Myth of Bak Hyeokgeose(朴赫居世神话)

Myth of Bak Hyeokgeose

Headword

박혁거세신화 ( 朴赫居世神话 , Bakhyeokgeosesinhwa )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Mythology

Writer LeeJiyoung(李志映)

The myth“ Bakhyeokgeosesinhwa ”tells the story of Bak Hyeokgeose, founder of the kingdom of Silla.

Ancestors of the six bu (enclaves) of the state of Jinhan gathered at Alcheon Hill with their respective offspring, with an aim to appoint a virtuous king to found a new kingdom and its capital. They climbed up high and looked down toward the south, where at the foot of Yangsan, by a well called Najeong, they witnessed a strange lightning-like glow from the sky illuminating the earth, next to which was a white horse kneeling to offer a bow. They arrived at the site to find a red egg, and when the horse saw the men, it let out a long neigh and ascended to the sky. The egg was cracked, and a young boy was begotten, which was a surprise and a mystery to everyone, and when they bathed him at Dongcheon (East Spring), his body emitted a splendid glow and birds and beasts danced with the light. Soon followed a trembling that shook the heavens and earth, and the sun and moon shone bright. At this, the boy was named King Hyeokgeose, or King Bulgeonae, and was given the official royal title Geoseulhan.

People lauded the new king, and said“, Now the king must find a virtuous woman to be his wife.”That day, a half-fowl-half-dragon appeared by the well Aryeongjeong in Saryang Village and gave birth to a girl from its left rib. The girl was very beautiful, but her mouth resembled the beak of a fowl, so they bathed her at the stream north of the fortress Wolseong and she lost the beak. A palace was built west of Mt. Namsan, where the two sacred children were raised. The boy was given the last name Bak(朴), a homonym for bak, which means gourd, for the egg he was born from was round like a gourd. The girl was named after the well where she was born. When the two sacred beings turned thirteen, on the first year of era name Wufeng in the reign of Xuandi in Han China, the year of Gapja, they were appointed king and queen, the name of the kingdom Seorabeol. It was also called Kyerimguk (Fowl Forest Kingdom), to reflect the queen’s birth from the fowl by the well, but later generations called it Silla. The king ascended to the sky on his sixty-first year of rule, and seven days later his corpse scattered down on earth in pieces, and the queen also died soon after. The people tried to put together the parts of the king’s corpse to stage a funeral, but a huge snake appeared and intruded, which left them no choice but to hold separate funerals for the five parts of the corpse and bury them in five separate tombs. Thus the tombs were called Sareung, or Snake Tombs.

The Myth of Bak Hyeokgeose can be characterized as follows:

First, it follows the basic narrative structure shared by other Korean founding myths, of a celestial god descending on earth and founding a kingdom. In this myth, the traits of a celestial god are rendered as a strange lightning-like glow from the sky; the white horse; the red color; glowing body; trembling that shakes the heavens and earth; the sun and moon shining bright; and birth from an egg, which can be interpreted as the sun. These traits helped give sanctity to the Silla monarchy.

Second, the births of the progenitor king and the queen Aryeong take place simultaneously, emphasizing the sacred marriage and enthronement of both male and female. This implies that the group represented by Hyeokgeose immigrated to the Gyeongju area, after which they expanded their power by forming an alliance with the group represented by Aryeong before taking the throne. The group of six enclaves, as portrayed in the myth, accepting Hyeokgeose as king upon his descent from heaven, reflects the historical context of the existing clan society coming together to form a single kingdom.

Third, the significance of wells as the venue of heavenly descent or birth—Najeong in the case of Hyeokgeose and Aryeongjeong in the case of Aryeong—indicates that wells were sacred places since Silla’s early years. Wells are of great importance for agricultural settlements and in present-day village rituals, wells, along with village guardian deity trees (dangsannamu), are worshipped as sacred entities.

Fourth, “ virtue ”is emphasized as the primary trait in the enthronement of Hyeokgeose and Aryeong as king and queen, which reflects the values of the human world, where moral superiority is more important in a ruler than supernatural powers.

Fifth, the process of Hyeokgeose’s burial is a rare example in Korean founding myths, from his ascent upon death to his corpse scattering on earth and the snake interfering with the joint burial, resulting in five separate tombs. While most scholars interpret this as an agricultural ritual to pray for prosperity, some make connections with the separated corpse motif found in the shamanic initiation rituals of Siberia.

Myth of Bak Hyeokgeose

Myth of Bak Hyeokgeose
Headword

박혁거세신화 ( 朴赫居世神话 , Bakhyeokgeosesinhwa )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Mythology

Writer LeeJiyoung(李志映)

The myth“ Bakhyeokgeosesinhwa ”tells the story of Bak Hyeokgeose, founder of the kingdom of Silla.

Ancestors of the six bu (enclaves) of the state of Jinhan gathered at Alcheon Hill with their respective offspring, with an aim to appoint a virtuous king to found a new kingdom and its capital. They climbed up high and looked down toward the south, where at the foot of Yangsan, by a well called Najeong, they witnessed a strange lightning-like glow from the sky illuminating the earth, next to which was a white horse kneeling to offer a bow. They arrived at the site to find a red egg, and when the horse saw the men, it let out a long neigh and ascended to the sky. The egg was cracked, and a young boy was begotten, which was a surprise and a mystery to everyone, and when they bathed him at Dongcheon (East Spring), his body emitted a splendid glow and birds and beasts danced with the light. Soon followed a trembling that shook the heavens and earth, and the sun and moon shone bright. At this, the boy was named King Hyeokgeose, or King Bulgeonae, and was given the official royal title Geoseulhan.

People lauded the new king, and said“, Now the king must find a virtuous woman to be his wife.”That day, a half-fowl-half-dragon appeared by the well Aryeongjeong in Saryang Village and gave birth to a girl from its left rib. The girl was very beautiful, but her mouth resembled the beak of a fowl, so they bathed her at the stream north of the fortress Wolseong and she lost the beak. A palace was built west of Mt. Namsan, where the two sacred children were raised. The boy was given the last name Bak(朴), a homonym for bak, which means gourd, for the egg he was born from was round like a gourd. The girl was named after the well where she was born. When the two sacred beings turned thirteen, on the first year of era name Wufeng in the reign of Xuandi in Han China, the year of Gapja, they were appointed king and queen, the name of the kingdom Seorabeol. It was also called Kyerimguk (Fowl Forest Kingdom), to reflect the queen’s birth from the fowl by the well, but later generations called it Silla. The king ascended to the sky on his sixty-first year of rule, and seven days later his corpse scattered down on earth in pieces, and the queen also died soon after. The people tried to put together the parts of the king’s corpse to stage a funeral, but a huge snake appeared and intruded, which left them no choice but to hold separate funerals for the five parts of the corpse and bury them in five separate tombs. Thus the tombs were called Sareung, or Snake Tombs.

The Myth of Bak Hyeokgeose can be characterized as follows:

First, it follows the basic narrative structure shared by other Korean founding myths, of a celestial god descending on earth and founding a kingdom. In this myth, the traits of a celestial god are rendered as a strange lightning-like glow from the sky; the white horse; the red color; glowing body; trembling that shakes the heavens and earth; the sun and moon shining bright; and birth from an egg, which can be interpreted as the sun. These traits helped give sanctity to the Silla monarchy.

Second, the births of the progenitor king and the queen Aryeong take place simultaneously, emphasizing the sacred marriage and enthronement of both male and female. This implies that the group represented by Hyeokgeose immigrated to the Gyeongju area, after which they expanded their power by forming an alliance with the group represented by Aryeong before taking the throne. The group of six enclaves, as portrayed in the myth, accepting Hyeokgeose as king upon his descent from heaven, reflects the historical context of the existing clan society coming together to form a single kingdom.

Third, the significance of wells as the venue of heavenly descent or birth—Najeong in the case of Hyeokgeose and Aryeongjeong in the case of Aryeong—indicates that wells were sacred places since Silla’s early years. Wells are of great importance for agricultural settlements and in present-day village rituals, wells, along with village guardian deity trees (dangsannamu), are worshipped as sacred entities.

Fourth, “ virtue ”is emphasized as the primary trait in the enthronement of Hyeokgeose and Aryeong as king and queen, which reflects the values of the human world, where moral superiority is more important in a ruler than supernatural powers.

Fifth, the process of Hyeokgeose’s burial is a rare example in Korean founding myths, from his ascent upon death to his corpse scattering on earth and the snake interfering with the joint burial, resulting in five separate tombs. While most scholars interpret this as an agricultural ritual to pray for prosperity, some make connections with the separated corpse motif found in the shamanic initiation rituals of Siberia.