General Gang Gam-chan
This legend, in different variations, depicts Gang Gam-chan (948-1031), the renowned military com- mander of Goryeo known as one of the three greatest generals in Korean history, as a supernatural hero. Gang’s mythical accomplishments are recorded in documents and publications including Bohan ji p (Collection of Writings to Relieve Idleness) of Goryeo; Yong jaechonghwa (Assorted Writings o f Yong jae) of early Joseon; and Haedongi jeok (Extraordinary Lives f rom East of the Sea) of Joseon.
Haedongi jeok, published during the reign of King Hyojong, includes a version of this legend, with mention of eradicating attacks from tigers and of the star Mungokseong, which goes as follows:
Gang Gam-chan served in the position of pyeong jangsa during the reign of King Hyeonjong of Goryeo, and was known as an honest and humble man and a resourceful strategist. He was appointed at a young age as pangwan (assist prefect) of the district of Hangyangbu, where tigers had been appearing often and attacking people. Gang wrote a document and had it delivered to two monks outside the northern gate, ordering them to leave the district, taking their packs with them. The magistrate of Hanyang ref used to believe that the monks were tigers, but when Gang ordered them to reveal their true identy, the two monks took off their robe and turned into roaring tigers. Gang implored them to leave and they disappeared, their whereabouts unknown, and the capital was freed of worry about tiger attacks. When Gang Gam-chan was born, an envoy from Song China was in the county of Siheung late at night when he saw a huge star fall on a house and sent a clerk to check, to learn that the woman of the house had just given birth to a boy. The Song envoy visited the home, where, upon seeing the baby offered a bow and said that he was the auspicious star Mungokseong, which had long disappeared. Gang died at the age of eighty-four, and people said that he turned into a Taoist hermit (sinseon) and ascended to the heavens.
Versions of this legend that are transmitted orally in the Gangneung area feature either a Ganggeung magistrate; a general; a lord; a wise man who chases away foxes; a man of strong energy who eradicates ants; a general with divine powers who stopped frogs from croaking; or a geomancy expert. Gang Gam- chan’s father is portrayed as a magistrate, teacher, scholar, or minister in versions from the Gyeonggi region; as a womanizer, salt vendor, or martial official in versions from the Chuncheong region; and as a minister in the versions from the Gyeongsang region. Some versions portray Gang’s mothers as a fox that turned into the ninety-ninth virgin, which gave Gang the ability to understand animal sounds, and in the end the fox chases away its transformed groom; some portray her as possessing eyes that can see a thousand li away and the ability to contract distances, and as a user of talismans; some feature her attempts to acquire longevity by asking the smallpox deity Mama to give her pock marks three or five times; some portray her as an ugly woman with small ears, short in height, possessing a fox face, or having the appearance of a beggar. In versions f rom the Gangwon region, Gang demonstrates supernatural powers in troubled situations, like saving a family by destroying a fox hole, curing a friend who has lost his soul, or breaking lightning rays, but in a village where its residents were not generous with water, he uses a talisman to dry up its wells, his act taking on a disciplinary stance.
The legend of Gang Gam-chan offers evidence of civilian worship of real-life figures of great achievement. Based on Gang’s historical accom- plishments as a man of outstanding powers and distinguished military merit against invading f oreigners, the legend highlights his heroic acts related to ordinary people’s lives and portrays him as a deified figure who chases away evil and pursues auspicious forces. Gang is also depicted as a displinary character who solves people’s problems with his divine powers.