[KS] Hwan-Ung - Illegitimate?

David Mason mntnwolf at yahoo.com
Sat Jun 19 01:14:00 EDT 2004

Dear List,

When considering East Asian myths and legends, I 
automatically just assume that the Emperor of Heaven
or any similar figure has multiple or even multitudes
of sons, as that is such a key aspect of being a 
great patriarchal ruling figure in the traditional
Asian mind.  

(Daoism's Okhwang-sangje, prominent in the art and 
ideology of Korean Shamanism, famously has eight 
daughters, as does the King-spirit of Jiri Mountain,
possibly reflecting more ancient matriarchal 
traditions, but this does not preclude their also 
having many sons).

In fact I recall reading that during the introduc-
tion of Christianity to East Asia, the idea that the
Emperor of Heaven ("God") had only one son served as
a negative selling point -- Why only one?  What's 
wrong with him, lacking in power?  Or does he need 
a new set of wives?  Should we make an offering of 
ginseng to him...?  (sorry, I cannot provide a cite)

Anyway, the position of Hwan-ung in the story makes
perfect sense to me, like this:  whenever a King 
has more than one son demonstrating a high level of
ambition and ability, it's an obvious problem and 
threat to the smooth succession of the dynasty --
after his death, there may be ruinous dispute over 
the throne.  One way to deal with this is to give a
younger such son some money and soldiers, send him
off to conquer some relatively distant lands, set 
up his own (subsidiary) kingdom.

Thus the Hwan-ung story includes these details -- he
was not the eldest son, he desired to go elsewhere,
and his father chose the most appropriate site;  he 
came to the Grand White Mountain with 3000 followers
(soldiers, or soldiers and their families), and three
Heavenly Seals (showing his authority, granted by 
his royal father, to set up a new kingdom), and he 
was attended by three aristocrats (with symbolic
shamanic titles of Wind, Rain & Clouds).

Hwan-ung was said to have the intention of setting 
up (spiritually-based) civilized government in order
to "benefit humanity" -- right, he was bringing 
Bronze Age civilization to the Stone Age inhabitants
of the Proto-Korean territories to which his father 
(Chief of a Sun/Heaven worshiping tribe) sent him...

Artistic depictions of Hwan-ung are rare.  There are
a few on my web site at:
If anyone here knows of any others, I would really
appreciate being told of their location.

For the most thorough and excellent discussion of 
the Korean Foundation Myth(s), I refer you to the 
indispensable volume written by Dr James H. Grayson
of the University of Sheffield in England:

Myths and Legends from Korea: An Annotated 
Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials 
(London, Curzon, 2001). 

or from the Royal Asiatic Society in Seoul

Best regards to you all,
David Mason

David A. Mason  
Special Assistant to the President,   Korea Freedom League
Consultant,  Korea Culture and Tourism Policy Research Institute
WEBSITE:  http://www.san-shin.org

#502-504, Jugong Apts.  Kangdong-gu, Sangil-dong, Seoul City  134-090
Mobile Phone: 011-9743-9753         home FAX: 82-2-442-7391

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