All nations have a historic past, and many also have foundation myths. Buried deep in the subconscious memory of descendants of Asiatic tribes that moved into southern Manchurua and the Korean Peninsula lies the myth of Tan'gun. Hwanin, the heavenly king, had a son, Hwanung, who wished to live on earth among men. Accompanied by 3,000 followers, Hwanung descended from heaven and appeared under a sandlewood tree on Myohyong-san in North Korea. he ruled over the people that he found there, teaching them agriculture, arts and social behavior.

There was a bear and tiger in this land who wished to become human. They prayed fervently to Hwanung to fulfill their wish, and he looked favorable upon them. Giving each 20 cloves of garlic and a bunch of mugwort, he told them to take only that nourishment and to stay out of the sun for 100 days. They retired to a cave and took the food. Because of growing impatience and hunger, the tiger left the cave. The bear, however, endured and was turned into a woman. Happy with the fulfillment of her wish, she prayed under the sandlewood tree to become a mother. Hwanung gladly obliged, and the bear-woman bore Tan'gun, The Sandlewood King. Tan'gun became the first human king of the people of the peninsula, establishing his capital at Wanggom (P'yongyang) in 2333 B.C. and calling his kingdom Choson meaning morning calm or morning freshness. He later moved his capital to Asadal, where he ruled until 1122 B.C. In that year, Tan'gul took on a spiritual form and a second legendary ruler, Kija, took his place.

Undoubtly of shamanistic origin, this myth is similar to the bear myths and cults of Ainu in Hokkaido and the people of central Asia. While no one takes it as historical fact, the myth of Tan'gun is still told to foster Korean nationalism, and is the basis for the revitalization of the ancient religion Taejong-gyo.

Religion of Taejong-gyo:

Taejong-gyo is a recent revival of the ancient myth of Tan'gun and the foundation of the Korean nation. Born of a heavenly father and an earthly mother transformed from a bear, Tan'gun represents a triune diety: heavenly creator, teacher and law giver and earthly ruler of the Korean nation. Legend says Tan'gun was born in 2333 B.C. and ruled for 1200 years before ascending into heaven. Important doctrines of nationalistic faith include service, love, and charity to others, cultivation of self and truthfulness. Every 3 October, National Foundation Day, white-robed believers make a pilgrimage to Mani-san on Kangwa-do in celebration of the birth of Tan'gun and his dedicated service and instruction to the Korean people.

3 October: National Foundation Day

This day, Kaechon-jol, also called Tan'gun Day, commorates the mythical founding of the Korean nation in 2333 B.C. by the legendary god-king Tan'gun. A simple ceremony is held at the alter on top of Mani-san on Kanghwa-do. The alter is said to have been erected by Tan'gun to offer thanks to his father and grandfather, gods of heaven.

Source: Moon Handbooks. South Korea. Robert Nilson

Take care, 
Henry Buyny