Myth of Korea: Tangun

  Tangun, the mythological progenitor of the Korean people and the founder of Old Choseon, the first state of Korea, is mentioned in a number of sources. This means the myth of Tangun has some actual historical foundation, though it was distorted in several version. We can find some clues to understanding of Korean's unconscious traditional unique conception.


Once upon a time, Heavenly God, Hwan-in, noticed that one of his sons, Hwan-woong, always had his heart set on the world of mortals below. God looked down upon it and found the Samwi-Taebaek mountain the most befitting place for human beings to live.

He gave his son three Cheon Bu-In(God-given seals of king) and let him go down to the earth to rule over the human beings. (Here, we can see the same name of "Cheon Bu-In" and "Cheon Bu Gyeong". So some scholars guess, the Cheon Bu-In of the myth might refer to Cheon Bu Gyeong in real history.)

Hwan-woong, with three thousand subordinates, took leave of his father and came down to the human world and held his ground under the Shindan-soo(sandalwood used to make an alter for God) on top of the Taebaek mountain. He named the place Shin-Si(divine city) and he had himself called Hwan-woong Cheon-wang (Divine king Hwan-woong). He gave people their first lessons in right living and ruled over them, taking care of human affairs of as many as three hundred sixty kinds, such as farming, death, disease, punishment and good and evil, with the three goods of Poong-baek(wind), Woo-sa(rain) and Woon-sa(cloud) under his command.

At this time it so happened that a bear and a tiger were living together in a cave. They always prayed to Divine king Hwan-woong that they be made human beings. Taking notice of their admirable wish, the divine king gave them a bundle of sacred mugworts and twenty cloves of garlic and said, "If you eat these and do not see sunlight for one hundred days you will become human beings."

The bear and the tiger immediately began to practice abstinence, living on the mugworts and garlics in cave. After twenty one days the bear became a woman, but the tiger, unable to endure the abstinence, violated the injunction of the divine king, and failed to become a human being.

Now the woman could not find any man to marry her, so she always prayed under the sandalwood to be given a child of her own. Hwan-woong tok notice of her prayer, transformed himself into a man temporarily and married her. She gave birth to a son, who was to be Tangun-Wanggeum(Kin Wanggeum of Sandalwood).

Wanggeum succeeded Hwan-woong as king. He selected Pyongyang as his capital and named the country to Asadal at the Baekak mountain and reigned over the country for a thousand and five hundred years. Thus he became the founding father of Korea.