Song of the Creation of the Universe
“ Changsega ”is a creation myth performed as part of shamanic rituals by Kim Ssangdoli, a shaman from Hamheung of Hamgyeong Province.
Kim’s performance of this song was recorded in 1923 by folk scholar Son Jin-tae and included in his 1930 book Cho?sen shinka ihen:
The sky and the earth were one and unseparated, and one day the sky swelled up like a cauldron lid, f orming cracks, upon which Mireuk (Maitreya) erected copper columns on four corners of the earth, thereby separating it f rom the sky. At the time, there were two suns and two moons, Mireuk took one of each and made Bukduchilseong (meaning Seven-Star Dipper of the North; Ursa Ma jor), Namduchilseong (meaning Seven-Star Dipper of the South; Sagittarius), and all the other stars, big and small. Mireuk then gathered arrowroot vines to weave hemp and make for himself the monk’s robe jangsam. In search of the origins of water and fire, Mireuk followed the instructions of a mouse to climb Mt. Geumdeong, where he struck a pebble against pig iron to make fire and climbed Mt. Soha where he discovered a spring. Then he held up a golden tray and a silver tray in each hand and prayed to the sky, upon which he was given five golden insects and five silver insects, which turned into men and women, who formed five couples and led to the flourishing of the human race. Mireuk served as the ruler of mankind when Seokga (Sakyamuni) appeared and demanded that Mireuk give up his position, which kicked off a contest to rule the human world. Mireuk turned out superior in the beginning, upon which Seokga proposed a competition of blooming flowers on one’s lap while in sleep, and while Mireuk slept, Seokga stole the flowers on his lap and won the competition. Mireuk handed over his position to Seokga and disappeared, and due to Seokga’s unjust victory, un just elements began to appear in the human world.
Creation myths begin with the separation of heaven and earth, and in this myth, “ Changsega, ” Mireuk plays the role of the deity that presides over the creation. The division of the sky and the earth by the four copper columns reveals the hemispherical dome cosmology, “ cheonwon jibang (round sky, square earth). ”The narrative then explains how the sun, the moon, and the stars came to be: The motif of reducing the numbers of the sun and the moon is found in creation myths around the world, but this one is notable in that the extra sun and moon were not completely eliminated but turned into stars.
The bronze mirror used as a prop by a Korean shaman is called myeongdo or goneul, and is engraved on the back with the sun and the moon and the constellations, which characterizes it as a cosmological mirror, revealing the shamanistic view of the universe that the sky is spherical, like a cauldron lid, and contains the sun and the moon and the stars. According to this myth, the world was peaceful under the rule of Mireuk (Maitreya), but Seokga (Sakyamuni) arrived and took over the human world by playing a trick. In other words, humans were good and honest, but the unjust deity that ruled the world gave birth to evil and sin, thus human sin originated from corrupt deities.
This myth, f rom Korea’s northern regions, f eature as competitors Mireuk and Seokga, two giant gods, which is a distinctive departure from the creation myths of other regions. In the myth, the two gods already existed in the beginning of the universe, with no mention of lineage, which means they do not need to acquire sacred characteristics through the lineage of their parents.
The recording of Kim Ssangdoli’s“ Changsega ” contains all the elements of a creation myth, which proves useful for examining the mythological signi- ficance of the narrartive, and serves as an important ref erence material in the f ield of comparative mythology.