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Korean mythology

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Title: Korean mythology  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Korean shamanism, List of geological features on Rhea, Misin tapa undong, Cheoyongmu, List of death deities
Collection: History of Korea, History of Northeast Asia, Korean Folklore, Korean Mythology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Korean mythology

Korean mythology
Moon goddess of Goguryeo
Korean name
Hangul 한국 신화
Hanja 韓國 神話
Revised Romanization Hangug sinhwa
McCune–Reischauer Han'guk sinhwa

Korean mythology consists of national legends and folk-tales which come from all over the Korean Peninsula. The origin may be a blend of Korean shamanism, Buddhist, Chinese myths, Confucian and Taoist legends and myths. The legends may also vary greatly by region, even within the country. For example, the people of Jejudo have a very different lifestyle from that of the mainland and so can generate different forms of the same myths.[1]

In Korean shamanism, animism was dominant as the prime source for religious life for the Korean people. Particular worship of mountains, animals, plants stem from the belief that they had souls and often show up in the folktales as well as talk about tributes and sacrifices, whether literal, or figurative.[2]

At the same time, there were gods that occupied certain domains and they would often show up in folktales as distant protectors that called on humans when asked to rather than interfering with every day life.[2]

Early in Korean history, the shamanistic religion was dominant and because early Korea was divided often into smaller domains, such as Silla and Goguryeo, Baekje, the folktales and myths tended to differ also by those regions. With the arrival of Buddhism in the 3-4th century, the myths and native religion began to change as did the myths.[3] With the advent of Neo Confucianism, the native religion was suppressed by the government where shamans were often killed for practicing and so many of the legends either changed or were blended into existing legends.


  • Korean shamanism 1
  • Cosmology 2
  • Classification 3
    • Creation myths 3.1
    • Other Mythologies 3.2
      • The Creation of the World 3.2.1
      • The Coming of Humankind 3.2.2
    • Flood myths 3.3
    • The underworld myths 3.4
    • Birth and agriculture myths 3.5
    • Myths about shamans 3.6
    • Disease myths 3.7
    • Gashin myths 3.8
    • Hero myths 3.9
  • Folklore 4
    • Modern treatments 4.1
  • Mythological Figures 5
  • Supernatural beings 6
    • Yokwe (monster) 6.1
    • Gwishin (ghosts) 6.2
    • Guardians 6.3
  • Folktales 7
    • The Sun and the Moon 7.1
    • Bonpuli 7.2
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Korean shamanism

A shaman (baksu) holding a kut.

Korean shamanism has a large influence on the Korean.[3] It, too, has a large influence on the myths.

Early in Korean myth, often men were equated to birds and women were often equated to fish or land animals. This often held true for later myths not based in Muism. Examples can be seen through the Samgungnyusa, where men often transformed into birds and tales of women include water or fish. For example, the early goddess, Yuhwa, was said to be a water nymph but Haemosu was said to be a sky god. In the tale about Kim Suro, Kim Suro was said to transform into a bird—as did his opponent, but his wife, Heo Hwang Ok was said to have come by boat from the sea. This is very consistent throughout the Three Kingdoms period as seen in the Samgungnyusa.

Mountains were often also talked about being sacred, and often also show up in myths, legends and folktales. Kings were often delivered to the top of mountains, gods came down to mountains, and even mountain spirits, called sanshin were worshipped.[3]


The cosmology of Korea has changed over time as new religions have been imported into the country and been slowly syncretized. Also, there are larger regional differences with the older mythology rather than the newer mythology when the country became united.

From the prehistory to the Three Kingdoms era, it is thought that Koreans didn't believe in heaven and hell—they believed in the "Next Life" which was slightly better than the one here and had no particular location or place. It was not in a particular time, but out of the realm of time itself.[3]

Sanshin, Bonhyasin, and generals were often worshipped as gods and took part in many myths and legends. As well as many animals, particularly talking animals as in the legend of Ungnyeo "Bear Woman", who was a bear who turned into a human.[3]

Despite this basic commonality, the religion and myths varied a lot by location. Hae Mosu, Jumong and Yuhwa were gods from Goguryeo, but Koenegitto, Grandmother Seolmundae, Koeulla, Puella and Yangeul were from Jeju island. Each kingdom and specific region may have had their own form of worship.[3]

This changed with the introduction of Buddhism, where Buddhism both adopted traditional practices and vice versa. This included the change of the afterlife, which gained a heaven, hell and different levels of hell with it sometime in the 4th-fifth century. These realms now ere called Iseung, Yongwangguk, and Jeoseung. Two other realms are vaguely mentioned; Okhwang, located in the sky, and Jihaguk, located underground.[4]

Koreans referred to the mortal world as Iseung, meaning this world. It was home to the Gashin, or household gods, many Bonhyangshin (village gods) and Josangshin (ancestral deities), as well as the Sanshin "mountain gods". Evil spirits (Gwishin), such as Mongdal (spirits of unmarried man) and Songaxi (spirits of unmarried woman), also occupied this realm, as did Dokkaebi, the trickster spirits of old tools. Certain deities regularly crossed over from their abode into Iseung; these were Chasa, the envoy gods. These included Jeoseung Chasa, the reapers of the dead, who features in most death-related myths; Okhwang Chasa, who brought the hero Hwanguyangssi to the Palace of Cheonha in the Seongju Puli;[4] and gods such as Choribdongi of the Gunung Bonpuli.,[5] who occasionally crossed over from the sea.

Yongwangguk is the undersea kingdom, occupied by the Yongwang, the five gods of the ocean; their names are Gwangdeok of the east, Gwangli of the south, Gwangtaek of the west, and Gwangyeon of the north[6] These gods could marry between each other; for example, in the Samseung Halmang Bonpuli, the daughter of Gwangtaek married Gwangdeok. However, there is war, too, in Yongwangguk; in the Gunung Bonpuli, Gwangtaek is slain by Gwangdeok's army.

Jeoseung is ruled by the ten Underworld gods, the Yeoldaewang. The Yeoldaewang offer different punishments; Jingang shreds sinners to pieces, Sogan burns sinners in an iron pot, Songye whips sinners and exiles them, and Ogan offers the blessed fire to withstand the cold and makes sinners pass naked through his icy realm. Yeomyeo rips the tongues of those who earned money through interest, Bingshin hurls sinners in a pit full of lizards, spiders, and snakes, Taesan grinds the flesh of sinners inside a barn, and Paengdeung shreds sinners with a saw. Those who are destroyed in Paengdeung's realm must reincarnate into the twelve beasts. Doshi undresses sinners, hangs them on a tree, and hits them ruthlessly, and Yeolsi sends the blessed into the village of Sang, located in Mt.Seokhyo, and sends sinners into a dark realm where there is no light.

There is also a vague mention of Okhwang, the abode of the sky gods, and Jiha, abode of the earth gods. In Okhwang is a Palace called Cheonha; in Jiha, there are many monsters, female deities, and pine trees.

Finally, there is said to be a dark realm that has no light. The king of that realm sends his gigantic hounds, the Bulgae, to hunt the sun and the moon and bring them to his realm; however, when the Bulgae bite the sun and the moon, they find that they are too hot/cold and run away to their realm. When the Bulgae bites the sun, it is called a solar eclipse; when they bite the moon, it is a lunar eclipse.


Just as different experts were respected equally, all Korean gods were equally respected in their fields. Koreans viewed all gods as equal because they were there to solve problems in people’s lives. Therefore, in order to better understand Korean oral myths, it is important to set the types of problems that may occur in everyday living situations.

The Korean myths sampled from different regions clearly demonstrate that there are various gods who take essentially identical roles, but appear in different plots. For example, Mireuk in the Changsega and Dosu Munjang in the Chogamje are both creator gods, but their myth is entirely different. In the Changsega, Mireuk makes the world and everything in it, while in the Chogamje, Dosu Munjang makes only the world, the suns, and the moons. Throughout Korea, myths tell of Mireuk (Northern Korea), the Humun brothers (Central Korea), or Daebyeol (Southern Korea), who destroyed each of the two suns and moons. It is difficult to classify them as different myths.

Oppositely, there are myths with a similar plot, but a different role for the characters. For example, the myth of Danggeum Aegi and the Hyeongbul brothers (northern and central Korea) and the myth of Queen Nogadanpungjajimyeong and the Chogong brothers (southern Korea) have nearly the same plot; a virgin has premarital sex with a priest by accident, and have three sons, who search out their father. However, in the Danggeum Aegi myth, Danggeum Aegi becomes the goddess of childbirth, and her sons become the gods of life. In the Nogadanpungjajimyeong myth, Queen Nogadanpungjajimyeong becomes the goddess of luck, and her sons become the Underworld gods.

Korean myths tend to focus on the role played by the god who is the protagonist in the story. Accordingly, Choi explained Korean myths according to the roles of the gods.[1]

Instead, the Great Encyclopedia of the Culture of the Korean People (한국민족문화대백과) classifies gods into three groups; shamanistic deities, village deities, and Gashin, or house deities.[7]

Creation myths

The separation of heaven and earth, the creation of the sun, the moon and stars, the origin of fire and water, the origin of clothing and cooking, the genesis of humans, and the fight over this world and the underworld are systematically organized and well presented in creation myths, which convey the true essence of mythological philosophy.

These myths are rare compared to other myths of the peninsula, as the creator deities have no direct connection with the people. However, there are three surviving myths concerning creation; the Changsega of Hamheung, the Sirumal of Seoul, and the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli of Jeju Island.

Among these, the Changsega retells the creation of the world and the conflict between the creator and his usurper. Many themes in the Changsega are unique to Korea. According to the Changsega, Mireuk parted the world by putting four copper pillars between the earth and the sky. He destroyed each of the two suns and two moons and crafted the stars with the destroyed sun and moon. Mireuk discovered fire and water from a mouse after torturing it (as a gift to the mouse, Mireuk gave it the barns of the world), and made the first clothes from a kudzu vine. He created humans from five golden bugs and five silver bugs. The bugs grew into humans; the silver ones were women and the golden ones were male.

Suddenly, the deity Seokga attempted to usurp Mireuk in three contests. In the first contest, which judged who could stretch their ropes across the East Sea, Seokga's silver rope broke, but Mireuk's golden rope did not. Thus, Mireuk claimed victory.

In the second contest, the deities had to make the Seongcheon river connect to all other rivers in the universe. Seokga called on rainstorms, but he could not make the Seongcheon connect with all other rivers. Mireuk called on winter ice, and made the Seongcheon connect with all other rivers (because water expands when frozen).

In the final contest, Mireuk and Seokga grew a magnolia flower. While the two deities were sleeping, the deity that the magnolia reached for would be the winner. The magnolia reached for Mireuk, but Seokga severed the magnolia and put it in his lap. The angered Mireuk cursed the earth, creating prostitution, betrayal, mental disorder, bragging, and other imperfections of the world. Seokga, the injust victor, then imprisoned Mireuk.

In three days, Mireuk fled his prison by transforming into a musk deer. In response, Seokga led his three thousand priests to kill Mireuk. Seokga killed and ate the musk deer, and shared Mireuk's flesh with his priests. But two of the priests refused to eat the venison. They were killed by Seokga, and turned into a large rock and a pine tree. However, people still eat flower pancakes (Hwajeon) in remembrance of the murdered priests.[8]

The Sirumal and the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli share a similar plot, but the story of the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli is much more vibrant than the Sirumal(for more detals, see Cheonjiwang Bonpuli).

Other Mythologies

The Creation of the World

At the beginning the world did not exist. A deity named Yul-ryeo 율려(律呂) and a goddess named Mago 마고(麻姑) appeared . Yul-ryeo then died. Mago in turn gave birth to two goddesses: Gung-hee 궁희(穹姬) and So-hee 소희(巢姬). They in turn each gave birth to two Men of Heaven 천인(天人) and two Women of Heaven 천녀(天女).

After the appearance of the Heavenly People, Yul-ryeo 율려 is revived and through her rebirth heaven, earth, and the oceans were created, along with Chi (soul) 기(氣), fire 불(火), water 물(水), and earth 흙(土). These four elements in turn mixed and became herbs and plants, birds and animals.

Mago 마고(麻姑) decides to stay with Yul-ryeo, whose body had now become the world, and the Heavenly People ruled all living things from their heavenly fortress named Magoseong 마고성(麻姑城) in honor of the goddess.

The Coming of Humankind

There were four Heavenly Men guarding each cardinal direction of the fortress, and they were Cheong-gung 청궁(靑穹), Hwang-gung 황궁(黃穹) who were children of Gunghwee, and Hukso 흑소(黑巢), Baekso 백소(白巢)who were children of Sohwee. They in turn married the four Heavenly Women, and gave birth to twelve children, who would become the ancestors of the humans.

These ancestors were pure and were said to drink from Earth's Milk 지유(地乳), which came from a spring inside the castle. They could speak without making sounds, and act without seeing and never died. Thus they lived for ten thousand years undisturbed.

Then there came a time when the number of people became too large. There was not enough of Earth's Milk (or "Jiyu") to go around for everyone. Because of this, a man from the line of Baekso 백소(白巢) by the name of Jiso 지소(支巢) decided to cede his meal of Earth's Milk five times to his neighbours (other versions say that he waited in line but the line was so long he never got his turn). Eventually his hunger grew intolerable, and deciding to kill himself he headed towards a cliff, where he saw a grape vine growing in the edges. Unable to suppress his hunger, he ate the grapes and immediately acquired the five tastes of sourness, bitterness, spiciness, sweetness, and saltiness. This is known as the Incident of the Five Tastes (오미의 변).

Jiso 지소(支巢) returned to his people and told them of his discovery. Soon however, those who ate from these grapes began to grow teeth. From the teeth spewed a saliva that turned into venom. This was because they had eaten another living thing in order to stay alive.

Soon they were able to see, but were no longer able to hear the heavens. Their skin became coarse, their feet heavy, and they were no longer pure. They gave birth to many animal-resembling children and their lifespans began to shrink.

There eventually came a point when the people of Magosung 마고성(麻姑城) began blaming Jiso (지소) for the transformation, and he along with his family and all those who had eaten the grapes were forced to leave Magosung 마고성(麻姑城).

As the line of Jiso was leaving, however, Hwang-gung (황궁:黃穹, one of the four guardians and a direct ancestor of the Korean people) tried to encourage them by saying that if they could recover their pure nature, they would be free of their misery.

Upon hearing this, the people became convinced that the only way to become pure once more was to drink from Earth's Milk again. They then stormed the castle and overwhelmed it, razing the fortress to its foundations in order to reveal the source of the spring that had given them Earth's Milk. The spring, however, began to flow in all directions and thereafter the milk turned into inedible earth, leaving not only the original perpetrators but all the former inhabitants of the now destroyed castle to starve.

Soon thereafter there ensued a massive famine, and everyone was reduced to devouring not only grapes, but all sorts of plants and even animals in an attempt to satiate their hunger. Of them only Hwang-gung 황궁(黃穹) came forth to Mago 마고(麻姑) and begged her for forgiveness. He swore he would not rest until mankind could recover its pure nature. From her he obtained the Three Heavenly Heirlooms, and great knowledge. He then called together all the people of the earth, taught them agriculture, and gave each clan leader a Heavenly Heirloom and then sent them off in different directions to people the earth.

Cheong-gung 청궁(靑穹) went to the East, where he established China.

Baekso 백소(白巢) and his people moved to the West and became the people of Europe and the Middle East.

Hukso 흑소(黑巢) moved to the South, into the region that is now India and Southeast Asia.

Hwang-gung 황궁(黃穹) took three thousand followers and they alone went to the harsh North, to a place called Cheonsanju 천산주(天山洲), meaning "land of the heavenly mountain" where the land was cold and dangerous. He had done this on purpose, because he wanted to be purified once more. Upon arrival, Hwang-gung 황궁(黃穹) signed an oath swearing that he would recover his purity.

Hwang-gung 황궁(黃穹) ruled for a thousand years, using the Heavenly Heirloom, which granted him power over fire and the sun. Hwang-gung eventually achieved his goal of self-purification. To his oldest son Yuin 유인(有因) he gave the Heavenly Heirloom as a sign of his right to govern the kingdom, whereas to his two younger sons he gave the responsibility of governing over a province each. He then departed to the Heavenly Mountain 천산(天山) where he became a stone that could speak Yul-ryeo's message, constantly reminding men of their path to innocence.

Yuin 유인(有因) ruled for another thousand years. Using the Heavenly Heirloom, he taught his people how to tame fire and cook food. He later left for the Heavenly Mountain as well and gave the heirloom to his a son by the name of Han-in 한인(桓因) [sometimes pronounced "Hwanin" 환인]. Han-in 한인(桓因) was the last of the heavenly rulers, who used the power of the Heirloom to bring abundant sunlight and good weather. Under the three thousand years of peaceful reign since Hwang-gung 황궁(黃穹), the people eventually lost their animal-like appearance and slowly began recovering their image.

Flood myths

There are three recorded flood myths in Korea. In the sibling intermarriage myth, mankind continued its existence through the marriage between a sibling who survived a gigantic flood..

In the Namu Doryeong myth, Namu Doryeong played a similar role in the continuation of our history after a big flood. Namu Doryeong was the son of a laurel tree spirit, who survived the flood by floating on the laurel. He first saved a colony of ants from the flood, then a swarm of mosquitoes, until he had saved all the animals of the world. Namu Doryeong finally saved a young human boy, despite the laurel's advice against it.

After the flood, Namu Doryeong met a crone and her two daughters on Mt. Baekdu. The crone's family did not die because Mt. Baekdu was the highest mountain in Korea. The crone gave Namu Doryong a contest, and if Namu Doryeong won, he could have her daughter's hand in marriage. Namu Doryeong won the contest because of the aid of a swarm of ants. The ants were the very ants that Namu Doryeong had saved.

Thus, Namu Doryeong and the boy married the crone's two daughters, and they formed the next race of humans.

The underworld myths

One of the most important things we need to note in this myth is that the underworld controls the death of people. In other words, people will go to the underworld after they die. Also, even Yeomra, the King of the Underworld, can be captured by an officer in the mortal world.

The best-known death myth is the Chasa Bonpuli myth. The hero Gangrim Doryeong is ordered to capture Yeomra, King of the Underworld, by his king (Kimchiwonnim) in order to discover the reason for the mysterious deaths of the three sons of Gwayanggaxi. With help from Munshin, the door god, and Jowangshin, the kitchen god, Gangrim Doryeong captures Yeomra. After testing Gangrim Doryeong's wisdom, Yeomra tells Kimchiwonnim that the mysterious deaths are because the three sons are actually the three princes of Beomul, who were murdered by Gwayanggaxi. They chose to be reborn as Gwayanggaxi's sons to take revenge on their killers. Gangrim Doryeong became the death god, who reaps dead souls and brings them to the underworld.[9]

In other myths, the protagonist cheats death. This theme is universal throughout Korea, and appears in the form of Hwangcheon Honshi (of Northeast Korea), Jangja Puli (of Southwest Korea), Samani Bonpuli (of Jeju Island), and the myth of General Sineui (Southeast Korea). In most of these stories, the protagonist bribes the death gods into cheating death.

Birth and agriculture myths

The two main elements in the birth myth are birth and agriculture. The birth myth is closely related to women, since only women have the secret of reproduction. Thus, the three concepts of birth, agriculture and women (or goddesses) are the important keywords in understanding the birth myth.

The myths about Samshin (goddess of birth) and the Samsegyeong (the three gods of agriculture) are examples of this. In the Samshin myth, both of the main characters (the maleovelant Princess of the Dragon Palace of the East Sea and the kind Princess of the Kingdom of Myeongjin) are female.

In the romantic Segyeong Bonpuli myth, the protagonist is the woman Jacheong Bi. In this story, Jacheong Bi disguiises herself as a man, and goes to school with the teenaged deity Mun Doryeong. After secretly pretending she was a man for three years, she sends a letter on a leaf while Mun Doryeong is bathing, telling Mun Doryeong the truth. Mun Doryeong and Jacheong Bi share love that night, then Mun Doryeong leaves for Heaven.

Mun Doryeong does not return, and Jacheong Bi sends her slave, Jeongsu Nam, to log in the woods and feed the cattle. However, Jeongsu Nam devours all the cattle, drops his axe in a lake, and gets all his clothes stolen. However, Jeongsu Nam lies to Jacheong Bi that he met Mun Doryeong, and tries to have an affair with Jacheong Bi. Jacheong Bi kills Jeongsu Nam by piercing his ear with a thorned branch. Jeongsu Nam's soul flies away, turning into an owl.

Jacheong Bi is chased out of the house because she murdered someone, and she finds herself weaving the clothes for Mun Doryeong's wedding. She signs her name in the clothes, and Mun Doryeong returns to Jacheong Bi; however, Jacheong Bi stabs Mun Doryeong with a needle, chasing him away.

Jacheong Bi again disguises herself as a man and goes to the house of Sara Doryeong, who has flowers that can revive the dead (Hwansaengkkot). She apologizes to Jeongsu Nam, who (in the form of an owl) has been magically cursing Sara Doryeong. The owl dies, and Sara Doryeong gives Jacheong Bi his third daughter and the Hwansaengkkot. Because Jacheong Bi is a woman and does not want to have an affair with another woman, Jacheong Bi flees with the Hwansaengkkot and brings Jeongsu Nam back to life. However, Jacheong bi's parents consider it evil to make a dead person be alive again, and chase Jacheong Bi away again.

Jacheong Bi encounters Mun Doryeong, and comes to heaven with him. However, Mun Doryeong had already promised to marry the daughter of King Seosu, a ruler of Heaven. Mun Doryeong's father, King Munseon, tells the two women that the one who could cross a burning trail filled with knives would be Mun doryeong's wife. The daughter of Seosuwang refused, but Jacheong Bi crossed the bridge. When she wiped her blood, menstruation began.

When Jacheong Bi's new husband, Mun Doryeong, is ordered to fight an army of rebel ghosts, Jacheong Bi sends Mun Doryeong to Sara Doryeong's mansion while she fights. She destroys the rebelling spirits, but Sara Doryeong's third daughter does not want Mun Doryeong to leave. Thus, the third daughter saddls Mun Doryeong's horse backwards. Jacheong Bi is angered when she sees Mun Doryeong riding with his back towards her, and parts from Mun Doryeong. Jacheong Bi rejoins Jeongsu Nam, and with Mun Doryeong, they become the gods of agriculture.

Myths about shamans

Most Korean folklore is passed on by a shaman who performs a shamanistic ceremony called a kut. Shamans are thus responsible for transmitting myths. Shamans belong to a despised social class, so it is quite intriguing that they served as transmitters of myths which are sacred stories. We can find the answer to this question in the origin myth of shamans. In ancient times, shamans belonged to the sacred class well respected by the community. Therefore, it is quite understandable that there should be myths about the ancestors of shamans i.e. the origin myth of shamans.

The ancestral shaman is believed to be Bari. Bari was the seventh daughter of King Ogu, but she was abandoned in infancy. Because he abandoned his daughter, King Ogu suddenly fell sick. King Ogu's wife discovered Bari. After finding out that the only way to cure King Ogu of his sickness would be to drink the water of Mt. Dongdae, Bari began her journey.

First, Bari encountered an old man who was plowing the field. Bari decided to plow the field for the old man. Suddenly, hundreds of magical animals fell from the sky and plowed the field. In return, the old man told Bari the direction of Mt. Dongdae.

Bari encountered a fork on the road. Bari did not know which direction to take, so she asked an old woman. In return, Bari washed the old woman's clothes and killed the lice crawling over her. The old woman then told which trail to take, and gave Bari a golden bell and a branch with three magical flowers. In fact, the old woman was Mago, the creator of the world.

Bari crossed a range of twelve mountains. Each of the mountains were full of ghosts, but their howling could not stop Bari from crossing them. Finally, Bari encountered the Hwangcheon River, a river that only the dead could cross. The guards of Hwangcheon forbade Bari from riding the boat that crossed the river. Bari showed them the flowers that Mago had given her. The flowers signified that Bari was a goddess, and the guards gave permission for Bari to cross the river.

When Bari reached the Underworld, she found a fortress built of iron thorns. When she waved the flowers, the fortress melted away into smoke, and all the sinners imprisoned in the fortress were set free.

Bari then reached a pink river. The water of this river could melt human flesh. When Bari waved the bell, a rainbow bridge formed over the river. Bari crossed the rainbow bridge and reached Mt. Dongdae.

In Mt. Dongdae, Dongsuja, keeper of Mt. Dongdae, married Bari and had three children. Only after the third child was born did Dongsuja reveal the water of Mt. Dongdae. The Hwansaengkkot, or flowers that could revive the dead, grew next to the water. She took each of the flowers and scooped up some of the water.

When she came back, she found that Dongsuja had abandoned her and her three children. Bari returned to her home in no time, but found that both King Ogu and the queen were dead. She brought her parents back to life with the Hwansaengkkot, and cured the sickness with the water. Bari became the death goddess, the guider of the dead to the Underworld. She also became the first shaman, and the patron of all the shamans in Korea.[10]

Disease myths

Disease myths are about the gods who give all kinds of disease to us. The representative myth is the Sonnimgut. The fifty-three Sonnimne are the deities of smallpox. However, even the Sonnimne, who bring smallpox, can grant longevity and success.

According to the Sonnimgut, fifty-three smallpox gods, called the Sonnimne, lived in China. However, the Sonnimne wanted to live in Korea. Three Sonnimne, led by the beautiful goddess Gaxi Sonnim, headed to Korea.

However, they could not cross the Yalu River. One day, a ferryman said that the three gods could cross the Yalu on his boat if Gaxi Sonnim shared love with him. Gaxi Sonnim promptly severed the ferryman's head with a dagger. Then, she gave deadly smallpox to the ferryman's seven sons, killing the eldest six. The seventh son survived, albeit completely disabled. Then, they crossed the Yalu on the ferryman's boat.

When the gods reached Seoul, they attempted to sleep in the house of the rich Kim Jangja, but was refused. Instead, they slept in the shack of the kind crone, Nogo Halmi. After blessing Nogo Halmi's granddaughter with longetivity and good luck, the trio headed towards Kim Jangja's mansion.

Kim Jangja hid his son Cheolhyeon in a high mountain, and burned peppers on every street (pepper was said to drive away the Sonnimne). The angered Sonnimne attacked Cheolhyeon, first luring him out of the mountain then whipping him. The Sonnimne pierced silver needles in Cheolhyeon's joints, and finally, Kim Jangja promised to have a sacrifice made for the Sonnimne. However, the promise was false. The greatly angered Sonnimne killed Cheolhyon, and took him as the fifty-fourth Sonnimne.

While the Sonnimne were returning to China, they found that Nogo Halmi lived in Kim Jangja's mansion with her granddaughter and son-in-law, while Kim Jangja lived as a sick beggar in Nogo Halmi's shack. When Cheolhyeon cried out at this situation, the Sonnimne gave Kim Jangja some money and cured his sickness. Only since then did Cheolhyeon truly join the Sonnimne.[11]

Gashin myths

Main articles: Gashin, Jowangshin, Teojushin, Munjeon Bonpuli, Nulgubjishin, Munshin, Cheukshin

The Gashin are patrons of the house, the rooms, and various objects. As the keepers of the family, myths about the Gashin are about the prevention of the destruction of the family.

For example, in the Munjeon Bonpuli, the evil goddess of the outhouse, Noiljadae (or her daughter, depending on the source), kills Yeosan Buin and attempts to kill the seven children. However, Noiljadae suicides when her plan is foiled by the seventh son, Nokdisaengin, and Yeosan Buin is brought back to life through the Hwansaengkkot flowers.

In the Seongju Puli, the evil magician Sojinhang attempts to claim the earth goddess. However, Sojinhang is defeated, and he turns into a Jangseung, or totem pole. His daughters turn into the Seonangshin.

In the Seongjo Puri myth, the protagonist, Ansimguk of Seongjo, abandons his wife, Gyehwa Buin. As a result, he is abandoned in a bare island, where he lives for three years as a furred beast.

Hero myths

Korean hero myths tend to blend with other myths. For example, the Chasa Bonpuli introduced earlier is a prime example of a hero myth; however, it is also related to the myths concerning the Underworld, and is treated as such. In the Chasa Bonpuli myth, the mortal Gangrim Doryeong captures Yeomra, King of the Underworld, and brings him to his homeland.

Another hero myth is the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli myth. The protagonist, Daebyeol, shoots down the sun and the moon, destroying it. However, the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli is more of a creation myth than a hero myth.

An example of a 'pure' hero myth is the Gunung Bonpuli myth. In the Gunung Bonpuli, the giant Wang Janggun kills the Dragon King of the West Sea with an arrow at the request of the Dragon King of the East Sea. The Dragon King of the East Sea gives his daughter's hand in marriage, and the giant Wang Janggun and his three sons become the Gunungshin, or war gods.


Depiction of Hyeonmu, Northern Guardian in the tomb of 강서대묘

Korea has a rich folklore tradition with deep links to Korean shamanism. For example, the folklore about Simcheong, a girl who threw herself into the oceans, is derived from the Simcheonggut myth. The Simcheonggut myth was originally used to cure eye disease (Simcheong miraculously cured her father's blindness), but during the suppression of Korean Shamanism in the Joseon Dynasty, the myth evolved into a folktale.

Other folktales involve Korean deities. In one folklore, an axeman encounters a Sanshin, the gods of individual mountains. Sanshin gives the axeman golden and silver axes.

In the Byeongangsoe Taryeong folklore, Byeongangsoe uses Jangseung (totem poles) for firewood. He receives the rage of the Jangseung, and suddenly dies.

Modern treatments

Recent achievements in keeping Korean folklore alive have been the 150 part animated TV series, "Animentary Korean Folklore", telling old tales anew but with traditional 2-D Korean styled animation.

In Korea itself, the comic series With God brought a national interest about Korean mythology. The comic stars deities such as the Shiwang (ten kings of the Underworld), Gangrim Doryeong (death god), Jowangshin, and Cheukshin.

Korean mythology has also given birth to several online role-playing games, most notably NexusTK.

Mythological Figures

  • Cheonjiwang - The supreme ruler of the world, father of Daebyeol and Sobyeol.
  • Daebyeol - Supreme King of the Underworld. The ten Shiwang are his lieutenants.
  • Sobyeol - Supreme King of the Mortal World. Sobyeol rules the mortals, but his power is lesser than Daebyeol's.
  • Queen Baji - Supreme Queen of the Earth. She is Cheonjiwang's wife, and the mother of Daebyeol and Sobyeol.
  • Dae(soon)-nim - The Moon, brother of the Sun.
  • Hae(sik)-nim - The Sun, sister of the Moon.
  • Cheonha Daejanggun -Village Guardian & General under Heaven, husband of Jiha yeojanggun. He is represented as a totem pole with a scary face, constructed in front of a village entrance.
  • Jiha yeojanggun - Village Guardian & General under Earth, wife of Cheonha Daejanggun. She is represented as a totem pole with also scary but more feminine face, constructed in front of a village entrance with her husband. She protects the village with her husband.
  • Sanshin - Mountain gods
  • Gashin - the patrons of various rooms and objects in the household
  • Jowangshin - a Gashin; the deity of fire and the hearth
  • Teojushin - a Gashin and the earth deity
  • Nulgubjishin - god of grain
  • Cheukshin - goddess of the outhouse
  • Seongjushin - the god of the actual house; supreme leader of the Gashin
  • Munshin - the door god
  • Oeyangganshin - the patron of cattle and horses
  • Cheollyung - god of the spice pots
  • Eobshin - goddess of wealth
  • Samshin - goddess of childbirth
  • Yongwang - The five Dragon Kings of the seas, but not necessarily a dragon (usually an old human).
  • Ogushin - Princess Bari (see above) became the Ogushin after reviving her dead parents. After the Jeoseung Chasa (death gods) split the soul from the body, the Ogushin guides them to the Underworld.
  • Honshi Seongin - the three gods who avoided the Jeoseung Chasa and lived for an additional sixty years. They protect children from illness.
  • Jeoseung Halmang - The goddess who brings death to children.
  • Shiwang - Ten kings of the Underworld, who judge the dead in each individual realm.
  • Yeomra - Leader of the Shiwang.
  • Sonnimne (see above) - Fifty-four smallpox deities. Only four are named; Gaxi Sonnim, Hoban Sonnim, Muban Sonnim, and Cheolhyeon.
  • Seonnyeo - Angel-like beings. They are the female lieutenants of Cheonjiwang. The only named Seonnyeo is Oneuli.
  • Juhseung Chasa - Gods of death. Traditionally three, these gods reap dead souls. When they read a person's name three times, the person dies. Their leader is Gangrim Doryeong (also see above), a mortal who captured Yeomra, King of the Underworld. His lieutenants are Hae Wonmaek and Yi Deokchun. Meanwhile, Hwadeok Chasa reaps those who died on fires. Yonggung Chaasa reaps those who died in the ocean, Danmul Chasa takes those who drowned in wells, and Tuseok Chasa reaps those who were killed by rocks or stones.
  • Sosamshin, goddess of cowbirth
  • Seonangsin, tutelary deity of the village

Supernatural beings

  • Chollima
  • Yakcha
  • Chollidongigae, Manlidongigae: Dogs who goes 1000li a day, 10000li a day
  • Baeksaseum: White deer which runs 5000li a day
  • Geumsaseum: Golden deer living in the Mt. Baekdu

Yokwe (monster)

  • Kumiho (구미호) - A nine-tailed fox who can use powerful illusions and curses.
  • Bulyeowoo (불여우) - A fox that is more than 100 years old, and can be disguised as a woman.
  • Dokkaebi (도깨비) - spirits who keep clubs and enjoy mischievous tricks. Most are believed to have magical powers.
  • Imugi (이무기) - A form before a dragon. After training for 1000 years, it can transform to the dragon.
  • Samjokgu (삼족구) - A three legged dog -or- three eyed dog. These are believed to recognize the Kumihos in disguise.
  • Kkangcheoli (깡철이) - A failed imugi.
  • Haetae (해태) - A protector spirit.
  • Bulgasari (불가사리) - An Iron eating monster.

Gwishin (ghosts)

Gwishin are the departed souls of people who have died.

  • Mool-Gwishin 물귀신 a departed soul in water
  • Cho-nyo-Gwishin 처녀귀신 the departed soul of a virgin
  • Mong-Dal-Gwishin 몽달귀신 the departed soul of an unmarried man
  • Dal-Gyal-Gwishin 달걀귀신 a ghost with an egg (Dal-Gyal 달걀) head, whose face has no eyes, nose, or mouth


  • Samjoko (삼족오) - A three legged bird. Once considered the symbol of the power and sun in the Goguryeo kingdom.
  • Kkoktu


The Sun and the Moon

The Sun and the Moon (Hangul해와 달) is a Korean folktale about a tiger who gobbles up and impersonates the mother of a young boy and his sister. A sister and brother are waiting for their mom to get home. However, their mother is late and the girl begins to get caught up in her own imagination. A suspicious delivery man knocks on the door, and the siblings try not to open it.and in the end they both die [12]


See also


  1. ^ a b Choi Won-Oh (2008), An illustrated guide to Korean mythology, ISBN 978-1-905246-60-1
  2. ^ a b Kim, Duk-Whang, A history of religions in Korea, 1988
  3. ^ a b c d e f Chang Soo-kyung / Kim Tae-kon Korean Shamanism - Muism (1998).
  4. ^ a b Alive Korean Mythology
  5. ^ "Virtual Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Religion-Shamanism-Shamanistic Myths-Gunung Bonpuli". 
  6. ^ "Virtual Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Religion-Shamanism-Shamanistic Deities-Yongshin". 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Changsega, page 16-19
  9. ^ Alive Korean Mythology, page 140-158
  10. ^ Alive Korean Mythology, page 91-109
  11. ^ Alive Korean Mythology, page 68-75
  12. ^

External links

  • Animated KBS TV Series
  • Chung-Ang University Folklore Research Centre
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