Pyongyang in August 2019
A picture of a street in Pyongyang in August 2019. / Image: Daily NK

North Korea’s worsening economic situation has led more and more North Koreans to seek out fortune-tellers, leading to a nation-wide crackdown by the authorities, Daily NK sources recently reported.

North Korean authorities have designated fortune-telling “anti-socialist behavior” and are implementing harsh penalties such long sentences in prison and even death for those practicing the profession.

Daily NK recently conducted interviews with multiple residents of Pyongyang to better understand local superstitions and the extent of the government crackdown. All of the interviewees said an increasing number of people are turning to fortune-tellers and that fortune tellers are even traveling up to Pyongyang from the provinces to provide readings.

Interestingly, the interviewees said that high-ranking officials or the wives of high-ranking officials, rather than ordinary citizens, are increasingly the main solicitors of services provided by fortune-tellers. The full interviews can be found below.

Q. Do many people in Pyongyang seek out fortune-telling services?

Resident 1: “There are many superstitious people living in Pyongyang. North Koreans have the Juche ideology to believe in, of course, but nobody really believes in it. The (Juche ideology) just talks about some superior being coming down from the heavens.”

Resident 2: “Fortune-tellers living outside of Pyongyang come up to the city to read fortunes. If they have friends or relatives or acquaintances in Pyongyang, they travel all the way here to give them their fortunes.”

Q. Daily NK sources suggest that crackdowns on fortune-telling is intensifying.

Resident 1: “Friends and acquaintances will share information about fortune-tellers, but people rarely share such information with strangers. If that happens, they would risk getting reported to the authorities. Of course, some people do get caught. The police who investigate the reports, however, will often listen to what the fortune-tellers have to say and become believers themselves.

One time, a fortune-teller told a police officer that he should be concerned about the safety of his family members because “something will happen soon.” Word spread about what the fortune-teller said, even reaching the ears of the local chief of police. Rather than punishing the fortune-teller, the chief instead had his fortune read. That’s how fortune-telling continues to be popular in North Korea.”

Q. Have you experienced getting your own fortune read before? 

Resident 1: “One time a friend told me to hurry over to his house, so I went and found a fortune-teller there. I’d never seen a fortune teller before. The fortune-teller asked for KPW 100,000 to read my fortune. My friend thought it was cheap and just paid for it. The fortune-teller told me she would tell me everything I need to know if I wrote down my name and birthday. I did and she got most things right. She also said that the family (of my friend) would go somewhere in October. They really did go somewhere, albeit in November.”

Q. What kinds of people get their fortunes read?

Resident 1: “High-ranking officials and especially their wives. For regular people like us, every day is the same, but high-ranking officials lead different kinds of lives. Wives of high-level officials in Pyongyang have husbands who face the chopping block every day, so they are anxious about their futures. They ask questions about the future safety of their husbands. One time, I heard that an official’s wife went to a fortune-teller with a photo of her husband to get his fortune read.”

Resident 2: “All sorts of people go to fortune-tellers, including young people, merchants, and officials who are trying to advance in their careers, as well as their wives. High-ranking officials are usually anxious about their futures, so many get their fortunes read. North Korea’s economy is facing difficulties and there’s less money circulating nowadays. Officials only think about how to advance their careers and they rely on fortune-tellers to help them see into the future.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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