Korean mythology consists of national legends and
folk-tales which come from all over the Korean Peninsula.
The original religion of Korea was a form of the Eurasian shamanism and the
totemism of Far East Asia, specifically of the nomadic peoples of present-day
Manchuria. Korean shamanism, today known as Muism (Mugyo, "religion of the Mu")
or Sinism (Singyo, "religion of the gods", with sin being the Korean derivative
of the Chinese shen), encompasses a variety of indigenous religious beliefs and
practices of the Korean people and the Korean area. In contemporary South Korea,
the most used term is Muism and a shaman is known as a mudang. The role of the
mudang, usually a woman, is to act as intercessor between a god or gods and
Women are enlisted by those who want the help of the spirit world. Shamans hold gut, or services, in order to gain good fortune for clients, cure illnesses by exorcising lost spirits that cling to people, or propitiate local or village gods. Such services are also held to guide the spirit of a deceased person to heaven.
At the beginning the world did not exist. A deity named Yul-ryeo and a goddess named Mago appeared. Yul-ryeo then died. Mago in turn gave birth to two goddesses: Gung-hee and So-hee. They in turn each gave birth to two Men of Heaven and two Women of Heaven. After the appearance of the Heavenly People, Yul-ryeo is revived and through her re-birth heaven, earth, and the oceans were created, along with Ki (soul), fire, water, and earth. These four elements in turn mixed and became herbs and plants, birds and animals. Mago decided 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 in honour of the goddess.
Later there were four Heavenly Men guarding each cardinal direction of the fortress, and they were Cheong-gung, Hwang-gung who were children of Gunghwee, and Hukso, Baekso 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 have said to drink from Earth's Milk, 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 by the name of Jiso 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.
Jiso 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 began
blaming Jiso for the transformation, and he along with his family and all
those who had eaten the grapes were forced to leave Magosung.
As the line of Jiso was leaving, however, Hwang-gung 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
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 came forth to Mago 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 went to the East, where he
Baekso and his people moved to the West and became the people of Europe
and the Middle East.
Heukso moved to the South, into the region that is now India and
Southeast Asia. Hwang-gung took three thousand
followers and they alone went to the harsh North, to a place called Cheonsanju, 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 signed an oath swearing that he would
recover his purity.
Hwang-gung 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 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 where he became a stone that could speak Yul-ryeo's message, constantly reminding men of their path to innocence.
Yuin 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. Han-in 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, the people eventually lost their animal-like appearance and slowly began recovering their image.
Some Korean Gods;
Haneul-nim - The Heavenly Emperor, Ruler of Heaven and Earth. Contemporary adaptation "God"
Okhwang Sangje - the King of Heaven (of Taoism)
Dal(soon)-nim - The moon, sister of the sun.
Hae(sik)-nim - The sun, sister of the moon.
SeOhNyuh - A woman who was routinely harvesting mussels by the sea but was accidentally swept away to the ocean and eventually to Japan on a magically moving rock. The people made her a queen. Before her transport, she had a husband named YeonOrang, who would follow her later.
YeonOrang - Husband of SeOhNyuh. He too was swept away to Japan on a magical rock. He met his wife there and the two lived happy lives.
Aryong Jong - Korean goddess of rainfall.
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.
Sanshilyeong/Sanshin - The God of The Mountains
Yongwang - The benevolent Dragon King of the seas, but not necessarily a dragon (usually an old human).
Hwanin - The Heavenly initiator a title of 7 rulers on earth.
Hwanung - The son of Heaven & dynasty of rulers in Greater Mongolia.
Ungnyeo - The Bear who became a woman & conceived Dangun with Hwanin.
Dangun - son of Hwanung - The first Korean king of Gojoseon.
Seon-nyeo - Fairies
GyuhnU & JigNyuh - They meet on July the 7th at every year by lunar calendar, and their weeping is raining on July the 7th.
Juhseung Saja - "Emissaries of the Juhseung (meaning 'Other/That World')." Angels of Death. They reap souls and guide them through the dark misty forests into the netherworld. There is no heaven or hell, just a place where the dead go, named "JuhSeung," (means: That World) which is opposite of YiSeung, or Earth. (means: This World)
Chi Woo - A semi-legendary king who defeated the Yellow Emperor in a ten-year war.
Pear Blossom - the Korean Cinderella
YokweKumiho - A many-tailed fox who can use powerful illusions and curses.
Bulyeowoo - A fox that is more than 100 years old, and can be disguised as a woman.
Dokkaebi - spirits who keep clubs and enjoy mischievous tricks. Most are believed to possess horns and magical powers.