Korean mythology

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The Korean mythology is made up of national legends and folk tales, from the territory of the Korean peninsula come. Their origins may be a mixture of Korean shamanism , Buddhist, Chinese, Confucian, and Taoist legends and myths. These legends also differ greatly from region to region within the country. For example, the islanders of Jejudo have a completely different way of life than that of the mainland and thus produce modified forms of the same myth.

The animism is the main source of religious life in Korea. In particular, the worship of mountains, animals and plants is a common motif in folk tales and goes back to the belief that these souls had. Another common theme is tributes and offerings, both literally and figuratively.

In addition, certain areas of responsibility were occupied by gods. These often appear in folk tales as distant protectors who pay people a visit when they ask them, but otherwise stay out of everyday life.

After the early days of Korean history , when the shamanic religion was dominant, Korea was often divided into smaller kingdoms such as Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje. The folk tales and myths varied accordingly along the borders of these regions. The arrival of Buddhism in the third through fourth centuries ushered in a process of changing myths and ancestral religion. Later, with the onset of Neoconfucianism , the ancestral religion was suppressed by the government and shamans were often killed for practicing their religion, which either changed many of the legends or became part of existing legends.

Korean shamanism

A shaman ( baksu ) holds a kut .

Korean shamanism had a great influence on Korea and its own myths.

In early Korean myths, men were often equated with birds, women with fish, or land animals. Examples of this can be found in Samguk Yusa , where men often turned into birds and where water or fish appear in stories about women. For example, the early goddess Yuhwa was seen as a water nymph, while Haemosu was seen as the sky god. In the fairy tale of Kim Suro, Kim Suro turns into a bird — his opponent did the same, but according to legend, his wife, Heo Hwang Ok , had crossed the sea by boat. This assignment is very consistent throughout the time of the Three Kingdoms, as can be seen in Samgungnyusa .

Mountains are also often described as sacred and appear as a motif in myths, legends and fairy tales. Kings were often born on mountain tops, gods descended to the mountains, and even mountain spirits, the so-called sanshin (산신), were worshiped.


The cosmology of Korea has changed over time with the importation of new religions. In addition, there are major regional differences in older mythology.

From Korea's early history up to and including the time of the Three Kingdoms, Koreans probably believed not in a heaven or a hell, but in the "next life", which was somewhat better than life in this world and had no particular spatial or temporal location.

Sanshin , Bonhyangshin , and generals were often worshiped as deities and were part of many myths and legends. The same is true of many animals, especially speaking animals - for example in the legend of the Ungnyeo (the bear woman), who was a bear and transformed into a human.

Despite this common foundation, religions and myths varied greatly from region to region. Hae Mosu , Jumong and Yuhwa were gods from Goguryeo , but Koenegitto, Grandmother Seolmundae, Koeulla, Puella and Yangeul were from Jeju Island. Each kingdom and region may have had its own form of worship.

This changed with the introduction of Buddhism, with Buddhism adopting traditional practices and vice versa. This also includes the change in the idea of ​​life in the hereafter, which was expanded sometime in the fourth century to include a heaven, a hell and several levels of the underworld.

Koreans referred to the mortal world as Iseung, which means this world . It housed the Gashin (household gods), many Bonhyangshin (village gods) and Josangshin (ancestral gods), but also the Sanshin (mountain gods). Evil spirits ( Gwishin ), such as the Mongdal (spirits of unmarried men) and Songaxi (spirits of unmarried women) also lived in this realm, but also Dokkaebi , tricky mythical creatures. Certain gods made regular trips to Iseung; they were Chasa, the gods sent. Among them were the Jeoseung Chasa, gods of the dead who appear in most death myths; the Okhwang Chasa, who brought the hero Hwanguyangssi to the palace of Cheonha in the Seongju Puli ; and gods like Choribdongi from Gunung Bonpuli , who came across the sea from time to time.

The seven seas are meanwhile inhabited by the Yongwang, the five sea gods; Gwangdeok from the east, Gwangli from the south, Gwangtaek from the west, and Gwangyeon from the north. These gods could marry one another; so in the Samseung Halmang Bonpuli married the daughter of Gwangtaek Gwangdeok. But there is also war in Yongwangguk; in the Gunung Bonpuli , Gwangtaek is slain by Gwangdeok's army.

Jeoseung (the afterlife) is ruled by the ten kings of the underworld, the Myeongbu Siwang . The Myeongbu Siwang consecutively subject the deceased to various punishments; Jingwang tears sinners to pieces, Chogang ties them to a tree and stabs them with a knife, Songje pulls their tongues out, and Ogwan burns them in a kettle. Yeomna grinds their flesh in a mill and shows them their sins in a mirror; Byeonseong pricks it with an awl and Taesan saws it up. Pyeongdeung, the eighth king, crushes them with a boulder. Doshi weighs the sins of the dead on a scale; the last king, Odojeonryun, pronounces the verdict and sends the deceased on their way to rebirth.

Finally, there was also a report of a dark realm in which there is no light. The king of this realm sends his huge dogs, the bulgae, to hunt the sun and moon and bring them into his realm; however, when the Bulgae bite the sun and moon, they are too hot and cold for them and they run back to their kingdom. If the Bulgae bite the sun, this denotes a solar eclipse; if they bite the moon, it is a lunar eclipse.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. 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. Daeji Moonhwa-sa.
  3. a b c d e f Chang Soo-kyung / Kim Tae-kon Korean Shamanism - Muism (1998). Jimoondang International.
  4. ^ The National Folk Museum of Korea (South Korea): Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Literature . In: Encyclopedia of Korean Folklore and Traditional Culture . tape III . 길잡이 미디어, 2014, ISBN 89-289-0084-0 .
  5. 민족 문화 대백과 사전> 저승 (Encyclopedia of Korean Culture> Jeoseung). In: encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Academy of Korean Studies, accessed June 6, 2016 .
  6. 한국 세시 풍속 사전> 성주풀이 (Korean Dictionary of Seasons and Customs> Seongjupuri). (No longer available online.) In: folkency.nfm.go.kr. National Folk Museum of Korea, archived from the original on June 6, 2016 ; accessed on June 6, 2016 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / folkency.nfm.go.kr
  7. Virtual Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Religion-Shamanism-Shamanistic Myths-Gunung Bonpuli .
  8. Virtual Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Religion-Shamanism-Shamanistic Deities-Yongshin .
  9. Lee Seong Un: The characteristic of Saengjeonyesujae ( 生前 預 修 齋) in Korean Buddhism - focusing on the compilation, the procedure and the usual practice . Ed .: 한국 정토 학회. No. 23 . Seoul 2015, p. 9-45 .
  10. 시왕 탱화. In: Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. Academy of Korean Studies, accessed June 7, 2016 .