Korean Mythology: Origin, Gods, Beings, Myths and Legends

Today we are going to review Korean Mythology, a compendium of fascinating legends and myths that we are sure to find very appealing.

Korean Mythology
Korean Mythology

Korean Mythology

Korean mythology are the stories passed down by word of mouth for thousands of years on the Korean Peninsula and many have endured to us as many as for example the Greek myths. These serve as creation myths about the world and origin myths about nature or the social world. Korean myths are often localized and concern specific peoples or clans.

Early Korean myths predate Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist beliefs and instead have their roots in Korean shamanism: rituals glorifying shamanic gods are central to retelling Korean shamanic myths.


Many of the ancient Korean shamanic myths were lost after the rise of Confucianism, which emphasized pragmatism and rationalism.

Only a fraction of the Korean myths believed to have existed in antiquity were eventually documented by Confucian and Buddhist scholars, many of whom modified the stories to fit their own belief systems.

Origin of Korean Mythology

In Korea, there are few creation myths that start from the beginning, from the very beginning. In some oral traditions, there is primal chaos until, unexpectedly, a rift appears that separates the earth from the sky.

But these myths, the ones that survive, are not the colorful and intricate stories of the Theogeny or the Enuma Elish. Korea’s most cherished myth is that of its own creation from an existing earth and the human beings already living on it. This is the Tangun myth.

The story goes that a heavenly prince, Hwangun, looked down upon the earth and wished to possess it and rule over mankind. His father, the Ruler of Heaven, Hwanin knew that his son would bring happiness to human beings and, looking at the earth, chose Mount Taebak as a suitable place for his son to go to earth.

Hwangun arrives under a sandalwood tree where he creates a holy city. He brings with him three heavenly seals, somewhat mysterious in nature, and 3000 loyal subjects from heaven, who are possibly spirits. In addition, Hwangun brought three ministers, the Count of the Wind, the Master of the Rain and the Master of the Clouds.

Multiple accounts of the same myth

Different accounts of the myth tell of Hwangun teaching or taking over 360 areas of responsibility, such as agriculture and medicine. The story now moves to a bear and a tiger, both eager to become human beings.

Set the task of avoiding sunlight and eating only food given to them by Hwangun (some mugwort and twenty cloves of garlic), the bear manages to win Hwangun’s approval while the tiger is unable to fast, fleeing into the forest.

Hwangun trigre y oso
Hwangun, trigre and bear

The bear turns into a beautiful woman, Ungyo (bear woman) and becomes Hwangun’s wife. Their son is Tangun, the Sandalwood King. Tangun becomes the first king of Korea, calling his country “choson” and ruling for 1500 years. After this time he retires to Taebak-san to become a mountain god.

The origin of Korea

Although the Tangun myth begins with an already existing land, it still bears some resemblance to later portions of other creation myths. Like Marduk in the Enuma Elish, Hwangun descends to earth to create a paragon of cities, the City of God.

Like the Enuma Elish and the Theogeny, the paternity of the heroic king Tangun is very important, as in the case of Marduk in Zeus. In other respects, the myth is very different, having a scholarly air in contrast to the violence and melodrama of the other myths.

Unlike the Enuma Elish and the Theogeny, the Tangun myth portrays divine forces as a civilizing influence, bringing law and culture to mankind.

The celestial prince does not kill or overthrow anyone to gain his power over Korea. Instead, he overthrows loyal subjects and ministers to establish an effective and exacting government, and teaches mankind 360 useful ways to work. Korea has not been created violently, but with the comfort of a sense of calm and efficiency.

Gods or deities of Korean Mythology

Korean mythology is a combination of Korean shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and various local myths. Needless to say, Korean mythology can be very fluid and there are many variations of Korean myths depending on the location where the myth is told. Here, we will explain some of the gods and goddesses that were part of this mythical tradition.

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Korean Gods and Goddesses

  • Sang-je: He is the celestial Emperor, and therefore the king of the gods. It is through him that many humans, as in many cases in the Korean pantheon, become gods.
  • Dan gun: He is the chief creator god among the Korean gods. Through him, the world was created, but when he became angry, he also caused much of the world’s suffering.
  • Seokga: A trickster god who is involved in the Korean creation myth. Ultimately, he becomes the first ruler of the world through deception.
  • Haemosu: He is the son of Sang-je and the sun god. He wears a crow feather headdress, carries a magic sword and drives a chariot pulled by five dragons. Sometimes, he is Dalnim’s sister.
  • Dalnim: She is the goddess of the moon and the sister of Haemosu. In one version of her myth, she climbed so high in the sky that she reached the moon, becoming the moon goddess.

Other important gods

  • Jacheongbi: She is the goddess of agriculture, bringing the gift of agriculture to mankind.
  • Yeomna: The great king Yeomna is the king of the underworld and is often known for judging the dead. He takes the dead spirits to his abode in the underworld, which mirrors his life on earth.
  • Paritegi: is the goddess who serves as a guide to the underworld, leading the souls of the dead to their resting place. Because she was the only person who purposely traveled to the underworld and returned, she was honored as a goddess of the boundary between the two worlds.
  • Samshin-halmang : She is the goddess of childbirth and the protector of mothers.
  • Gameunjang-aegi: She is the goddess of luck and destiny.
  • Jowangshin: She is the goddess of the home; specifically, the kitchen. Jowangshin protects the warm center of every home and is sometimes seen as a friendly goddess who visits women in the kitchen and even offers advice and gossip with women.

Korean animals and mythological beings

  • Korean Dragon
  • Gwishin
  • Chollima – winged horse
  • Gumiho – nine-tailed fox
  • Dokkaebi – mischievous spirits that appear at night.
  • Imugi – lesser dragons
  • Haetae – lion with scales and a horn on its head
  • Bulgasari – iron-eating monster
  • Samjoko – three-legged bird representing the sun
  • Bulgae : canine beasts from the kingdom of darkness that always chase the sun and the moon
  • Immyeonjo – a mythical creature with a bird’s body and a human’s head
  • Samjokgu – a three-legged dog that guides people and distinguishes kumihos
  • Samdugumi: monstrous fox spirit from Jeju Island that has three heads and nine tails
Gumiho korean mythology

Literature of Korean mythology

Korean mythology consists of national legends and folktales that come from all over the Korean peninsula. The oldest records are found in Samguk Yusa (written in the 13th century by the Buddhist monk Iryeon) and Samguk Sagi (written in the 12th century by government official Kim Busik). These two history books are based on much older records that have been lost.

Although these two books record stories from Korean mythology, their tone is very different: Samguk-sagi is quite fact-oriented, and although it lists the founding myths of the Three Kingdoms of Korea (Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla), the author – a Confucianist scholar, regards them as `not credible’. Samguk Yusa, on the other hand, deals mostly with supernatural stories.

This is the book where the founding myth of Gojoseon (the legendary first kingdom of the Korean people, now believed to be the real-life Bronze Age kingdom from which later Korean dynasties came) is recorded, as well as folktales, legends and myths of later periods. However, most of the folklore was transmitted through oral tradition.

Like other Asian myths, Korean mythology includes elements of religious traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism.

Symbols and Symbology of Korean Mythology

The symbol of the tiger has been highly revered, perhaps equally tainted, and respected by the people of Korea for what seems to be all along.

The tiger, over the centuries, has been woven throughout folklore and tradition and remains a powerful and mystical figure today. It is strong, wise and resilient. The tiger demands respect and a little breathing room. The tiger protects.

korean mythology

In the Korean creation myth, the gods give a tiger and a bear the opportunity to become something greater than animals. They must complete a long ordeal of isolation, fasting and patience. With little time to spare, the tiger abandoned the task due to frustrated boredom, while the bear was blessed with becoming the first human being.

By becoming a person, the bear advanced in evolution and left its animal self behind. The tiger lived in solitude and had a new wisdom from his ordeal with the gods while holding ancient and inconceivable animal knowledge.

While we should surely respect the tiger for being strong, resilient and unchanging, he left the cave, as the story goes, in a burst of childish impatience. The bear was considered to be the spirit of its ancestors. For this reason, the bear (karhu) was a highly respected animal, with various euphemistic names (such as otso, mesikŠmmen and kontio)

Myths and legends of Korean mythology

Many of the ancient Korean shamanic myths were lost after the rise of Confucianism, which emphasized pragmatism and rationalism.

Only a fraction of the Korean myths believed to have existed in antiquity were eventually documented by Confucian and Buddhist scholars, many of whom modified the stories to fit their own belief systems.

Myths and legends of Korean mythology

Korean shamanism played an important role in the creation of ancient Korean myths. Shamanic myths are known as musoksinhwa (Hangul: 무속신화) and are recited as part of rituals intended to protect humans and nature.

A keungut (Hangul: 큰굿), meaning “great ritual,” is the archetypal Korean shamanic ritual, and each of its twelve parts includes a bonpuri (Hangul: 본풀이), meaning a myth about a god.

Ancient Koreans believed that every object had a soul and, as such, shamanic rituals included the worship of spirits and demons that inhabit objects such as mountains and rivers. A shaman is believed to be able to communicate with the spirit world.

In Korean mythology, Korea’s early leaders are said to have shamanic qualities or to be descended from shamans. Dangun, the mythological founder of Korea, was said to possess shamanic traits and is sometimes portrayed as a mountain god, also known as sanshin. The largest number of shamanic myths come from Jeju Island and South Hamgyeong Province.

Creation myths

Creation myths explain how the world began and where people came from. They typically include a first man or a first woman who is responsible for creating the world.


Changsega (Hangul: 창세가) is a shamanic creation myth from Hamhung, Hamgyong Province, in present-day North Korea.

The story explains how heaven and earth were separated by a giant god named Mireuk, who placed a copper pillar at each corner of the earth to hold up the sky. He created men from five golden insects, and women from five silver insects.

Mankind was at peace under Mireuk’s rule, until another giant named Seokga appeared, and the two competed to rule the human world. Seokga won, but his victory was unjust and he is considered, in this myth, the source of evil and sin in mankind.

Cheonjiwang Bonpuri

Cheonjiwang Bonpuri (Hangul: 천지왕본풀이) is a shamanic creation myth from the island of Jeju in present-day South Korea. It tells the story of Cheonjiwang (the Heavenly King), who descends from the heavens to fight a rude man named Sumyeongmangja, but fails in his mission.

While on earth, Cheonjiwang marries Bakiwang, who gives birth to two sons, Daebyeolwang (the Great Star King) and Sobyeolwang (the Little Star King). Eventually, Cheonjiwang has his sons compete to become rulers of the human world. Sobyeolwang wins and punishes Sumyeongjangja by turning him into an insect.

In some versions of the story, Daebyeolwang also becomes the ruler of the underworld.


Magohalmi (Hangul: 마고할미) is a creation myth from the Kwanbuk region of North Hamgyeong Province in present-day North Korea about a giant goddess named Grandmother Mago.

Mago creates all the geological formations of the earth using mud, rocks and her own urine and excrement. Unlike creation myths about male deities, this myth was only passed down orally and was not included in formal or ritual records.


Sirumal (Hangul: 시루말) is a shamanic creation myth from Osan, Gyeonggi Province, in present-day South Korea[11] The story is depicted in front of a ritual mud steamer called siru. In the story, Dangchilseong spends the night with Lady Maehwa, who gives birth to two sons, Seonmun and Human, after Dangchilseong leaves.

The children are teased at school for not having a father, but they learn about their father and ascend to heaven to meet him. He then gives Seomun the kingdom of Daehanguk, and Human the kingdom of Sohanguk.

Founding myths

Dangun, the mythical founder of the first Korean kingdom.

Geonguksinhwa (Hangul: 건국신화) are myths that explain the founding of a nation. Ancient Korean founding myths often include a story about the union of a father from heaven and a mother from earth.

Medieval Korean founding myths stated that Korean rulers had a divine lineage, but were not deities themselves.


Dangun Wanggeom (Hangul: 단군왕검) is the founder of Gojoseon, the first kingdom of Korea. He is believed to have founded Gojoseon in 2333 BC. Dangun’s history was recorded in two 13th century AD documents, the Samgungnyusa and the Jewang Ungi.

Dangun’s grandfather, Hwan-in, was the “Lord of Heaven,” while his father, Hwan-ung, descended to earth and founded a society on the Korean peninsula.

Hwanin korean mythology
Hwanin (환인), Hwanung (환웅) and Dangun (단군)

In some versions of the myth, their society is located on Mount Taebaeksan, and in other versions it is located on Mount Paektu.

When a bear and a tiger came to Hwan-ung asking to be made human, he gave them each a packet of sacred food to eat and told them to stay in a cave for 100 days, after which they would become human.

As the tiger surrendered, the bear followed Hwang-ung’s instructions and became a human woman named Ungnyeo. Ungnyeo mated with Hwang-ung and gave birth to Dangun. Dangun ruled Gojoseon for 1,500 years before becoming a mountain god called sansin.

Flood myths

Namu Doryeong

(Hangul: 나무도령) is a myth about the son of a guardian tree spirit. The son, Namu Doryeong, survived a flood by floating in the tree.

First he saved a colony of ants from the flood, then a swarm of mosquitoes, until he saved all the animals in the world. Namu Doryeong finally saved a human child, despite the tree’s advice to the contrary.

After the flood, Namu Doryeong met an older woman and her two daughters on Mount Baekdu, where they had been safe from the flood.

The woman told Namu Doryeong that if he won a contest, he could have her daughter’s hand in marriage.

Namu Doryeong won the contest with the help of a swarm of ants, which turned out to be the same ants that Namu Doryeong had saved during the flood. Namu Doryeong and the human child married the two daughters, and formed the next human race.

Myths of the afterlife

Chasa Bonpuri

Chasa Bonpuri (Hangul: 차사본풀이) is an underworld myth of Jeju Island. The hero Gangrim Doryeong is ordered by his king (Kimchiwonnim) to capture Yeomra, king of the underworld, to discover the reason for the mysterious deaths of the three sons of Gwayanggaxi.

With the help of Munsin, the god of the door, and Jowangsin, the god of cooking, Gangrim Doryeong captures Yeomra.

After testing Gangrim Doryeong’s wisdom, Yeomra tells Kimchiwonnim that the mysterious deaths are because the three sons are actually the three princes of Beomul, who were killed by Gwayanggaxi.

They decided to be reborn as sons of Gwayanggaxi to take revenge on their killers. Gangrim Doryeong became the god of death, who harvests dead souls and takes them to the underworld.

The myth of Barigongju

Barigongju or Baridegi (Hangul: 바리공주) is a shamanic myth about the Forsaken Princess. In the story, the princess’s parents abandon her because they cannot have a son, and she is their seventh child.

Years later, the princess’s parents become ill, and she travels to the underworld to find the elixir of life. With it, she revives her parents and becomes a goddess who guides the souls of the dead from earth to heaven.

Traditions of Korean mythology

The original religion of Korea was a form of Eurasian shamanism and totemism from Far East Asia, specifically from the nomadic peoples of present-day Manchuria. These were strongly colored by later imports of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism from China.

Traditions of Korean mythology

During the early ages, when Buddhism was on the rise, Korean shamanism was widely discredited in an attempt to establish Buddhism as the state religion. In later years, both Korean Buddhism and shamanism were largely purged, almost to the point of being lost in the consciousness of the general population.

After the Korean War in 1953, shamans were seen less as religious figures and more as charlatans willing to exploit people for money. Recently, however, there has been a substantial revival movement reclaiming this element of Korean culture.

Although society is filled with Confucian values and customs, about half of South Koreans today identify themselves as non-religious, a quarter as Christian and another quarter as Buddhist .

Today, those who believe in indigenous Korean myths as a religion form a minority. Among them are the followers of Chondogyo and Daejonggyo, who worship Dangun as a god, as well as several rural areas where shamanism has managed to survive. Korea has a rich tradition of folklore with deep links to Korean shamanism.

Religious practitioners

Shamanism is performed by shamans, most of whom are women, by performing shamanic rituals , but in order to gain good fortune for clients, cure illnesses by exorcising evil spirits or propitiating local or village gods.

Shamans were once of low social status and were victims of discrimination. Recently, with growing nationalism, kut dances, songs and incantations have been revitalized.

Buddhism is undergoing a modernization of the movement: “mountain Buddhism” is shifting towards “community Buddhism” and “temple-centered Buddhism” is becoming “socially relevant Buddhism.”

Consequently, the role of monks goes beyond the religious sphere, and their worldly possessions are also modernized. Some clergy and priests in Christian churches have become outspoken advocates of human rights, critics of the government and sympathizers of the labor movement.


Despite the strength of Christianity, most families in South Korea observe the Confucian practice of honoring their dead ancestors on the anniversaries of their death days, New Year’s Day, and other holidays such as hansik (the 105th day after the winter solstice) and ch ‘ usok (the 15th day of the eighth lunar month).

People perform rituals and ceremonies in honor of Confucius every spring and autumn at Confucian shrines. Shamans may hold kut at the request of their clients.

Buddhists pray day and night on Buddha’s birthday, the eighth day of the lunar month of April, which is often followed by a street parade in the cities; Christians celebrate Christmas Day in their churches. Both of these days are national holidays.


Gut, kut or goot (굿) are rituals performed by Korean shamans, which include offerings and sacrifices to gods and ancestors. They are characterized by rhythmic movements, chanting, oracles and prayers. These rites are intended to create well-being, promoting engagement between spirits and humanity. The main rites are naerim-gut, dodang-gut and ssitgim-gut.

Through song and dance, the shaman prays to the gods to intervene in the fortunes of men. The shaman wears a colorful costume and usually speaks in ecstasy. During a ritual, the shaman changes his costume several times. Rituals consist of several phases, called gori

Sacred sites of Korean mythology


This is a lake near the top of the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula and Manchuria.

The lake and the mountaintop are considered sacred. By a king who once united all the tribes of the peninsula ca. 8000 years ago (of course, he is now in a spiritual world, he is called Chin Yang). For them, this mountain was the center and origin of Korea and was connected to 12 other sacred places, one of them was Chung Pyung.


Baekdu Mountain, also known as Changbai Mountain in China, is a volcanic mountain on the border between North Korea and China, it is the highest mountain in the Changbai Range to the north and the Baekdudaegan Range to the south. It is also the highest mountain in the Korean peninsula and Manchuria.

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in North Gyeongsang Province in South Korea.

Templo de Bulguksa

It is home to seven national treasures of South Korea, including the Dabotap and Seokgatap stone pagodas, the Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) and two gilded bronze Buddha statues. The temple is classified as Historical and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government.

Halla-san National Park

It has long been famous for Jeju-style Korean shamanism, White Deer Pond and the Yeong-shil (Spirit Hall) rock outcrop area.

Halla-san Parque Nacional

There is a special stone altar for the worship of their Mountain Spirit and several important Buddhist temples at this location. A place of recollection and meditation with a unique atmosphere.

Mudeung-san (Shamanic Lantern Mountain)

East of Gwangju City; Provincial Park. Famous for shamanic powers, it has many shrines and temples, including the important Jeungshim-sa Shrine.

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Ganghwa-do Island

“Ganghwa-do” is a county of Incheon City and the fifth largest island in Korea. It is located right at the mouth of the Han River.

Isla Ganghwa-do

Due to its strategic location, it was the site of a prehistoric civilization and major events in two different parts of Korean history, and has been the site of several nationalist religious cults; therefore, there are many important cultural historical relics on this beautiful island

Gogyruo Tombs

The Goguryeo Tomb Complex (Koguryo Tomb Complex) is located in North Korea. In July 2004, they became the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the country.

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The site consists of 30 individual tombs from the last kingdom of Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, located in the cities of P’yŏngyang and Namp’o. Goguryeo was one of the strongest Korean kingdoms in northeastern China and the Korean peninsula from 37 BC to the 7th century AD.

The kingdom was founded in the area of present-day North Korea and part of Manchuria around 37 BC, and the capital was transferred to P’yŏngyang in 427 CE.


Kŭmgangsan (Korean pronunciation: [kɯmɡaŋsan]) or Mount Kŭmgang is one of the best known mountains in North Korea. It is 1638 meters high and is located on the east coast of the country, in the Kŭmgangsan Tourist Region, formerly part of Kangwŏn Province (38.58N, 128.17E). Kŭmgangsan is part of the Taebaek mountain range that runs along the eastern side of the Korean peninsula.


The name means Diamond Mountain. There are many ancient temples around Kŭmgangsan, some in poor condition. Among the best known are Changan-sa and Maha-yon.


“Kuwŏlsan is a mountain in southern Hwanghae, North Korea. The mountain takes its name from the ninth month of the lunar calendar, as it is considered particularly attractive in that month.

Kuwŏlsan korean mythology

The mountain is a major summer resort in North Korea and attracts many tourists. The highest peak of the mountain is 954 m above sea level; this is the highest point in the short Kuwol range.” “It is strongly associated with the myth of the founding king Dan-gun, and is considered by many to be the mountain where that divine ruler retired as a mountain spirit Sanshin.

There are some important Buddhist temples around its slopes, but the most famous cultural asset on which they are located is the Samseong-sa (Shrine of the Three Saints) complex, dedicated to the three sacred sages central to that story

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