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Characters: Korean Mythology

Notable Deities

Called Shin (meaning 'spirit' or 'deity', and equivalent of the Kami), they are supernatural entities that influence people, and are served by the Mudang (female shamans) in rituals called Gut (pronounced 'goot'). It should be noted that in Korean mythology, which god is charged with which area of responsibility slighly varies with each tale (for example, the Goddess of Birth is Samshin-Halmang or Danggeum-aegi, depending on versions). And the level of power differs with each (e.g. gods of nature are considered more powerful than the guardians of the house).
  • Sang-je (Heavenly Emperor): The supreme ruler of the Heavens, also called Hanuelnim, Hwanin, Cheonwang, Cheonjiwang (all meaning 'Heavenly Ruler'). He is often compared with the Jade Emperor, since their roles are similar. He oversees humans and gods, and sometimes elects humans to become new gods.
  • Haemosu: Heavenly Emperor's first son and God of the Sun. He is depicted as a youth wearing crow-feathered headdress (crows, especially three-legged crows, symbolize the sun in many Asian myths), carrying the sword Yonggwanggeom ('Sword of Dragon's Light'), and riding Oryeonggeo, a chariot pulled by five dragons. He is the founder of Buyeo Kingdom, and later fathered Go-Jumong, who founded the Goguryeo Kingdom (which eventually conquered Buyeo).
  • Samshin-Halmang: Goddess of Life. She was once a human girl, but after winning the flower-blooming contest (flowers symbolize life in Korean mythology) between her and the Yongwang's daughter, she became the Goddess charged with pregnancy and delivering of babies. (The aforementioned yongwang's daughter became the goddess of the underworld, and takes care of the spirits of dead infants.) She protects babies and mothers from harm, and is the patron of midwives. It is said that after midwives die, they become spirits called 'Samshin' and help Samshin-halmang.
  • Sanshinryeong: Gods of the mountains, and since Korea has lots of mountains, there sure are lots of them. A typical Sanshinryeong is depicted as an old man with a white beard, accompanied by a tiger. As guardians of the mountain, they usually live deep inside the mountain, but sometimes appear in Sadangs (shrines) at the base of the mountain, listening to people's wishes and pleas for help (usually lumberjacks and hunters asking permission to cut down trees and hunt animals, since Sanshinryeongs protect nature). Although they are mostly male, there are female examples like Mago-halmi, Sanshinryeong of the Mount Jiri.
  • Chilsungshin: Seven gods of the Great Dipper. They bless people with good luck and longevity, and thus they're among the most commonly worshipped gods of Koreans (their worship dates back to the Bronze Age). They are usually depicted as seven brothers, wearing government uniform or monk's attire (since they are sometimes called Seven Buddhas). However, some descriptions list them as three brothers and four sisters, or seven sisters.
  • Gataekshin: Guardians of the house. They also bless people with good luck, and people offer them small food in return. Accoriding to stories, they were one family, killed in ways associated with various household materials and rooms(due to the concubine's jealousy and other factors), and became guardians of them(e.g. the concubine in question hanged herself in the restroom, so she became Cheukshin, guardian of the toilet). They also protect the house's inhabitants from ghosts, diseases and premature death, but will leave when the inhabitants become too wicked or don't respect them.
  • Yeomra-Daewang ('King Yeomra the Great'): Supreme ruler and fifth of the ten Kings of the underworld (Shi-wang), who judge the sins of the deceased and decide what to do with them. He is the first person to have faced death (as in the story of Yama in Hindu Mythology. In fact, Yeom-ra is the Korean pronounciation of Yama). Like every other powerful god, he has many powers, including shapeshifting, reviving dead people, etc.
  • Yongwang (Dragon Lord): Dragons living in lakes, rivers and seas. They are rulers of the aquatic animals, and in charge of controlling the weather (and thus very important to farmers). They can take human forms and mate with humans. It is said that Wang Geon, the warlord who founded the Goryeo dynasty, was the grandson of the Western sea's Yongwang.
  • Mireuk and Bucheo: Maitreya and Buddha. Since Buddhism is widespread in Korea, they are also worshipped by Mudangs and common people.

Notable Humans

  • Bari-degi (meaning 'abandoned child'. also called 'Bari'): Born as the seventh princess of a kingdom, she was abandoned as a baby because her parents had desperately wanted a son, and she let them down. Adopted by a kindly old couple, Bari learned the truth about her when she was 15 years old. After meeting her real parents, she found that they had become fatally ill, due to Heaven punishing them for abandoning their own daughter. Instead of bellowing in anger over them, she decided to journey to the Seocheon (another name for 'Afterlife') and get a cure for her parents. After a long journey (hindered by all sorts of ghosts on the way) disguised as a boy, Princess Bari finally arrived at Seocheon, but the guardian of the water of life (the only cure of her parents' illness) said that he would only let her in when she married him. Bari accepted, and she brought him three sons. After some years the family returned to Bari's kingdom, but upon arriving, Bari found that her parents had long died, and their bodies were heading for burial. Bari was devastated, but she quicky regained herself, and using the Revival Flowers and the water of life, revived her parents. After that, she lived a long and happy life with her family and parents, and after death, became the goddess of guiding the dead to the afterlife. She is considered to be the first Mudang, and the song that chronicles her story is very important among Mudangs.
  • Ganglim-Doryeong: A human warrior famed for his strength and bravery, he was charged by the king to bring King Yeomra into this world (to help solve a murder case). With his wife's help and advice, he travelled to the afterlife and managed to capture King Yeomra. King Yeomra was so impressed by his skill and wits that he made him top Jeoseung-saja ('Messenger from the other world'). He is now considered to be the leader of all Jeoseung-sajas, if his title 'Ganglim-Daewang' (King Ganglim) is any indication.
  • Daebyulwang and Sobyulwang: Cheonjiwang (Ruler of Heaven)'s two sons. They killed the evil Sumyeong-Jangja and shot down a sun and a moon, leaving only one son and one moon(thus freeing humans from intense heat of the day and perishing cold of the night). Since Daebyulwang was always better than he was, Sobyulwang grew jealous and cheated in a flower-blooming contest (like the one involving samshin-halmang), thus earning the right to rule the human world. Daebyulwang eventually forgave his brother and became ruler of the Netherworld (with Yeomra-daewang), punishing evildoers and rewarding good people.

Yogwe(Monsters) and Gwishin(ghosts)

Yogwe are the equivalent of the Japanese youkai.
  • Gumiho: Name literally meaning 'nine-tailed fox', they are the Korean version of the Kitsune.
  • Bulgasari: Another famous monster. It has the body of a bear, buffalo's eyes, elephant's nose and tiger's claws. Its name literally means 'can't be killed', due to the monster's metal hide that renders any metal weapon useless. Its toughness and hard-to-kill nature have prompted Koreans to call starfish 'Bulgasari', since their regeneration and hard-to-kill nature resembles that of the mythical monster.
    • Nigh Invulnerable: As mentioned, it eats metal and can turn it into its hide, so metal weapons can't damage it.
      • Kill It with Fire: Bulgasari's only weakness is fire(its name can also mean 'can be killed by fire'). Or, Buddhist monks' magic (according to some versions, they are the ones who created Bulgasari for fun in the first place) can defeat the monster.
  • Imoogi: Giant serpents. They live in water, waiting for one thousand years to become dragons(which have the ability to fly and control the weather). They sometimes cause harm to people.
    • I'm a Humanitarian: According to legends, their favorite food are fish, pheasants, and peasants.

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