Korean mythology The world of Korean folklore and mythology is a diverse and fascinating one. It is filled with deities and semi-deities born from eggs, kings that descend directly from heaven to rule the people, and an affinity with nature You can join Unsolved Mysteries and post your own mysteries or
Alyeong First queen of Shilla. When Pak Hyeokkeose was born, the elders decided that a suitable wife needed to be found. On that day, in Saryang village there appeared a strange creature that was a cross between a chicken and a dragon (Korean: kyeryong). From it's left side a girl was born. She was a beautiful child, but she had the beak of a chicken. When she was taken to be bathed, however, the beak fell off. The child took her name from the Alyeong well next to which she was born, and she was married to Pak Hyeokkeose when she reached the age of thirteen.
Aryong Jong The Korean goddess of rainfall.
Chumong Founder of the Koguryeo kingdom in 37 BCE, he was the son of Haemosu and Yuhwa (eldest daughter of the water deity Habaek). Haemosu
Chumong's skill improved as he became a young man. He often went hunting with the king's seven sons, and although they might catch one deer all together, Chumong would catch many. The eldest prince warned his father, "Chumong is a boy of supernatural powers--it would be best to take care of him quickly before he grows to be a man." So the king ordered Chumong to work as a stable boy, to see how he would react to being ordered to do such lowly work.
Dissatisfied with such a lowly station, Chumong said to his mother: "I am the son of a god--this is no way for me to live. I will go to the south and found a nation of my own." His mother answered, "I, too, have worried about this day and night. Since you will be traveling such a long way, let me choose a good horse for you." His mother went to the corral and snapped a large whip, frightening all the horses. One of the horses leaped over a fence the height of two men. Chumong saw this and knew immediately that this was an exceptional horse. Secretly he stuck a needle in the horse's tongue so that he wouldn't be able to eat or drink.
When the king saw that all the horses had become big and strong he was very happy, and he gave the thin, starving horse to Chumong. Chumong took the needle from the horse's tongue and fed him very well. When the horse was healthy he fled south until he came to a great river. The king's troops were fast on his heels, so he pointed his whip at heaven and shouted, "I am the son of Haemosu, the son-in-law of Habaek, and I have thus far escaped disaster. Now may the gods of heaven and earth have mercy on me and send a bridge." Then he struck the water with an arrow, and all the fish and turtles in the river came up to the surface and formed a bridge. Chumong quickly rode across, even as the king's troops were approaching. When he had reached the other side, the fish and turtles dove back into the water, and all the king's men that were on the bridge drowned.
When he had parted with his mother she had given him many different seeds of grain, but somewhere along his journey he had lost the barley seed. As he was resting beneath a great tree, a pigeon came flying into view. He thought to himself, "Since I have lost the barley seed, my heavenly mother has sent me another." He shot an arrow and killed the pigeon, and when he opened up its throat he found a barley seed there. Then he put the pigeon into the water and it came to life and flew away again. He decided to found his nation at that place, and he gathered vassals around him and declared himself king.
One day, when he was out hunting, he met Songyang, the original king of the land. When Songyang asked him who he was, Chumong answered, "I am a descendant of the god of heaven, and I am now king of this land." Songyang replied, "I have been king of this land for some time now, so don't you think it would be right for you to submit to me?" Chumong said to him, "You are no descendant of the gods, so if you do not submit to me heaven will surely strike you down."
Songyang decided to try another tactic. "The mark of a great king is surely his skill in archery," he said. "Let us have a contest." He commanded one of his servants to draw a deer and place it at a hundred paces. Songyang took aim and fired, but he missed his target. Then Chumong commanded his servant to place a jade ring at a hundred paces, and he broke it with one arrow.
Songyang was defeated, and Chumong commanded rain to fall from heaven. It rained for seven days, and Songyang's capital was swept away in a flood. With the help of heaven, Chumong erected his own palace in another seven days, and thus he founded the kingdom of Koguryeo.
Dragon Carp In Korean mythology, a poor fisherman once caught a gigantic carp but he set it free when it begged for mercy. Later it turned out the be the son of the Dragon-King, the ruler of the Ocean, who rewarded the fisherman richly. Carps are revered in Japan and Korea as the symbol of youth, bravery, perseverance, strength, and self-defense; all qualities much admired, especially in warriors. The Koreans also regard it as a symbol of wealth. The Dragon Carp lived for a thousand years.
Habaek Water deity who lived in the Yalu River. He had three daughters--Yuhwa, Hweonhwa, and Wuihwa--the eldest of which was taken by Haemosu to be his bride. Habaek was angered that Haemosu did not honor him with an official offer of marriage and the ensuing ceremony, so he sent a message to Haemosu demanding that he return. Haemosu descended to Habaek's palace, where they tested each other's skill. Being deities, they tested each other in power of metamorphosis. Habaek first changed himself into a carp, but Haemosu changed himself into an otter and caught Habaek. Then Habaek changed into a deer, whereupon Haemosu changed into a wolf and chased him. Finally, Habaek changed into a quail, but Haemosu changed into a falcon and caught him again. Habaek gave up and acknowledged Haemosu's supremacy (the three stages represented Haemosu's supremacy on air, land, and sea). An official marriage ceremony was held and Habaek sent his daughter Yuhwa to heaven with Haemosu. Before Haemosu's chariot could leave the water, Yuhwa escaped and returned to her father. Habaek was infuriated, and he ordered his daughter's lips stretched out and placed her in a stream. She was later caught in a net by the king's fishermen, and after cutting her lips three times she was finally able to speak. The king took her into his household, where she was impregnated by Haemosu through a sunbeam.
Haemosu Sun deity, son of the god of heaven, father of Chumong. Riding in his chariot, Oryonggeo, he descended from the heavens in the morning to hear the affairs of the people. When evening came, he ascended back into heaven. This descension-ascension cycle represents the rising and setting of the sun. Haemosu desired to take the three daughters of Habaek, a water deity, but only succeeded in taking the eldest, Yuhwa. When Habaek heard of this he was enraged that Haemosu did not follow the proper ceremony of marriage and brought disgrace to his house. An official ceremony was held, but the girl escaped before Haemosu could return to heaven. He later impregnated her through a ray of sunlight while she was in the king's household, and the child she bore was Chumong.
Hananim The supreme god of ancient Korea. As the master of the universe he moves the stars. Hananim punishes the wicked, and rewards the good.
Hanlnim The Korean god of the sky.
First Queen of Kaya. According to legend, while Hwangok was a princess in Ayuta (in central India) she had a dream of King Suro. In her dream she learned that Suro had not yet found a queen, and both her parents agreed that she should go and become Suro's bride. She arrived in Kaya on a ship with a red sail and red flag, bearing treasure and gifts. When she was presented to the king she told him of her dream and the king knew immediately that this was heaven's chosen bride for him. They were married immediately, and the queen was greatly loved by all the people.
Hwanin The emperor-god of heaven and earth. The term is originally from Indian Buddhist scriptures, where it means "Lord of Heaven." He allowed his son Hwanung to descend to earth and found a city on Mount T'aebaek (near modern P'yeongyang).
Hwanung The son (Korean: seo-ja, meaning second or lower son) of Hwanin, he descended from heaven to Mount T'aebaek and founded the City of the Gods beneath a sacred tree. From this city he ruled the people and instructed them in agriculture, medicine, justice and other matters. He was hailed by the people as "King of Heaven." Two animals, a tiger and a bear, desired to become human, so they prayed daily to Hwanung. Hwanung heard their prayers and appeared to them. He instructed them to stay in a cave for one hundred days, eating only mugwort and garlic. The tiger was impatient and failed the test, but the bear persevered and was transformed into a beautiful woman. Hwanung married her, and she bore him a son, Tangun Wanggeom, who would later found the first Korean kingdom
Kim Suro Founder of the Kaya kingdom in the first century CE. According to legend, the area in the south central Korean peninsula was first ruled by nine elders, but there was no king. One day a voice spoke from heaven at a place called Kuji (meaning "delicious turtle" in Korean, it was the name of an area and a mountain). Two or three hundred people gathered there, along with the three elders. The voice instructed them to go to the top of the mountain, dig up some earth, dance and sing a song now known as Kujiga. They did as they were instructed and a plum-colored cord descended from heaven. At the end of the cord was a gold chest, and when they opened the chest they discovered six golden orbs. The elders brought the chest home, and the next day they opened up the chest to discover that the orbs had transformed into a baby boy. The boy grew quickly
Koeulla The second oldest of three demi-god brothers, appearing in the Samseong myth.
Kud The Korean personification of darkness and evil. He is the antipode of Palk.
Kujiga The song sung by the nine elders of Kaya when summoning King Suro. The name of the song comes from the name of the place where it was sung, but it also has another connotation; "Kuji" was the name of a place but it means "delicious turtle." This poem song is one of the oldest recorded poems in Korean literature, and the words run as follows: Keobuga, Keobuga / Meorireul naeeora / Naeeonoch'i aneumyeon / Kuweo meogeuri ("Turtle, Turtle / Stick out your head / If you don't / (We) will roast and eat (you>. Besides being one of the earliest Korean poems, Kujiga is also important for its magico-religious significance. The chanting of the poem-song was accompanied by dancing, making it one of the earliest (if not the first) recorded instance of a shamanistic ritual (kut) in Korea. The form of the song is also a universal formula typical of ancient incantations: appellation - command - supposition - threat.
Kumiho Kumiho means, literally, "nine-tailed fox." The following description appears (word for word) in both the Donga Color World Encyclopedia (Tonga wonsaek segye paekhwasajeon) and the Dusan Great World Encyclopedia (Tusan segye taebaekhwasajeon): "A fox with nine tails that commonly appears in the oral tales of our country. It can freely transform into, among other things, a bewitching girl that seduces men. A fox that lives a thousand years is said to turn into a kumiho. There are a number of legendary tales in which the kumiho appears." A half dozen or so of those legendary tales can be found in the encyclopedic Compendium of Korean Oral Literature (Hanguk kubimunhak taegye). A quick look at them will help supplement the brief description given above.
In "Transformation of the Kumiho" ("Kumihoui pyeonshin"), a kumiho transforms into an identical likeness of a bride at a wedding, and not even the bride's mother can tell them apart. The kumiho is finally discovered when her clothes are removed. In "Pak Munsu and the Kumiho" ("Pakmunsuwa kumiho"), the famous character Pak Munsu encounters a girl living alone in the woods who has a distinctly fox-like appearance. "The King and the Kumiho" ("Wanggwa kumiho") tells of a king who meets a girl in the woods at night and tells her to take off her clothes after promising to save her debt-laden father. The tale records that it was too dark for the king to see whether she was actually a girl or a fox, indicating that if it had been light the difference would have been obvious. In "The Maiden who Discovered a Kumiho through a Chinese Poem" ("Hansiro kumihoreul aranaen ch'eonyeo") we read that the kumiho was ultimately revealed when a hunting dog caught the scent of the fox and attacked. All of these details would seem to indicate that, while the kumiho may be able to change its appearance, there is still something fox-like about it; its countenance changes, but its nature does not.
The kumiho is typically pictured as taking a female form when transforming into a human being (as indicated in the encyclopedia entries), but the kumiho in "The Maiden who Discovered a Kumiho through a Chinese Poem" turns into a young man who attempts to trick the maiden into marrying him. It should be noted that this is the only case where the kumiho transforms into a man; in the rest of the tales the kumiho takes the form of a beautiful girl.
Although it is not indicated in the encyclopedia entry quoted above, the kumiho is not a benign trickster who delights only in fooling people. There is no doubt that the kumiho is an evil creature; unlike the fox of Japanese folklore, who will sometimes change into a woman to marry a man who has been kind to it, the kumiho never appears as a benevolent figure. The kumiho encountered by Pak Munsu intended to harm him, but he was able to escape. Likewise, the amorous king was saved by the timely arrival of a mountain spirit who struck the kumiho on the cheek and forced her to reveal her true form. Others were not so lucky. In "The Hunter and the Kumiho" ("P'osuwa kumiho"), a hunter comes upon a fox scratching at a human skull in the woods. Before his eyes, the fox changed into an old woman and went down into a nearby village (the scratching of the skull and the subsequent metamorphosis introduces an element of sympathetic magic into the kumiho's transformation, but there is not space enough here to flesh out this aspect). The hunter followed and saw her "reunited" with her children, who had puzzled over her absence of several months. The hunter was able to warn the children that their mother had been killed by the kumiho, and the kumiho intended them to be her next victims. "The Emperor's Kumiho Daughter-in-Law" tells of us a Chinese emperor's son who married a kumiho. After the marriage, the country's retainers mysteriously began to die one by one. The tale's hero eventually discovered the kumiho and was given permission by the emperor to kill it and save the remaining retainers. The kumiho of "The Kumiho and the Samjokku (Three-legged Dog)" ("Kumihowa samjokku") is married to another Chinese emperor, and she shows vampiric tendencies in wanting to suck the blood from her intended victim, the hero of the tale (she is foiled by the hero's three-legged dog, who attacks and kills her).
Metamorphosis Magic Among the deities and semi-deities of ancient Korea, the chosen method of battle was magic. Unlike Western magic, which often involves incantations cast to harm the enemy, metamorphosis magic was more indirect. Rather than directly attempting to harm the enemy, one would test one's strength against an opponent by changing into various animals. The transformation would continue until one party gave up. In all instances the weaker party transforms first and is then bested by the stronger party who transforms into a stronger animal, most often the weaker animal's traditional hunter or nemesis. The contest ends without violence, and is really a test of strength that is a substitute for direct battle. For examples of metamorphosis magic, see the stories of Habaek and T'alhae.
Oryonggeo The "Five Dragon Chariot" was the chariot which Haemosu rode when he descended to earth and ascended into heaven. Given the name, it was most probably pulled by five dragons, and it was said to have ridden on the wind and the clouds. It could transport the rider anywhere almost with the speed of the wind.
Pak Hyeokkeose First king of Shilla. The area where Shilla was later to emerge was first called Ch'inhan, and it was occupied by six towns (most probably city-states). According to the mythology, the leaders of the towns gathered together and decided that they needed a king to rule over them, primarily because there was no fixed rule or law and thus the people acted without virtue. They ascended to a high place and to the south they saw something like lightning flash from heaven. Then they saw a great white horse bowing down to the ground. When they neared the place they saw that the horse was bowing to a shining egg that lay on the ground. When the horse saw the men approaching, it whinnied loudly and flew up to heaven. When the egg was opened, a shining boy emerged. All the birds and animals danced for joy, the heavens shook, and the sun and moon grew brighter. Because he was born from an egg, he was given the surname Pak ("gourd" in Korean). The boy was taken to a temple in the south where he was raised. When he reached the age of thirteen, he married Alyeong and became king of the land. He ruled for 61 years and then ascended to heaven.
Pak Hyeokkeose was most probably an early chieftain who succeeded in uniting the six main city-states of the area into one nation which was at first called Kyerim but later became Shilla
Palk In ancient Korea, he is the sun god and founder of the realm of light. Palk is the personification of all that is light, good, and beneficial. The opposite force is Kud, the dark one. Palk's cult included sacrifices that took place on mountaintops and which were strictly oriented towards the east. The Koreans regard themselves to be the sons of Palk.
Pueulla The youngest of three demi-god brothers, appearing in the Samseong myth
Samseong myth This myth tells of the first settlement on Cheju Island, located off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula. In the beginning, before any people roamed the land, three demi-gods (Yangeulla, Koeulla, Pueulla) emerged from the ground. They wandered through the land and hunted, making clothes from the skins and subsisting on the meat. One day they discovered a large wooden chest on the eastern shore of the island. They opened up the chest and a messenger wearing a purple robe and red belt emerged. Also in the chest was a stone box, and inside were three girls wearing blue clothing, a calf, a colt, and the five grains (barley, rice, soybean, foxtail millet, and millet; in Korean folk literature these five grains represent all of agriculture). The messenger announced that they had been sent from Byeongnang (some sources indicate that the messenger and girls came from Japan, which makes geographical sense). The king of that land had sent the girls to be the brides of the three demi-gods. After delivering his message, the messenger returned to his land on a cloud. The three demi-gods each married and went their separate ways, founding each their own village
Seok T'alhae Fourth king of Shilla. T'alhae was born to the queen of King Hamdal in Wanha, and was said to have hatched from an egg. This was unheard of at the time, and the king's advisors warned him that it was a bad omen. He put T'alhae in a large chest with various precious stones and set him on a ship. The ship was immediately met by a red dragon who guarded the ship until it reached Shilla. T'alhae surveyed the land for a place to live, and he came to admire the house of a man named Ho. He went down to the house in secret and buried some charcoal and a whetstone. The nest day he went to Ho and accused him of taking his ancestor's land. When questioned by the police, T'alhae said that his ancestors were blacksmiths, and they could find proof of this by digging up the yard. The charcoal and whetstone were found, and so T'alhae took Ho's house. King Namhae of Shilla saw this and realized that T'alhae was a man of great ingenuity. He gave his first daughter to him in marriage, and T'alhae became the fourth king of Shilla after Namhae's son Yuri.
T'alhae also appears in the Kaya legend of King Suro. This legend claims that T'alhae went first to Kaya and challenged King Suro for the throne, and they tested each other in metamorphosis magic (see also the story of Habaek). T'alhae first changed into a falcon, but Suro changed into an eagle. Then T'alhae changed into a sparrow, but Suro changed into a sparrow-hawk. T'alhae changed back to human form and bowed before the king. He acknowledged the king's mercy in not killing him while he had the chance, and departed Kaya on a ship that had arrived from China. The two legends, of course, do not correspond
Solmundae Halmang The Cosmogonic Goddess of Cheju, Solmundae Halmang. The goddess Solmundae Halmang (Grandmother) is the creator of the islands, mountains, valleys, hills, and rivers on Cheju Island, Korea. Physically she is a giantess: the highest mountain on Cheju Island (Hanla Mountain is over 6,000 feet in elevation) reaches below her elbow, and the deepest river reaches near her ankle. Her diarrhea turned into 360 heights and her urine created the channel. She is the land itself, and her presence is marked over the entire Island.
There are various tales about her:
Solmundae Halmang had difficulty finding clothes because of her giant size. She proposed to the inhabitants of Cheju that if they made her underwear she would build them a bridge to the mainland. However, her underwear required one hundred tong (the unit to measure fabric) of silk but when all the silk was gathered there were only ninety-nine tong and unfortunately the clothes were not made for the goddess. Thus, the bridge building had to be stopped. The vestige of the bridge exists on the shore of Chochon.
In the time of Solmundae, once after eating millet porridge, the Grandmother had diarrhea which created 360 mountains on Cheju
The legendary founder of the first Korean kingdom, Old Choseon, in 2333 BCE near modern P'yeongyang. His full name was Tangun Wanggeom, which is actually more of a title than a name; Tangun means "high priest" and Wanggeom means "king," symbolizing the spiritual and political power invested in the ruler. His father was Hwanung, son of Hwanin, emperor of heaven, and his mother was a bear who had been transformed into a woman. It has been speculated that the bear-woman transformation story indicates that the woman was from a bear totem clan. On a more symbolic level, though, the bear's passing of the test shows how highly early Koreans valued perseverance. It was not the strength and impetuosity of the tiger that helped the Korean people resist attacks from both China and Japan, but the determination and perseverance of the bear. Tangun is still worshipped today in modern Korea by followers of Ch'eondogyo, "The Religion of the Heavenly Way," and Koreans often refer to themselves as "descendants of Tangun." Tol-Harubang Stone Grandfather: Tol-Harubang are large phallic statues found on Jeju Island at the southern tip of South Korea. The name 'Stone Grandfather' was coined in the 1940's or 50's as a reference to their obvious masculine shape. The once-official name for them was 'Beoksumeori'. Traditionally, Tol-Harubang are gods offering both protection and fertility. These ancient statues were placed outside of gates for protection against evil spirits. Even today they are thought of as potent sources of fertility. Small replicas of Tol-Harubangs are sometimes given to women with fertility problems.
Their origin is not known for sure, however, there are two main theories about them. The first is that sea-faring peoples introduced them. The second theory is that they are a counterpart to the Korean Peninsula's tradition of totem poles. Korean totem poles are called 'Beoksu', The original name for the Tol-Harubang was 'Beoksu-Meori', or Totem Heads.
Yangeulla The eldest of three demi-god brothers, appearing in the Samseong myth.
Yondung Halmoni An ancient Korean wind goddess, she is celebrated in shamanic rituals where she is fed rice cakes.
Yuhwa Mother of Chumong and eldest daughter of the water god Habaek. She was abducted by the sun god Haemosu, but was returned after her father protested. An official marriage ceremony was held, but Yuhwa escaped Haemosu's chariot before they could ascend to heaven. Enraged at her for bringing disgrace to his house, Habaek had his daughter's lips stretched out and he put her in the middle of a stream. She was later found by the king's fishermen and brought into the king's household. There Haemosu impregnated her through a ray of sunlight.
From Pacifc Mythology
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