Korean Language Blog

Korean Mythology Posted by on Dec 31, 2009 in Culture

Today we’ll look at some Korean mythology. The first story has to do with the beginnings of mankind. A long time ago, a man named 지수 was starving from a famine that raged the entire countryside. To relieve his hunger, 지수 decided to climb a tall cliff to jump off of it and die. Before he was about to jump off, he noticed some grapes near the cliff. 지수 told his fellow countrymen about the grapes. In the mist of such hunger, several of the men ate a live animal near the grapes. One of the guardian gods saw this and punished everyone in anger. To this day, no human has immortality.

The next myth has to do with the birth of the Korean peninsula. One of the guardian gods named 황궁 took about three thousand men and traveled north to a place called 천산주. In Korean 천산주 means, “land of the heavenly mountains”. 황궁 had a grandson named 한인. 한인 received a heavenly heirloom that contained knowledge. With the heirloom 한인 taught people how to build a fire, how to farm, and how to domesticate certain animals. As the people became civilized, 한인 decided to return to the heavens. 한인 was the last of the heavenly gods and the people named the country 한국 after 한인.

This next myth has to do with the creation of the sun and moon. Once upon a time, there was an older brother named 해식 and a younger sister named 달식. 해식 and 달식‘s mother was a rice cake seller. On her way to selling rice cakes, she came upon a tiger. She pleaded her life to the tiger, and mentioned her children, in hopes that the tiger would pity her. Instead of pitying the woman the tiger ate the mother and used her clothes to disguise himself as the mother. When the tiger found the children, he used the powder from the rice cakes and stuck his hand under the door.

The tiger’s paw looked white and the children opened the door. As the children realized in horror that it was not their mother, they raced to the top of a tall tree. In an effort to eat the children, the tiger got an axe and tried to chop the tree. Then the children prayed to the gods and asked for deliverance. The gods felt pity for the children and let down a strong rope, which the children climbed. As the children climbed up to the sky, 해식 became the sun, and 달식 became the moon. ( = sun and = moon in Korean).

All these myths introduced here are the condensed versions. For a more thorough version, try Amazon.com.

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  1. epokw:

    Wow, very interesting! I like the sun and the moon one the most! I’ll definitely tell it to my baby sister! 😛

    But I was wondering whether 황궁 was a recent story or was it one that was made long ago. Because, wasn’t Korea always called 조선 until the North-South division? The North being called 조선 and South being called 한국? Unified Korea is still referred to as 조선, right?

    Anyway, very interesting blog post! I will definitely be picking up books (in 한국어 of course :)) about Korean mythology when my Korean gets better!

  2. Mary:

    The story of the sun and the moon shares some interesting elements with a German fairy tale, “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids”, in which the wolf tricks the goat kids into thinking he is their mother by covering his paw with flour and sticking it under the door.