Since I’m in South Korea, it seems that I’ve been transformed into a mountain-freak. Are you ready to climb thousands stairs and keep up with crowds of fully-equipped, flashy-clothed trekkers? You’ll discover that mountains can tragically fall in love too, that dragons haunted beautiful lakes and shamans spirits still survive not far from Seoul. Moreover, thanks to my innate sense of disorientation, I very often got lost and thus been kindly hosted by some very sweet elderly people who were delighted to share some stories about their country, even if in broken Korean and English, or simply with drawings and gestures…
Ulsanbawi (from Seoraksan near Sokcho)
In the northern corner of Seorak mountain, an impressive rock stands up from east to west, rather aloof, shaped as Ulsan city. It is often called The Face of Mount Seorak. According to the legend, one day the Great Creator called all the mountains, and immediately rocks scattered all around the country to form one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Geumgangsan. Ulsanbawi answered the call of the God too, but its huge body made its path very difficult and it came too late to be part of Geumgangsan. Nevertheless, on its way home, Ulsanbawi fell in love with the awesome and wild landscapes of Seoraksan and decided to stay there, its gaze always admiring the broken valley.
Yeonggeumjeong-bawi and the fairies of Biseondae (marine of Sokcho)
From the lighthouse in Yeongmyeong-dong, if you cast a glance towards the East, you can behold a strange rock. People call it “Yonggeumjong”, namely “the pavilion-shaped rock that makes soul-stirring melodies” (Western language cannot equal Korean synthetic poetry, sometimes!) : when the waves break furiously against this lonely rock, a sweet melody full of melancholy arises, as if some invisible musician was playing the geomungo, a six-stringed sithar. In ancient times, the area was called Biseondae, because fairies used to descend from Heaven at night to bathe and sing wonderful songs. Nowadays, however, the mysterious sirens, as well as the suggestive scenery, have been replaced by the busy horns and whistles of the ships in Sokchohang port, built at the end of the Japanese colonial period.
The Two Dragons and the Hwarangs
1500 years ago, under the reign of Silla dynasty, four young Hwarangs (men of the elite) named Yeongnang, Sulrang, Namrang, and Ansang came to Samilpo, Goseong from Mt. Geungang, and spent three years training in the mountains before taking their own path. Yeongnang, especially, loved to raw on a little boat on the lake.
Yet those lakes were sacred and inhabited by two mighty dragons : Cheongcho was the home of the male dragon, while the female dwelled in lake Yeongnang. The couple used to visit each other by an underground waterway linking the two lakes.
One fateful day, a fisherman set accidentally fire to the forest of pine trees surrounding Cheongchoho, and the smoke and flames killed the male dragon. His mate went mad with rage and dismay, and punished the fishermen with severe droughts and poor fishings. To soothe her anger and relieve their sufferings, the fishermen called a shaman, who institued a Sea God festival and performed a ritual dance for the rain. During the festival, a boat fight is still held to ensure the protection of the boats passing through Manchon Dong and Cheongdae. But this wasn’t enough and the Hwarangs had to fight the dragon, who, since then, every winter, hides and freezes the whole lake Cheongcho to remember the death of her companion. The frozen lake takes the shape of a Dragon Plowing the Soil (Yongkyeong), and the locals use to foresee the next harvest by the direction of the beast.
The Mermaid Of Haeundae (Busan) : Princess Hwangok
Once upon a time, the Princess Hwangok of Naranda, the mythical land of mermaids and tritons hidden under the sea, married King Eunhye of Mugung, a legendary kingdom, and came to live on the shores washed by sunbeams and heavy rains. But she missed her native Naranda very much… every full moon, she would come out and gaze at the open sea, where she could see her beloved lost land reflected on the silver velvet of the waves.
I hope you enjoyed those legends of Mountains and Sea! But the Korean stories aren’t finished yet… Coming next : tales of shaman spirits and wise Buddhas!