The Koreans are of a Tungusic stock that once stretched as far north as current day Mongolia and parts of Siberia. Their ancient practises of the 5000BC period were that of a shamanic nature. As Korea began to develop communities and village structures it also developed a point of origin for its founding and human identity. This date can be marked as 2333BC and it is still celebrated today as its National Foundation day every October 3rd.
“Shamanism is likened to the ocean - and the higher religions introduced to the country later, are likened to ships” – W.S. Lee (1990)
The legend of Tangun
The origins of Tangun are interesting. The 13th century Samgukyusa states the legend of Tangun.
In North Korea, the discovery of old skeletal remains that once tested dated back to the period of around 2260BC were discovered near Pyongyang in 1993. Due to the exceptional stature of the male skeleton, these remains were identified as Tangun and his wife. A large mausoleum was built nearby the excavation site. From there on in, the new way of thinking in North Korea was that Tangun was not only a leader and founder of the earliest Korean society, but that it was also a Kingdom of people that existed up to around 500BC. I wasn’t aware of any mythological origins behind Tangun, as is the common case, but instead he was reputed to have died at a normal age leading the Gojoseon Dynasty which went on to exist for 1500 years, near the scared mountain of Mt Kuwol in North Korea. In North Korea, there was now no longer a myth attached to him that he was the creation of a Bear and human as per the legend in the South of Korea.
In contrast, and in accordance to what was written in the 13th century Samgukyusa; In the year of 2333BC, a supernatural act took place where the Heavenly King Hwan-in had a young son whose name was Hwan-ung. With three thousand of his loyal subjects Hwan-ung descended from the heaven and appeared under a sandalwood tree on Taebaek Mountain [Taebaek Mountain is known to be Myo-hyang mountain in what is now North Korea - however, there is a sacred mountain in South Korea of the same name]. A Bear and a Tiger having seen the humans wished to attain the same status.The king took pity on them and gave them each a bunch of mugwort and twenty pieces of garlic, saying, ‘if you eat this holy food and do not see the sunlight for one hundred days, you will become human beings’. In twenty one days the bear, who had faithfully observed the king’s instructions, became a woman. But the tigress, which had disobeyed remained in her original form. But the bear-woman could not find a husband, so she prayed under the sandalwood tree to be blessed with a child. Hwan-ung heard her prayers and married her. She conceived and bore a son who was called Tangun Wanggom the King of sandalwood, and with that began the royal lineage of the Korean people in what was known as Gojoeseon Dynasty for 1500 years. Tangun lived to the age of 1,098 where he died on Mt Kuwol and became a San-shin (mountain spirit).