Divine Serpent Scholar(蟒蛇通通新书生)

Divine Serpent Scholar

Headword

구렁덩덩신선비 ( 蟒蛇通通新书生 , Gureongdeongdeongsinseonbi )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Folk tales

Writer SeoDaeseok(徐大錫)

The tale “Gureongdeongdeongsinseonbi” is a widespread folk narrative about a divine scholar who had the appearance of a serpent, and his separation and reunion with his wife.

A long time ago there lived an old man and his old wife, who became pregnant and gave birth to a serpent. The old wife took the serpent out to the backyard and kept it next to the chimney under a conical bamboo hat (sakkat). The couple had a rich neighbor with three daughters, who heard about the serpent and came to visit, and said it was disgusting. The third daughter, however, said that the old wife had given birth to “gureongdeongdeongsinseonbi, ” a divine serpent scholar. When the serpent heard this, he asked his mother to propose marriage to the rich man’s daughters. His mother hestitated, but the serpent threatened that if she did not propose, he would get back insider her belly, holding fire in one hand and a sword in the other. So the mother proposed marriage to the rich neighbor’s daughters, to which the first two daughters declined, but the third daughter answered that she would do as her parents said, and the wedding was set. Following the ceremony, on their wedding night, the serpent asked his bride to prepare a jar of soy sauce (or oil), a jar of flour, and a jar of water. The serpent first entered the jar of soy sauce, then rolled his body inside the jar of flour, and after rinsing himself in the jar of water, he shed his snake skin and turned into a handsome scholar, his body beautiful and carrying the aura of a Taoist hermit. The two other sisters came and saw that their sister was living with a handsome and divine scholar, which made them jealous. One day Sinseonbi (Divine Scholar) asked his bride to take good care of his skin and left for Seoul to take his state examination. But the bride’s sisters visited and while the bride was asleep, took out the skin and burned it in the brazier. Sinseonbi knew all the way from Seoul that his skin had been burned and he disappeared. When her husband did not return, the bride set out to find him. On the road, she met a crow, a wild boar, a woman doing laundry, and a farmer plowing the field, and learned the whereabouts of her husband in return for doing the work they demanded. Arriving at Sinseonbi’s home, the bride decided to spend the night under the wooden verandah of the house. That night, the moon shone bright, and Sinseonbi looked out at the moon from the attic, where he was reading, and sang about how much he missed his bride. The bride heard the song and answered him, and they were reunited, but Sinseonbi told her that he had a new wife now, and since a scholar could not live with two wives, he suggested a competition between the two wives, which would determine who was more competent at the given tasks, which included chopping wood, fetching water and pulling out the eyelash of a tiger. His first bride was capable of carrying out all the tasks, but his new bride was not, and Sinseonbi deserted his new bride and reunited with his first bride and lived happily.

The narrative comprises many fantasy-like elements that seem unrealistic and irrational, which can be understood when the serpent is viewed as a deity in a myth, in which case giving birth to a serpent signifies the enshrinement of the serpent god; the marriage between the serpent and the rich neighbor’s daughter the encounter between a deity and a priest; the burning of the skin a rejection of the serpent god; and the disappearance of Sinseonbi and his wife’s journey to find her husband can be interpreted as a linguistic rendering of the ritual sinmajigut, in which a disappeared god is welcomed back in enshrined. Based on this interpretation, the serpent’s threat to his mother can be read as the threat to turn the earth into an infertile waste land if the serpent god is not worshipped, and the rich neighbor’s consent to give away his daughter as an inevitable decision to secure the productivity of his land with the help of the serpent deity. And the serpent’s metamorphosis into a divine scholar on his wedding night can be interpreted as the shift from animal god worship to the worship of personified gods following the introduction of agriculture.

At the same time, the tale offers an intriguing dramatization of a married couple love put to test and how they overcome and reunited, emphasizing the importance of a woman’s endurance and wisdom in maintaining the family and sustaining the community.

Divine Serpent Scholar

Divine Serpent Scholar
Headword

구렁덩덩신선비 ( 蟒蛇通通新书生 , Gureongdeongdeongsinseonbi )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Folk tales

Writer SeoDaeseok(徐大錫)

The tale “Gureongdeongdeongsinseonbi” is a widespread folk narrative about a divine scholar who had the appearance of a serpent, and his separation and reunion with his wife.

A long time ago there lived an old man and his old wife, who became pregnant and gave birth to a serpent. The old wife took the serpent out to the backyard and kept it next to the chimney under a conical bamboo hat (sakkat). The couple had a rich neighbor with three daughters, who heard about the serpent and came to visit, and said it was disgusting. The third daughter, however, said that the old wife had given birth to “gureongdeongdeongsinseonbi, ” a divine serpent scholar. When the serpent heard this, he asked his mother to propose marriage to the rich man’s daughters. His mother hestitated, but the serpent threatened that if she did not propose, he would get back insider her belly, holding fire in one hand and a sword in the other. So the mother proposed marriage to the rich neighbor’s daughters, to which the first two daughters declined, but the third daughter answered that she would do as her parents said, and the wedding was set. Following the ceremony, on their wedding night, the serpent asked his bride to prepare a jar of soy sauce (or oil), a jar of flour, and a jar of water. The serpent first entered the jar of soy sauce, then rolled his body inside the jar of flour, and after rinsing himself in the jar of water, he shed his snake skin and turned into a handsome scholar, his body beautiful and carrying the aura of a Taoist hermit. The two other sisters came and saw that their sister was living with a handsome and divine scholar, which made them jealous. One day Sinseonbi (Divine Scholar) asked his bride to take good care of his skin and left for Seoul to take his state examination. But the bride’s sisters visited and while the bride was asleep, took out the skin and burned it in the brazier. Sinseonbi knew all the way from Seoul that his skin had been burned and he disappeared. When her husband did not return, the bride set out to find him. On the road, she met a crow, a wild boar, a woman doing laundry, and a farmer plowing the field, and learned the whereabouts of her husband in return for doing the work they demanded. Arriving at Sinseonbi’s home, the bride decided to spend the night under the wooden verandah of the house. That night, the moon shone bright, and Sinseonbi looked out at the moon from the attic, where he was reading, and sang about how much he missed his bride. The bride heard the song and answered him, and they were reunited, but Sinseonbi told her that he had a new wife now, and since a scholar could not live with two wives, he suggested a competition between the two wives, which would determine who was more competent at the given tasks, which included chopping wood, fetching water and pulling out the eyelash of a tiger. His first bride was capable of carrying out all the tasks, but his new bride was not, and Sinseonbi deserted his new bride and reunited with his first bride and lived happily.

The narrative comprises many fantasy-like elements that seem unrealistic and irrational, which can be understood when the serpent is viewed as a deity in a myth, in which case giving birth to a serpent signifies the enshrinement of the serpent god; the marriage between the serpent and the rich neighbor’s daughter the encounter between a deity and a priest; the burning of the skin a rejection of the serpent god; and the disappearance of Sinseonbi and his wife’s journey to find her husband can be interpreted as a linguistic rendering of the ritual sinmajigut, in which a disappeared god is welcomed back in enshrined. Based on this interpretation, the serpent’s threat to his mother can be read as the threat to turn the earth into an infertile waste land if the serpent god is not worshipped, and the rich neighbor’s consent to give away his daughter as an inevitable decision to secure the productivity of his land with the help of the serpent deity. And the serpent’s metamorphosis into a divine scholar on his wedding night can be interpreted as the shift from animal god worship to the worship of personified gods following the introduction of agriculture.

At the same time, the tale offers an intriguing dramatization of a married couple love put to test and how they overcome and reunited, emphasizing the importance of a woman’s endurance and wisdom in maintaining the family and sustaining the community.