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Horse Day

Mallal (Kor. 말날, Chin. 午日, lit. Horse Day) refers to the first day of the tenth lunar month with a celestial stem meaning “horse.” Also known as Mail (Kor. 마일, Chin. 馬日), this day is recognized as an equine appreciation day. Historically, it was associated with the custom of placing rice cakes coated with mashed red beans, known as pat-tteok (Kor. 팥떡), in front of a stable and praying for the health of the horses. People also paid homage to the horses by offering special treats to the animals on

Korean Seasonal Customs

Spring of Eternal Youth

The legend “Jeolmeojineunsaemmul (Spring of Eternal Youth)” is a tall tale that tells the story of an old man who turned into a baby after drinking too much water from a spring that restored one’s youth and in the end was put in the care of a neighboring couple. An elderly childless couple was living a life of hardship. One day the husband was taking a rest on his way back home from chopping wood in the mountain when he saw a bird flying. He wanted to catch the bird and followed it deep into the

Korean Folk Literature

Scholar Passes State Examination With Provincial Dialect

This tale narrates the story of a scholar who, after repeatedly failing in the state examination, finally passes with the help of a fellow applicant. A learned scholar who, despite his education, failed repeatedly in entering public office through the state examination, decided to give up his life and climbed Mt. Namsan. Just then on Mt. Namsan, the king was carrying out an undercover inspection in disguise, and spotted the scholar. When the king asked him why he was climbing the mountain on his

Korean Folk Literature

Country Mouse, City Mouse

“Sigoljwi, Seouljwi” is an animal tale about a country mouse that visits a city mouse and envies the plentiful supply of food in the city, but when the crowds of people make it difficult to access the food, heads back to the country. This tale was documented under the title “Chonjwiwasheongnaejwi” in Isopueon (Aesop’s Fables), published in 1921 by the Christian Literature Society of Korea, and also in Mangogidam (Collection of Ancient Witticisms) in 1919. Country mouse invited city mouse to the

Korean Folk Literature

Three-Legged Crow

The legend of “Samjogo” narrates the story of an imaginary bird with three legs, believed to live on the sun, or to symbolize the sun. According to Chinese records, the concept of the three-legged crow came from the observation that the black spot on the sun resembled a crow, and that the number three in traditional cosmology indicates light, or yang energy, or that the number three itself indicates the sun. In Korea, images of the three- legged crow have been found in murals of Goguryeo tombs N

Korean Folk Literature

Country Man Tricks Man from Seoul

This tale narrates the story of a man from Seoul who tries to trick a man from the country but gets tricked instead. A bumbling country man had just arrived in Seoul and was going around the stores. One of the storeowners, seeing that the man was naive country folk, sold him a pollack for ten coins, saying it was a very rare delicacy. The country man put the fish inside a sack and asked the storeowner to keep it for him. When the country man returned, he opened the sack and said that he had a th

Korean Folk Literature

Origin of Woncheongang

The shamanic myth“Woncheongangbonpuri”from Jeju Island narrates the origins of the fortunetelling book Woncheongang. The title of the book comes from the name of the famed physiognomist Yuan Tiangang of Tang China, which in late Joseon came to be equated with the book title. In the myth, Woncheongang is the name of a place, while also referring to the eight characters (palja) that make up human destiny in traditional fortunetelling. The following is a version of the myth as summarized according

Korean Folk Literature

Crow Drops Its Food

This animal tale tells the story of a crow tricked by a fox who flatters him about his beautiful singing, making him open his beak, making the food he was carrying in his beak fall to the ground. It was in 1896, through the publication of the Korean language textbook Sinjeongsimsangsohak, that Aesop’s fables were first introduced to Korea. The original version of this tale was included in the collection under the title, “Here Is a Tale of a Crow and a Fox.” No one liked the crow, with its dark l

Korean Folk Literature

Fox Marble

“Yeouguseul” is the tale of a student who manages to steal the fox woman’s marble but because he looked down at the ground instead of looking up at the sky, his knowledge became constricted to the ways of the earth and not the heavens. This oral narrative is transmitted in two different types: The first type features a young student whose health continued declining, and when his teacher asked what was the matter, he explained that when he was walking in the mountains, a woman appeared and kissed

Korean Folk Literature

Man Brings Treasure from Dragon Palace

This tale narrates the events that unfold when a man by chance visits Yonggung (Dragon Palace) and returns with a rare treasure. This narrative is believed to date back to ancient times, with some versions that associate Haein (Seal of the Sea), one of the acquired treasures, with the founding of Haein Temple in the 3rd year of King Aejang’s reign in Silla. In the book Gyeokanyurok (Divinations by the Late Gyeokam), believed to be authored by the prophet Namsago from the era of King Myeongjong’s

Korean Folk Literature

Word Play Tale

Eohuidam, or word play tales, are narratives that incite fun and laughter less through the story itself and more through devices like teasing or contests using language. In the Korean oral tradition, word play tales can be traced back to Goryeo, when, according to ancient records, witticisms (jaedam) were staged as a form of performing arts and entertainment. The Goryeo court ritual narye, for chasing away evil spirits, was comprised of stage performances that focused on bodily movements, includ

Korean Folk Literature
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