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Legends of Flowers and Trees

This category of Korean folk narratives tells stories related to flowers and trees that reflect the history, sentiments and cosmology of the Korean people. Korea’s earliest tree legend would be the Dangun myth, which revolves around Sindansu (Divine Altar Tree), which functions as the shamanic pole, or cosmic tree in the imaginary sacred district Sodo or in the village guardian shrine seonangdang. The name Dangun means “son of dan tree, ” referring to a tree in the birch family. The Yi dynasty o

Korean Folk Literature

Festival of the Fifth of the Fifth Month

Dano (Kor. 단오, Chin. 端午, lit. first fifth) refers to the traditional holiday celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The first syllable in the name, dan, stands for “first” and o means “five”; hence the word can be translated literally as “the first fifth”. Dano has been a major holiday in Korea since early times as the day is believed to be filled with the positive energy yang. According to a Chinese history book of the 7th century, “Suishu” (Kor. 수서, Chin. 隋書, The Book of Sui), t

Korean Seasonal Customs

Gangneung Gwanno Mask Performance

Gangneung Gwanno Gamyeongeuk (Kor. 강릉관노가면극, Chin. 江陵官奴假面劇) refers to the mask performance held during the Dano Festival (Kor. 단오제, Chin. 端午祭, the fifth of the fifth lunar month) in the Gangneung area. It is the only traditional theatrical performance in today’s Korea in which masked players present a story without words using only dance and body movements. Another important characteristic of this play is that, unlike other mask performances, it is not a satire on immoral and corrupt aristocrats.

Korean Seasonal Customs

General Nam I Ritual

Nam I Janggun Sadangje (Kor. 남이장군사당제, Chin. 南怡將軍祠堂祭, lit. service at the Shrine of General Nam I) refers to a ceremony that honors the memory of the famous general Nam I (1441-1468) of the early Joseon period (1392- 16th century). Nam I, a brave general who was accused of treason and executed, was deified and worshipped in the shamanistic faith of the central regions along with other illustrious military heroes of the past, such as Choe Yeong (1316-1388) and General Im Gyeong-eop (1594-1646). Th

Korean Seasonal Customs

Rat Transformed Into a Man

This shapeshifting tale narrates the story of a rat who transformed itself into the master of the house but is eradicated in the end. This narrative usually starts with the rat’s transformation, achieved by eating a broken tip of the master’s fingernail or toenail. Everyone in the family thinks the rat is the master, and the magistrate rules that the real master is fake, expelling him from the house. The master drifts here and there, then receives advice and returns home with a cat, which kills

Korean Folk Literature

Sacred Pole Ritual

Sotdaeje, or sacred pole ritual, is a communal rite for worshipping sacred poles (sotdae) as village guardians. The rituals are believed to have originated from rites related to a wooden column erected in a district named Sodo in Mahan, one of the Three Han States of ancient Korea, circa 1st–3rd centuries. The “Account of the Three Hans” chapter in the volume History of the Wei Dynasty of the Chinese history book Sanguozhi (Records of the Three Kingdoms) includes a passage about a wooden pole er

Korean Folk Beliefs
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