Dokkaebi: the gullible goblin

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Ireful old woodcutter castigating a not so menacing Dokkaebi

The Dokkaebi is a mischievous, playful fairy-like spirit that is equivalent to the western counterparts of leprechauns in capricious temperament and of goblins in formidable appearance. The legend says it that an old broom made out of dried bush clover with bloodstains on will turn into a Dokkaebi, who will hold a spell over the mind of an unfortunate passer-by at night in the field or on the mountain. Befriending with a Dokkaebi can bring you a fortune at a house that he has lived as your protective spirit, but you must live there for precisely ten years only. Otherwise, the Dokkaebi will leave you with the ruins of your fortune and health. There are still people in Korea who believe this belief tradition by offering the Dokkaebi buckwheat cakes, spirited beverages, and steamed pork when they open businesses and move into new houses. Some people even report seeing them when walking alone in the thoroughfares or any lonely path where lights are dim at night between midnight and 4:00 am.

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A Dokkaebi likes to challenge a passer-by with a wrestling match.

The Dokkaebi may seem to possess the caprice and whims natural to fairy-folk. However, it embodies the human characteristics of compassion, selfishness, naivety, shrewdness, durability, and formidableness. The Dokkaebi reflects the pathos of life indelibly embossed in the collective consciousness of the Koreans. They have endured the anfractuous national tragedies and yet maintained their unique language and culture.

Faerie tales often belong to the days of yore before the advents of industrialization, and the fairies are either imaginative creatures or exaggerated figures of fashionably esoteric religions in the west. Still, the Dokkaebi is a living spirit in the minds of the Koreans and has wept and laughed with Koreans.

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A tiger is a Korean totemic animal that can mimic human voices.

P.S. This post is my solipsistic response to #FariytaleTuesday, whose theme for today is the Asian fairies/spirits in folklore. The community is inundated with the wondrous tales of Japan and China but scarcely Korea. Koreans, like the Irish, love to talk and laugh with precious human sentiments, which result in the creation of the Dokkaebi. The Korean culture, as evidenced in the language, is closer to the cultures of the Ural-Altai language family, including the Finnish, the Japanese, the Turkish, the Hungarians, and the Mongolians.  Since there seems to be a scarcity of Korean spirits represented in the tweets, I felt responsible for writing about this playful Korean spirit with human characteristics.

Fantastic Beast and where to find it

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This is how a Kumiho appeared before the eyes of an enchanted man

I came across the article “Fantastic (Medieval) Beasts” from my subscribed magazine the other day on the train with delight and want to introduce readers another phantasmal beast from Korea called “Kumiho,” meaning a “nine-tailed fox” living in the heart of mountains.

The Kumiho conveys syncretism of totemism and shamanism in which the characteristics of humanity (Intelligence, Beauty, Ambition, Greed, Love) are fantastically intertwined with spiritual beings of natural creatures. Originally born of the spirit of a dead fox, the snow-white, gray-eyed Kumiho with the voice of a baby lives up to a thousand years with a blue magic marble possessing the knowledge of all things in the world.

The Kumiho is also an excellent shapeshifter, often in the figure of a beautiful young maiden to lure a man for marriage, so that it can fully become a human on the 100th day of the marriage. However, if any mortal sees it devouring the livers of livestock or corpses at night before the 100th day, the Kumiho can neither become a human nor will ascend to the celestial kingdom of eternal bliss, but will live another thousand years on earth until it achieves the intention. In fact, there have been accounts that several hikers have sighted the Kumiho deep in the mountains of South Korea…