|Images of Hwan-ung (Son of the Lord
of Heaven / Father of King Dan-gun)
and Ung-nyeo (Dan-gun's Mother)
The myth of "Holy Hwan-ung", son of Hwan-in the Lord [Emperor] of Heaven and father of King Dan-gun,
is told in the first section of the Sam-guk Yusa [Legends of the Three Kingdoms, written by monk Iryeon in
the 12th Cen]. He willingly descended from Heaven to "Taebaek-san" [Grand White Mountain, actual
location unknown] and founded a "Spiritual City", bringing Bronze-Age culture and government to the
primitive proto-Korean tribes around there. Portraits of him are quite rare in Korea -- there is no
"typical" style. I have no evidence that any were ever made before the late 20th Century. Here, he sits
on the ground in a forest, wearing robes of leaves and animal-skins (echoed in the mantle of leaves on
the shoulders of some San-shin and dongja figures). These are symbols of "a man of nature", a ruler in
primitive times, and used in some Chinese Daoist deities. Throughout this website there are several
examples of this motif echoed in San-shin paintings. Black hair and beard, no crown.
Hwan-ung is shown here with a bear and a tiger, who desire to become human. He is presenting them
with the way to do so -- garlic (in the bear's mouth) and mugwort (in his hand).
He is sort of the "Grandfather of all San-shin".
This is an extremely rare depiction of the bear,
holding the sacred herbs, before it won the
"contest" over the tiger and transformed into
Ung-nyeo [bear-woman]. Lord Hwan-ung mated
with her, and became the mother of Dan-gun,
King of the first Korean Kingdom (see page 208
in my book). Ung-nyeo then drops out of all
Korean stories, art and religion, curiously --
tigers (extinct in Korea) are ubiquitous, but bears
in general (once common in Korean mountains,
now only a few remain) appear quite rarely.
These two paintings were shown to me by my
friend Professor Kim Sang-il.
This is an excellent depiction of Hwan-ung and Ung-nyeo (after her transformation,
obviously). They stand next to the Holy Tree (birch?) and a pine (like those which
San-shin always sit under) near the peak of "Taebaek-san" (here depicted as
Baekdu-san, with its Lake of Heaven). The tiger, having failed to become human,
walks away. The Sun & Moon [yin & yang] both shine above, as in many Korean
Shamanist paintings. This painting was done by modern Korean artist Lee Sook-ja
in 1999, after she visited North Korea.
Another painting of Hwan-ung, with his father and his son, is shown on this page.