Folk Beliefs
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Korean Origin Myth

A spirit descended from the heavenly skies in search of a bride. If you feed animals garlic for a hundred days, they will transform into women. Thus, the spirit imprisoned a tiger and a bear in the Baik-Doo Mountain for a hundred days, feeding them garlic. However, the short-fused tiger escaped before the hundred days while the patient bear waited. The bear consequently transformed into a woman, and the spirit took her for his bride. They bore a son, the Dang-Goon, the creator of Korea. That is how the country of Korea came to be.

 

My informant first learned this myth in his elementary school in Daegu, Korea.  His teacher taught his class how Korea became what it was that day.  She started with this particular myth that explains how the great predecessor was divinely created – directly from a heavenly spirit and a bear turned into a woman.  The children believe the story completely, especially since Baik-Doo Mountain is an actual mountain.  Everyone in Korea is familiar with this myth; it is something that has been told from generation to the next.  It has become a vital part of the Korean tradition.

It is common for the Koreans to use animals in their narratives and give the animals characteristics.  Oftentimes, the tiger is portrayed as conniving, ravenous, and temperamental.  Therefore in this myth, the tiger cannot stand the hundred days and escapes.  The bear is usually portrayed as wise, slow and lazy, though.  The bear in the myth remains patiently.  Although this myth shows the bear in a positive aspect, in other Korean stories, the bear can represent stupidity and indolence.  I was not surprised to hear that the bear was the animal that waited long enough to become a woman.  In my opinion, Koreans have such a myth as this to reinforce the idea that their first king was not a mortal being but a direct descendent from a god.

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