Geum Baekjo Songdang sin-gwa se-gut to Geum Baekjo. Photo Anne Hilty
Geum Baekjo Halmang is the mother of all shamanist gods of Jeju.
The patron deity of Songdang Village, Geum Baekjo Halmang is the embodiment of agriculture. She also portrays the change experienced by most cultures around the world as they shift from hunter-gatherer into agrarian societies, from nomadic and communal lifestyle to stationary civilizations with a concept of ownership.
She is a model to modern women, this goddess, as, when she determined that her marriage was unsuitable, she left her husband and took her children with her, electing to become a single mother rather than stay in a discordant marriage.
Ultimately, she returned to her husband and bore more children with him, deeming it best for the well-being of her offspring.
It can be said of Geum Baekjo Halmang that she is a goddess who knows her own mind, and makes her decisions accordingly.
The basis of this deity was said to be male, emerging from China and eventually diverging into male and female entities, becoming Geum Baekjo Halmang and her husband. This follows the Chinese Taoist theory of yinyang, or male-female as one entity. Many of Jeju's gods and goddesses were thought to have come from 'across the sea,' either from China or Japan, or emerging from the sea itself. They were viewed as adventurers, seeking a new life for themselves, which brought them to this island.
In the primary myth of this goddess, she meets a young man one day while walking along a road in the eastern part of Jeju. They determine their suitability and marry, and she bears children. However, one day she discovers that he is not the man for her after all.
Her husband, Socheonguk, is a hunter, spending his days and nights in the mountains, often unsuccessful and incapable of feeding their children, unsophisticated and uneducated. He takes what he wants, ruling by might and control, without any understanding of ownership.
She brings his lunch to him one day, which he offers to share with a passing monk who greedily eats all of it; when he discovers this, Socheonguk eats his own cow instead. His hunger unsatisfied, he spies his neighbor's cow, and eats that as well, without a second thought.
Geum Baekjo Halmang is horrified by his deed. She is repelled by the stench of blood that he bears, and even more by his lack not only of remorse but even of understanding of his wrongdoing. Determining that she cannot live with such a man, she takes her children and leaves him.
As it happens, she is pregnant at that time, and bears the child alone, Socheonguk having taken another wife in a coastal village. When the son reaches the age of 7, he asks to meet his father and she agrees; upon their meeting, the son pulls Socheonguk's beard and acts in generally mischievous ways which serve to further enrage the father who is already furious with Geum Baekjo Halmang for leaving him.
The father determines to kill the son, a common mythological theme, partly in retribution for his wife's desertion. The mother pleas for her son's life, and he is instead locked in a metal box – filled with books by the mother so that he can become a scholar – and thrown into the sea, another common motif in the world's myths. Geum Baekjo Halmang then returns to her husband in order that he might not harm her other children – the self-sacrificing mother an archetype found throughout world mythology.
The son, Gwenaegitdo, spends 7 years at sea and is ultimately rescued by the Dragon King's daughters. After many years of adventure during which he marries a princess and becomes a warrior, he returns home triumphant – and upon learning of his safe return, the son who is both scholar and warrior, Geum Baekjo Halmang dies, her life complete, and is enshrined among the eternal deities.
Her husband, Socheonguk, dies a terrible death. As in a majority of Jeju myths, the woman / goddess is depicted as strong, while the man / god is either flawed or of little consequence. As further evidence of this motif, shrines often have a main altar to a goddess, and a lesser altar near the gate to her husband – a caretaker image.
Gwenaegitdo, the wronged son whom his mother protected, becomes the patron deity of a cave shrine in Gimnyeong, which he ultimately abandons to become a wandering god. Another of Geum Baekjo Halmang's sons becomes the patron god of Waheul bon-hyang-dang, or village shrine – who, when he treats his wife unfairly, is berated by his mother to be a kinder husband.
She is said to have borne approximately 360 children, corresponding to both the number of oreum on Jeju and the days of the year, and to be the mother of all shamanist gods of the island, a Great Mother archetype.
– Kim Soonie, Jeju native, is a mythologist and Jeju representative of the nation's Cultural Heritage Administration. Anne Hilty is a cultural health psychologist from New York who now makes Jeju Island her home. Interpretation / translation was provided by Han Youngsook, Jeju native and instructor at Jeju National University.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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