Korean Mythological Creatures

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

In this lesson, we will explore some of the more popular creatures found in Korean mythology, along with descriptions and origin stories associated with them.

Overview

There are quite a few creatures found in Korean mythology. Some are unique, with no equivalent found in Western culture. At the same time, a good number of these creatures have made their way into Korean and, in some rare cases, even American popular culture through films and video games. Understanding these creatures, their appearance, myths, and names will help us become more familiar with them.

The Korean Mythological Bestiary

The bulgasari is an unusual hybrid creature. It's also present in Chinese mythology, and the name for it literally means 'cannot be killed,' or sometimes translates to 'can only be killed by fire,' indicating that fire may be its only weakness. It has the body of a bear with needle-like fur, the nose of an elephant, the eyes of a rhino, the claws of a tiger, and the tail of a bull. There are a variety of myths explaining the origin of this creature, but most agree that it was created by a Buddhist monk, using leftover rice paste, as a reward to his brother-in-law, who killed his wife (the monk's sister). She had been planning on accusing the monk of rape. The creature proceeded to eat metal objects that transformed into a metal hide, until it became big and unkillable. Another part of this myth is that it destroyed nightmares and smallpox. A North Korean film, called Pulgasari, made reference to the creature, although it was depicted as lizard-like.

Dokkaebi are goblins, or sometimes even small, devil-like creatures known for causing mischief. Most carry a spiked club, used to punish wrong-doers or to summon items. In certain tales, they also have a hat, which grants invisibility to its wearer. There are several categories of dokkaebi depending on their appearance or interests. Some prefer to wrestle, for example. Typically, like the gwisin discussed below, they prefer to live in abandoned areas such as deep woods or graveyards. They were actually used as a mascot for many Korean sports teams.

These are actually yokai, the Japanese equivalent to the dokkaebi.
The Japanese Yokai is similar to the dokkaebi.

In Korean mythology, gwisin are generally considered to be ghosts. Typically, these ghosts are female, but there are some tales involving male gwisin. More often than not, gwisin are believed to inhabit abandoned villages and buildings. It is said that these spirits wander the earth because they have unfinished business. They are typically depicted with long, black hair hanging over their faces, wearing white funeral clothes. The gwisin share many common traits with their Japanese counterpart, the onryo. Both are typically female ghosts who seek vengeance for their sorrow which binds them to the earth as spirits. Such figures have made their way into Western culture through horror films, such as The Grudge or The Ring, and video games like 'F.E.A.R'. Typically, credit for the inspiration for these creatures goes to the onryo, but it is safe to say the gwisin reinforces this image of the ghost in Asian culture.

Imugi, sometimes spelled imoogi, is the Korean version of the dragon. More specifically, they are a lesser dragon. In some versions, they were evil dragons cursed to no longer be full-fledged dragons, and in others they are smaller dragons trying to become a full dragon. Either way, they are serpent-like creatures associated with good luck.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support