Maeulsinhwa, or village myths, tell the sacred story of a village’s beginnings, as well as the origins of village gods (dangsin) and miracles that demonstrate their divine powers.
Village myths are passed down as an integral part of village rituals (dongje), sometimes recited during the rite as in the case of“ Dangbonpuri (Song of the Origin of Village Guardian God) ”from Jeju Island, and they are continuously revised and renewed along with the evolution of the various forms of village god worship. In Korea, the communal worship of local deities took on formal structure for the socio-cultural consolidation of naturally formed communities, which came to serve specific functions as villages in the 16th century.
While myths of Korea’s national or family progenitors are generally preserved in written form, records about village founders rarely exist, or have been lost in the course of oral transmission over time. This was probably due to the rise and fall, or the migration, of different ruling groups in the community. Even in the case of clan villages, which are comprised solely of direct descendants of the village progenitor, records about the founding figure have usually been incorporated into genealogies or family anthologies that focus on glorifying ancestral achievements.
Village myths that survive today largely feature haunted spirit deities (wonhonsin) who have come to be worshipped by communities via motifs of dream appearances or harassment. Haunted spirit deities emerged as village gods as collective memories of village founders faded over time; they can be kings or generals, but in most cases they are nameless deceased individuals, which is a distinctive feature of Korean village myths.
In communities where traditional village rituals are preserved, the divine powers of the village god are emphasized in these myths. The narratives often depict anecdotes about troubling events that have been solved by moving the village shrine, or of misfortunes that have befallen individuals for failing to observe taboos related to village shrines or rituals, and have equal significance in the community as myths about the deification of village founders.