Mountains dominate Korean culture. Shawn shares tales hidden in the fog cloaked peaks. Remember these as you hike through Korea’s intoxicating fall foliage.

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  • Mountains are ubiquitous in Korea; long important to Korean livelihood, culture, and lore
    • Koreans love hiking (new past time, not particularly traditional), especially in autumn
      • Old traditions included deung-go, a picnic in the mountains to observe autumn leaves, poetry, and booze
    • Korea’s founding myth features Dangun who is said to have founded Gojoseon over 4000 years ago
      • His father was the son of the Lord of Heaven who descended to earth and built the City of God (shin-shi) on Baekdusan
        • All of this eventually led to the legend of the founding of Korea’s first dynasty Gojoseon; I won’t describe it here – it’s very well known and can be found in dozens of books and websites 
    • Baekdu Daegan is main mountain system running along the east coast of the peninsula, consisting of two mountain ranges, Taebaek and Sobaek; tallest mountain is Baekdu in North Korea, the northern terminus of Baekdu Daegan; tallest in South Korea (mainland) is Jiri, southern terminus of Baekdu Daegan; tallest mountain in South Korea is Halla, but it isn’t part of Baekdu Daegan
  • Central folkloric/religious figure in Korean mountain culture is sanshin, the mountain gods
    • They are mostly depicted as old men but there are depictions of women as sanshin, sometimes referred to as yeo-sanshin
      • An interesting female depiction (in a painting) is of Queen Min at a small shrine in Surak-san; the shrine was discovered by David Mason in the 80s; he took photos of it but never got around to going back
        • With information from David, I went looking for the shrine last year – I asked local monks, but they were unsure
        • I found the foundations of an small building long gone – from what I can gather, that’s where the shrine was
        • What happened to the painting? 
    • Some traditions highlight the importance of communing with sanshin
      • This is believed by shamans and Buddhists, a symbol of the harmony of belief between them and indication that Chinese Buddhism blended with Korean shamanism to create Korean Buddhism
      • Gyerongsan is a focal mountain for communing with sanshin
        • People have long visited there to commune with the sanshin, often with the goal of becoming a shaman
        • I’ve come across tiny shelters in Gyerongsan where people stay for a few years attempting this communication
        • Rituals to honour sanshin are called sanshinje; there is a large sanshinje at Gyerongsan every year
          • Shamans perform gut; I’ve seen shamans at this ritual who claimed they were possessed by ghosts 
      • Inwangsan in Seoul is also a central mountain for mountain folklore and shamanic culture
        • I witnessed an alleged exorcism here 
        • There are many rock formations, one of them looks just like a human skull
    • Mason met an old monk in the early 2000s who claimed he communed with the sanshin of Jirisan at a remote hermitage high on one of the peaks; *share story
    • Many mountains have altars on their summits that are still used for folkloric rituals to honour spirits, sometimes sanshin
      • Chamseong-dan on Mani-san
        • Said to have been originally built and used by Dangun to give offerings to Heaven (essentially to his grandfather Hwan’in, perhaps also his father Hwang-woong)
      • Cheonje-dan on Taebaek-san
        • Three altars around the summit used since at least Shilla, but there are suggestions that the area has been used for harvest rituals long before Shilla
        • The central altar is Cheonwang-dan and is linked to Dangun
        • It is listed as National Folklore Cultural Heritage #228  
    • for more info on sanshin
  • There are a lot of folktales from the mountains, many of them are ghostlore
    • Seoraksan is on the east coast, famed for its autumn foliage
      • One its folktales highlights the undying love a mother has for her child
        • Share folktale of Daeseung, which led to the falls being named Daeseung Falls
    • Dalgyal (or Dalgyal gwishin) is a well known ghost said to haunt mountains
      • It’s faceless and in some tales is also said to be limbless
      • It’s hostile and often said that, if you see one, it’s the last thing you ever see
    • Ghost encounters
      • I’ve met people who claimed to have (maybe) encountered ghosts in the mountains (maybe because they are skeptical) 
        • One claimed that while camping he was roused from sleep by a ghost that kicked him
          • He’s unsure what it was but says it was dawn, he wasn’t in a deep sleep, and certainly felt a kick like soldiers do to wake those in their company; a ghost from the war?
        • I saw a strange shape in Bukhansan once; tell story – saw similar thing in the mountainous cemetery near my house a few months ago
  • Mountains are often sites for murders and burial of victims
    • We’ve discussed the Frog Boys in our missing persons episode
    • I discussed the case of a 16 year old girl who was found dead on a mountain after mysterious circumstances a couple years ago
    • April 2016: murder on Eodeungsan, Gwangju
      • a man named Kim had been taking medication for a mental health condition for 30 years; in January 2016 he stopped taking his medication
      • In April, he visited a psychiatric hospital with family; they wanted him admitted; he ran away
      • He stole a military uniform and a 20cm knife
      • He went into Eodeungsan where he came across an elderly man named Lee
        • Kim attacked Lee with the knife, stabbing him nine times, killing him
        • Kim then descended the mountain where he threatened other hikers
      • Kim was apprehended quickly
      • Kim said Lee was threatening and dangerous, and was especially going to have Kim sent to the psychiatric hospital; Kim said Lee had to be killed in self-defence
        • He said the hikers he threatened were also dangerous and wanted to hill him, but didn’t say why he didn’t attack them
  • The next comic will focus entirely on mountain-centric tales