▲ Illustration by Ko Yeong Man and Published by Jeju Cultural Center (Jejucc.kccf.or.kr)
This is a chapter from the "Myths of Jeju Island" (2012) book published by Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and Jeju Cultural Center. The book was written by Kim Soonie with translation by Song Pill Soon. Illustrations were provided by Ko Yeong Man. Chapter 2 (pages 16-23) is republished here unedited. - Ed.
Juseung Halmang is the goddess of death who accompanies babies to Heaven and every mother in the world is afraid of her. The goddess always carries the flower of ruin and places it by a baby’s bedside while the goddess of babies, Samseung Halmang, is resting. The placement of the flower of ruin by the bedside means death to the baby.
Juseung Halmang was the only daughter of Donghae (East Sea) Dragon King and was born as the result of his one hundred-day prayer. However, she had been a troublesome child since her babyhood. She was disobedient to her parents since infancy; as a child, she was cranky, ill-mannered, and insolent. In her babyhood, she used to bite her mother’s nipple until it bled because the breast did not provide milk quickly enough, and she pulled at and drew out whiskers from her father’s triangle-shaped beard.
She was a naughty girl at the dinner table, throwing her spoon if she felt there were not enough side dishes. Generally, she caused trouble by telling lies about everything among the relatives. She was unbelievably malicious. Her behavior became worse as she grew up. Instead of smiles and laughter of joy and happiness in the Dragon Palace, the place was gloomy and oppressive on account of her childish mischief.
The Dragon King patiently tolerated his disobedient daughter, but he finally made up his mind when she reached the age of seven. He declared,
“That daughter of mine is evil. I can’t stand her anymore. I’ll have to kill her!”
“My Lord, she was the result of our sincere and ardent prayers to Heaven, Earth, and the Sea. She grew for ten months in my womb. Even if she may be evil, she still is our own child and I cherish her much more than someone else’s ten sons. Please save her for me. Just spare her life for me!” the queen appealed to the king with tears in her eyes.
Responding to her appeal, the king called in his blacksmith and ordered him to make a cast iron chest, “Put the girl in the chest and abandon it in the sea!”
Sobbing in fear, the cranky daughter asked her embracing mother,
“Mother, what’s going to happen to me?”
“Daughter, don’t say anything from now on, and just obey your father! That’s the only way to save your life. I don’t believe he’ll kill you. You’ll be wandering afloat on the ocean, and perhaps you may end up landing on the world of humanity someday,” her mother said, trying to console her.
“Mother, how then can I manage living in the world of humanity?”
“You can make women bear babies in their world. This is my last favor to you. Be nice to others, then you’ll find peace yourself.”
“How can I make a baby be conceived and born?” the daughter asked her mother.
“When a healthy maiden and master wed, white blood from father and black blood from mother are mixed to make a new life with bones and muscles, and the new life is in the womb for ten months, and at last a baby is delivered after ten months.”
“From where is the baby delivered?” the daughter was asking hurriedly when she heard the King roaring, “What are you doing there? Get in the chest!”
Before she heard the answer from her mother, she had to get into the cast iron chest. The King allowed his daughter to take with her in the iron chest a silver bottle containing her nourishments and a gold amulet to avert evil. The chest was fastened with 78 locks before being set afloat in the sea. It wandered the ocean riding waves and tides for a few years.
In the meantime at Mt. Amisan, His Excellency Inbyungsa had been praying for a baby for one hundred days. One day, he found a cast iron chest at the shore of the foot of Mt. Amisan. When he opened the chest, inside was a beautiful girl. But she looked pale white and her eyeballs shone ferociously in an evil spirit. So Inbyungsa asked;
“Are you a demon or a living human?”
“How can a demon come to a place like this?” she answered.
“Then, who are your parents and what are their names?”
“The Dragon King of East Sea is my father.
I was the only child of the family.
I’ve been disobedient to my parents, so I was put into the cast iron chest when I was seven.
I wandered afloat over the ocean for three years and
under the water for three years until the chest with me inside landed here.”
“How pitiful are you!”
“I’d like to pay you back for saving my life. What were you praying for?” she asked.
“I was praying one hundred days for the blessing of a baby.”
“I’ll answer your prayer,” and she told him that she had the power to make a new baby.
Then, Inbyungsa’s wife became pregnant and began growing bigger.
But she was not able to deliver a baby, though her ten months of pregnancy had already elapsed. The daughter of the Dragon King learned how to make a baby but she didn’t know how to have a baby born because she didn’t have time to learn that from her mother before she was put into the cast iron chest.
As the delivery date passed, the life of Inbyungsa wife was endangered.
The worried Inbyungsa pleaded Okhwangsangjae (a Heavenly Emperor) for a safe childbirth as well as for his wife’s life.
Thereupon, Okhwangsangjae summoned his emissaries and ordered them,
“Fetch a wise maiden with skilled hands to me as quickly as possible!”
Thereupon, Myungjinkook’s daughter was picked, and one of the emissaries reported,
“This girl has been known for her wisdom, intelligence and brightness since she was seven, and she is able to see things one thousand miles away while sitting down and ten thousand miles afar when standing up.”
“Oh, that’s commendable! I want you to go down to the world of humanity and be Samseung Halmang the protector goddess of babies through pregnancy and delivery.”
“I’ve not learned about nor seen such important duties,” she said, declining politely.
“With your wisdom, intelligence, and sweet temper, you can do it,” the Emperor encouraged her with compliment.
“Your Excellency, I’m grateful and I will do my best. Please show me how to be Samseung Halmang.”
Then, she was given instruction on the delivery of a baby and how to cut the baby’s umbilical cord from the mother.
As she descended to the world of humans, Inbyungsa was trying to help with the birth of his and his wife’s baby. When the newly descended Samseung Halmang, daughter of Myungjinkook, stepped in to help with the delivery, the daughter of the Dragon King abruptly held a long tress of her hair and swung around Myungjinkook’s daughter who asked,
“Who are you? What are you doing?”
“I’m the daughter of the Dragon King. I helped this woman to conceive the baby. Who are you?” she protested.
“I’m a daughter of Myungjinkook. I’m here under the command of His Excellency to take care of babies’ conception, delivery and growth. I’m here to save the lives of both baby and mother,” she declared.
Seeing the two in dispute, Okhwangsangjae summoned both of them, and subjected them to a series of tests to evaluate their wisdom, brightness and sincerity. At last, Myungjinkook’s daughter was picked, and she was assigned to the delivery of Inbyungsa’s wife’s baby.
The daughter of Dragon King would not concede to defeat and she got into a quarrel with the daughter of Myungjinkook.
“Let’s not quarrel about this. Let’s think of the babies first. If we keep quarreling, the babies will get sick and die, don’t you know that?” Myungjinkook’s daughter tried to reason with her.
“Yes, that is what I want. Don’t think I’ll step back! I’m going to ruin these flowers symbolizing the babies!”
“Please don’t be so malicious! When the babies get sick, I will make sure that their mothers set up a recovery altar dedicated to you. Won’t you be pleased with that?” Myungjinkook’s daughter said, trying to appease her opponent.
Observing their quarreling, Okhwangsangjae issued a judgment solemnly,
“Dragon King’s daughter, you can only be a Heavenly Halmang. You have a beautiful look and are from a good family, but you are not sufficient and lack warm virtues to be in the world of humanity. You just don’t have the heart to value the lives of humans.”
Thereafter, Myungjinkook’s daughter was confirmed as Goddess Samseung Halmang who descended to humanity’s world where she looks after conception, pregnancy and birth.
[According to the legend, all mothers consider Samseung Halmang the goddess who protects their babies until they reach the age of fifteen.]
The author, Kim Soonie, is a local mythologist and Jeju representative of the nation’s Cultural Heritage Administration.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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