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ISSN : 2384-0668(Print)
ISSN : 2384-0692(Online)
S/N Korean Humanities Vol.2 No.1 pp.151-179
DOI : https://doi.org/10.17783/IHU.2016.2.1.151

New Goddesses at Paektu Mountain: Two Contemporary Korean Myths

Robert Winstanley-Chesters,Victoria Ten
Australian National University;Leiden University

Abstract

Mountain worship and sanshin (mountain gods) legends are intrinsic to Korean culture. Central for narratives of anti-colonial struggle and contemporary policy of North Korea, Mt. Paektu also became a symbol of Korean national identity in South Korean popular culture. This paper engages two legends sited there, suggesting that their main protagonists represent contemporary sanshin. Firstly we consider the image of Kim Chŏng-suk of North Korea, and those narratives addressing her husband, Kim Il-sŏng’s guerrilla resistance in terrains surrounding Paektu. As a bodyguard of Kim Il-sŏng and a champion of revolutionary struggle, Kim Chŏng-suk transcends her human nature, and embodies female presence on Mt. Paektu. Secondly the paper investigates narrative from contemporary South Korean practice GiCheon (氣天 Kich’ŏn), intended for physical and moral cultivation of a person, reinvented in modernity on the basis of ancient East-Asian traditions. It recounts a mythic meeting of Bodhidharma with the Immortal Woman of Heaven (天仙女 Ch’ŏnsŏnyŏ) dwelling at Mt. Paektu. The Woman of Heaven overpowers Bodhidharma in battle, challenging patriarchal gender conceptions and contesting Chinese cultural superiority. Examined together, these two narratives demonstrate common cultural background. Ancient tradition, passed down from past to present, continuously accumulates and transforms, acquiring new forms in South and North Korean contexts.

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