a son, Hee Jin (1954-1969), but claims that Moon and Kim were never legally married, because Moon’s divorce from his first wife was still pending. On the other hand, Nevalainen’s insights about Moon’s sexual rituals place them in a wider Korean context and go beyond the well-known book The Tragedy of the Six Marys that Moon’s early companion Chung Hwa Pak published in 1993 and retracted in 1995.

Nevalainen reports that after the marriage with Hak Ja Han – for theological reasons connected with the definitive messianic importance of this marriage, or perhaps because of the strong-willed character of the new Ms. Moon – the sexual ceremonies ceased, and were replaced by the new Unification Church marriage ceremony. This ceremony, however, prescribes the drinking of «holy wine» which symbolically represents (and may have physically included) Reverend Moon’s blood, and includes elaborate instructions on how to have sex for the first time, for three nights, after forty days of mandatory abstinence following the wedding, that are reminiscent of the early sex rituals. They also include Shamanic elements that an observer may easily relate to magic. These ceremonies are only intended for Church members whose blood lineage still needs to be changed from Satanic to Messianic. Children born of parents whose blood has already been purified do not need to cleanse their blood again, neither do they need to go through these rituals when they marry.

Nevalainen also clarifies that the blessing of marriage is offered by the Unification Church to spirits, and that living persons may marry spirits. This, she argues, explains some inflated statistics. When the Church claims that 800 million couples have been blessed, the figure includes a majority of «spirit marriages». Nevalainen reports my alternative explanation for the inflated figures, that they include all people who received «holy candies» from stands placed by the Unification Church in the streets during its worldwide pro-family crusades, but she insists that in order to arrive to the famous 800 million spirit marriages should be included. Unification Church sources, on the other hand, claim that spirit marriages account only for a minimal percentage of these figures.

Although anti-cultists may easily use Nevalainen’s book in order to portray Reverend Moon as a debauched sexual predator, the story told by the Finnish author is more complicated. By firmly placing Moon in a Korean sex ritual tradition he did not invent, Nevalainen actually helps scholar, the uneven use of the sources in her book and some questionable interpretations notwithstanding, to better understand the Korean character and sources of the Unification Church. And after all in many religious traditions, as Count Dracula liked to repeat, «the blood is the life».