Halloween is coming up on October 31st! It is a traditional Western celebration and was held in the United States by Scottish and Irish immigrants who kept Celtic customs. Now the festival is becoming more and more popular here in Korea, so we enjoy it both in the Eastern and the Western society. On Halloween, children dress up as ghosts, witches and zombies and visit their neighbors' homes to get candies and chocolates. As you can see in Halloween costumes, the most representative monsters in the West are witches and zombies and we often see them in movies and books. However, only a few people know about Korean ghosts in detail. There are many different kinds of ghosts in Korea than we know, and their characteristics are all different. So, what ghost stories exist in Korea?
When did Korean ghost folktales first come from?
The earliest known ghost story ever recorded in Korea is probably the story of ‘Bee Hyung Lang’ in the Korean history book, <The Heritage of the Three States>. Bee Hyung Lang is said to be a goblin who was born to a ghost and a widow and knew how to control ghosts at will. The <The Heritage of the Three States>, published by the Buddhist monk Il-yeon during the Goryeo Dynasty, contains many other Korean ghosts, including Bee Hyung Lang. Also, Kim Si-seop's <Geumo Myth>, known as the first Chinese-language novel in Korean literary history, also tells the story of all the main characters falling in love with women ghosts. However, there is a great deal of literature and materials left by the scholars about the ideas, kinds and origins of ghosts. Actually, it seems that many ghost stories have gone from China to Korea and Japan. However, ghost stories and characteristics in each country show distinct characteristics, as they have evolved slightly differently, mixed with each folk belief.
Characteristics of Korean Ghosts
Korean ghosts usually mean ‘Han’ in this world, unable to go to the next world because of sorrow here. Here, Han means regret. There is a difference in emotional and narrative terms from Western ghosts, which are based on black magic, such as resurrection or combination of corpses. However, unlike this, ghosts in Korea have long been considered ubiquitous. Ghosts were thought to exist in mostly pitch-filled areas such as mountain streams, lakes, and woodlands, and often stay in one place for a very long time, and we call it ‘Ji Bak Ryeong’.
Kinds of Korean Ghosts
Ghosts of unmarried Korean women are similar to a water ghost. Same as the other ghosts, water ghosts also have a grudge against the fact that they drowned, so they lure people to their place of death and drag them into the water to kill them. There are many reasons for this behavior, including the theory that they want to make friends because they are lonely, or they have to kill someone else to get out of it. The so-called 'water ghost action' that Koreans commonly say came from a water ghost's attitude, 'let's get together because I should not be the only one who drowns.’ It's the same thing that makes others get caught up in bad things. Even now, in the second month of the lunar calendar and the eighth month of the year, the water ghost is worshiped at the riverside, praying for no drowning accidents.
Chang-gwi is the soul of a man who died from a bite of a tiger. He is said to be a slave to tigers when he became Chang-gwi, and always adhering to the tiger. In order to escape this fate, the Chang-gwi visits the victims, especially its families and relatives in the past. Therefore, the reason why people don’t get related to the Chang-gwi’s family by marriage is because he is likely to stop at their doorstep someday. There is also a sad tale that even though the family know what is in front of them is not a person but a Chang-gwi, they all turned into Chang-gwi because it was once their family member. According to data from the National Folk Museum of Korea, Chang-gwi always cries bitterly and sings sad songs, so if someone sings sad songs without a reason, it can be a Chang-gwi, not human. However, it is said that the person who becomes a Chang-gwi cannot turn a blind eye to the song because being a Chang-gwi is destined to be built up by his previous life's karma.
According to the Korean Folk Divine Dictionary, the spirit of baby who died from smallpox or who died from malnutrition is called Satani. It talks by whistling in the air and appears at the door of the shaman's house to ask if he need a pupil. And if the shaman says yes, it drops itself on him. The shaman in which Satani entered is usually considered highly astute. However, as it is the spirit of infants and children, it is often noisy in front of customers because of its volatility. It also tells us the wrong fortune on purpose. As such, the food and new clothes that children like are said to be offered as gifts due to their strong experience. According to a popular belief, Satani is made in a vicious way. The shaman holds the child captive and starve him and show him the food in the bamboo barrel. Then, the shaman cuts the child's finger and shake it into the bamboo barrel to make a mole. These spells are called Yupme, which has long been banned, but it can be found in various literature.
Ggang-chul-I is a monster that resembles a horse and a cow flying in the sky and subtly resembles a dragon. And it is said to be moving fast and causing disasters that destroy all surrounding crops. While other monsters have similar kinds of monsters in Japan and China, Ggang-chul-I is a monster that was only popular in Joseon, Korea. Ggang-chul-I is written in a ‘Chungjunggwanjunseo’ by Lee Deok-moo, that it is depraved monster which failed be a dragon. According to the story from region named Gimpo, when the village had a drought due to Ggang-chul-I, residents joined forces to drive it out into the sea, which fled and jumped into the sea, and the heat was so hot that the sea boiled.
There are so many named ghosts in Korea. They come down through spoken word, and they remain in various texts. That’s why they have long remained in our memories. Also, through various media outlets, people are sometimes scared and interested. You can still hear ghost stories everywhere, so if you want to know more, ask the Koreans around you! You'll have a creepy and fun time.
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