Yeongdeung Halmang, here depicted by artist Ko Yeong Man, only visits Jeju for two weeks out of the year. Photo courtesy Jeju Cultural Center and Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. Illustration by Ko Yeong Man
Once a year, Yeongdeung Halmang pays a visit to Jeju.
Jeju gods and goddesses are considered members of the community, ancestors – indeed, some of them were once in human form and deified after death, while others arrived as gods on Jeju from elsewhere and stayed, becoming part of the fabric of daily life.
Yeongdeung Halmang, however, is different.
Each year, in the liminal period between winter and spring, she comes roaring in from the sea, entering the island at Hansu Village on the first day of the second lunar month. After 14 days of whirling fiercely about Jeju, she makes her exit at Udo.
Unlike worship of other gods throughout the year, Jeju people have but these two weeks to please Yeongdeung Halmang, their efforts and relationship to her by necessity intense.
For she is fickle, changeable, capricious and pernicious – and, never having lived among humans, has no genuine relationship with them.
In earlier times, therefore, these two weeks – when extremes of wind and cold render it too dangerous for divers and fishers to work – were a time of worship and merriment. A 14-day shamanist “keun-gut,” or great rite, to the goddess was held, during which time all activity was meant to entertain and please her in order to guarantee a safe and bountiful year for an island people dependent upon the sea.
Some also include this goddess in their ancestral ceremonies, or “jesa,” held throughout the year.
Yeongdeung Halmang brings with her the seedling marine creatures and plants, and if happy, scatters her seeds over the surface of Jeju waters. She is accompanied by dolphins, and if they are spotted frolicking in the waters of Jeju during this time, it is an auspicious sign.
When she departs, calling to her a northwest wind which she rides out to sea, she leaves behind an indication of her mood. If there is warm weather at the time of her departure, demonstrating her warmhearted pleasure, the year’s marine harvest will be plentiful; if cold, divers and fishers should beware.
She shares a relationship with Yowang Halmang, Goddess of the Sea and wife of the Dragon King; Yeongdeung Halmang seeds the waters, and it is Yowang Halmang who cultivates them.
A later myth describes Yeongdeung Halmang as scattering seed also over the soil of the island, thus relating her to agriculture; however, this is primarily thought to be the role of Jacheongbi, earth goddess and she who brought the six grains to Jeju.
Yeongdeung Halmang has also been identified at times as a male god. While she may have emerged from a single deity split into male-female, as with Geum Baekjo Halmang and others, this is also likely to be another distortion developed during the Joseon Era in order to disempower women, shamanism, and goddess mythology.
Yeongdeung Halmang’s story begins when, as a young sea goddess, she comes to the aid of sailors who are shipwrecked on a northern island, helping them to escape being devoured by cyclops. She exhorts the men to sail quickly to their home, Jeju Island, without looking back and all the while saying a magical chant, but they lose their focus once their beloved island is in sight – and, the spell broken, are instantly transported back to the island of the cyclops.
The goddess helps them again and this time they return safely home. Meanwhile, enraged by the goddess’ actions – and, by her continual rejection of the cyclops leader’s would-be affections, the cyclops tear the goddess into pieces and scatter her body parts in the sea. The theme of deities helping humans to escape monsters or other dangers, often resulting in their own sacrifice, can be found in many of the world’s myths.
It is Yeongdeung Halmang’s mother, the sea, and her father, the wind, who must find the pieces of her body one by one and stitch them back together, a common motif in the world’s mythology. From this, she becomes a powerful goddess, associated not only with wind and sea but with the scattering of seed over the waters – just as she herself was scattered.
One of the universal themes of shamanism, a practice spread from the Altaic and Tuvan regions of mid-Siberia to cultures throughout the world, is that of the shaman – healer and religious leader – undergoing an initiation which includes a psychological or symbolic process of dismemberment and reassembly. It is believed that only by pro-found disintegration and reintegration can the shaman achieve intimate knowledge of the immaterial world and a corresponding ability to communicate with its spirits.
Yeongdeung-gut, once a 14-day keun-gut but now reduced to rituals of welcome (lunar 2.1) and farewell (2.14), is still held in a number of villages each year. The most well-known today is that of the Chilmeori shrine in Geonip-dong, Jeju City, located on the seaside hill of Sarabong. Having been inscribed by UNESCO in 2009 as World Cultural Heritage, this ritual is preserved by a shamanist society formed for the purpose.
In the weeks following the time of Yeongdeung Halmang, many coastal villages hold a related ritual: jamsu-gut, for the haenyeo or diving women only. Though some villages also invoke Yeongdeung Halmang in the jamsu-gut, it is primarily held in honor of Yowang Halmang, and her wise youngest son as intermediary. While it is important to placate the visiting goddess of wind and sea, it is deemed even more so for the resident sea goddess, the Dragon Queen.
Yeongdeung Halmang will soon visit Jeju once again – as she has done at this time every year throughout the centuries.
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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