This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the days before things were recorded, when China was in its infancy, various tribes wandered the Korean peninsula. These tribes are related in customs and traditions to Manchuria and the Russian Far East.  There was no Korea or any form of an organised political entity representing such people. As with many tribes found in Siberia, North America and even Northern Finland, they were a shamanistic people who worshipped nature and animals. Two of the most striking and important totemic animals are the tiger and the bear. These two animals (possibly representing two different tribes) prayed to a deity called Hwanung. Hwanung was a kind of prince of the heaven, son of the great Hwanin. The two animals wished to become human but rather than just make them human, Hwanung wanted to test their resolve, so he gave them 20 cloves of garlic and some mugwort. They had to survive off these foods in a cave for 100 days. The lack of sunlight and other foods were too much for the tiger, he gave up after twenty days and left the cave. The bear stayed for the duration and was rewarded by being transformed into a  woman called ‘Ungnyeo’. She became lonely and needed company so Hwanung  married her and  she gave birth to a son, who was named Dangun Wanggeom.

Dangun is the father of the first Korean nation called Gojoseon. ‘Go’ means ancient as there is another dynasty called Joseon which occurred later. Like most mythology there is usually some history hiding somewhere in the mystical tales. The totemic animals may represent tribes who were included or excluded in this federation.  The Chinese Emperor Yao may have been in power at some point during Dangun’s reign, if this is the case then we are looking at  2357 BC-2256 BC. Dangun is certainly important in the history of Korea, even the years were named after him before the 60s. Dangi (단기) began in 2333 BC and Dangun’s foundation of Korea is celebrated, or perhaps remembered on October 3rd on National Foundation Day(개천절) or “Festival of the Opening of Heaven”.

Like rulers the World over, Dangun was probably deified to prevent any challenge to his authority. If any of this sounds like nonsense then I ask you to take a closer look at other mythical figures or creation myths. Intertwining the foundations of nations in myth is common to most cultures and it allows pre historical  peoples to make sense of ‘history’ using narratives they understand. It also doesn’t do any harm to the status of the élite if they come from sacred beginnings . If you consider any of this story primitive and lacking in  facts then here are some more to consider:

Rome: founded by twin babies Romulus and Remus who were saved by a river, suckled by a she-wolf and fed by a woodpecker.

Britain: founded by Brutus of Troy (son of Aeneas) who sailed there after a dream and had to avoid sirens then defeat giants before naming Britain after himself.

Everyone: God got bored and made Adam, then he used Adam’s rib to make a woman…..

Ever since I learnt about this myth I was keen to visit the sacred mountain where Dangun has an altar to his name. The place in question is on Taebaeksan 태백산. Unlike most mountains the top is completely barren and devoid of trees. There is a large alter inside a stone built structure. After a 2 hour hike I was rewarded with one of the calmest and most beautiful places in Korea. People ascend this mountain on New Year’s day to see the sunrise, I can see why. I stopped of at a buddhist temple for some water and then another short hike got me to the top. It was an extremely hot day and I felt like I could see the whole world from this mountain top. I hope to return some day to see the ceremony carried out  by the Shaman priests.

 The best place to start the hike up to the altar is Danggol (당골). Here are the times from the bus station(터미날) in Taebaek and back again from the Dangol carpark. It takes about 25 minutes to get to Danggol carpark and you can get food and drinks there as well as information from the Provincial park office. The hike to the altar and back takes around 4 hours.

Taebaek is best reached from Dong Seoul by bus and takes about 3h30.

Taebaek also has a train station connecting it with Gangneung and Seoul Cheongnyangni 4h15.

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=791747

http://tour.taebaek.go.kr/site/en/sub4/sub4_3_1.jsp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s