Fall 2007

The Female Principle in the Magoist Cosmogony

Keywords: creation myth, East Asia, folklore, goddess, Korea, PalYeo, Triune Deity, YulYeo


Mago is a yet-to-be-known Great Goddess of East Asia. In documenting and interpreting a wealth of primary sources from Korea, China, and Japan, I have discovered the tangible but "forgotten" tradition of Mago and named it Magoism. By Magoism, I mean the anciently originated gynocentric tradition of East Asia that venerates Mago as supreme authority. This article delineates the Magoist cosmogony written in the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City), the primary text of Magoism whose original manuscript was allegedly first written in the early 5th century and whose modern version has been made available since the mid 1980s. I have interpreted the female principle of the Budoji's Magoist cosmogony in light of a larger corpus of Mago sources from Korea, China, and Japan.

I suggest that the Budoji's origin narrative engenders a gynocentric consciousness in which femaleness is defined as divine. The self-birthing of the Magoist triad, Mago and her two daughters, symbolizes the great cosmic beginning. The Magoist cosmogony is distinguished by its female-principle, embodied in such notions as female-toned cosmic music called PalYoe (Eight female Musical Pitches), the triune pantheon of Mago and her two daughters, their parthenogenetic procreation, the milk-spring, and the genealogy of Mago. The original female principle becomes gender-harmonized when maleness made its entry to the world as grandchildren of Mago.


While such deities as Xiwangmu (the Supreme Goddess of Daoism), Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess of the Japanese imperial family), Matzu (the Goddess of the Sea from Taiwan), and Guanin (the God/Goddess of Compassion in Buddhism) represent the female pantheon of East Asia, Mago 麻姑 remains barely known to the world. Mago is the "forgotten" Great Goddess of East Asia. (1) This article explores the female principle of the Magoist cosmogony as written in the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City). (2) In the Budoji's origin myth, the great beginning is symbolized as the self-birthing of Mago and her two daughters, the primordial triad. It is my view that the Budoji's origin myth rekindles an ancient consciousness that venerates Female as the Divine Principle/Way. Femaleness is not merely a sex/gender quality. It is rather seen as the primal principle/way of existence, the deep reality that humanity must seek and not forget.

The Magoist cosmogony provides an original account for the triune divinity of Mago Samsin (Triune Deity). It illumines the cosmic beginning through the self-birthing of Mago and her two daughters. Its versatile language is filled with yet-to-be-heard sublime female symbols and concepts such as female cosmic music, self-birthing, and earth-milk. PalYoe, the female cosmic music, is described as ultimate creativity from which primordial beings—including stars, Mago, and the Citadel of Mago (earth)—were born. Mago, the anthropomorphic embodiment of ultimate creativity, gives birth to two daughters by parthenogenesis (self-birthing). The text proclaims the Female as the original sex. She is called Woman/Grandmother/Goddess because she is the sex that procreates and administrates. Her two daughters bore daughters and sons by self-birthing. At this point, the male sex/gender makes an entry to the world as grandchildren of Mago.

My Encounter with Magoism

To explain how I came to encounter a reality that illumines my ontological and existential questions is a complex task. (3) It is not merely an intellectual matter. It is also a spiritual, psychological, social, and political act. When this reality remains yet-to-be-known, my task appears overwhelming. This is the case with my story of encountering Magoism. I have not only encountered but also reconstructed Magoism.

I am a native woman of Korea and citizen of the world. And I am indebted to many whose lives have crossed and mingled with mine. I had begun a journey of searching my spiritual and intellectual quests, as a university student activist and, at the same time, a born-again Catholic, in Korea. With a dream to become a cross-cultural missionary, I left Korea and joined a liberal, U.S.-based, Catholic women's overseas missionary congregation. During the training period, I became a Christian feminist. Also I became aware of my own ethnic identity. At last, my missionary experience with the marginalized people/women of the Philippines brought me an excruciating but priceless realization that I no longer wanted to lead a life of a religious missionary.

I disassociated myself from patriarchal upbringing, ideologies, and religious values but embraced my female and Korean identities. During this time, I grieved to my depth as I distanced myself from many familiar beliefs. Yet, I was strong and at peace. I was Be-Coming Myself. Mary Daly's feminist thought, which I soon encountered, was a beacon in my trans-patriarchal voyage. I quenched my ontological thirst by reading and translating her books. (4) My on-going intellectual/spiritual quest, which had been suppressed in my earlier years, brought me to California to pursue graduate degrees.

I began my graduate studies as a feminist spiritual/ideological expatriate. I resisted an identity that was given by patriarchy. Although I took pleasure in feminist studies, I did not take part in any particular feminist activist group. Instead, I continued my own intellectual/spiritual search; this time as a secular hermit who was immersed in the mundane life of finishing my higher degrees while making ends meet. With the hope of holding a clear and lucid vision of myself and the world, I continued my voyage onward.

It was the summer of 2000 when SangYil Kim, Koreanist, handed over the Budoji to me. He may have intuitively understood that I would make use of its feminist implications. This was around the time when I completed the course work for my doctoral degree. However casual or haphazard that single incident appeared to be, it brought an irreversible consequence. The book was like an old, mysterious mirror that beckoned me to come and see. Upon my reading of the Budoji, Mago was no longer an unfamiliar name to me. My soul leaped in realization that She was the ultimate divine after whom I was seeking. Then I found her everywhere. I had no hesitation to choose Mago for my dissertation subject. My advisors did not question my interest in Mago. I pondered about two years, while documenting primary sources, and spent two years of intense writing.

Another level of consciousness cracked open inside me. In Magoism, I found a whole new world that had sunken into the subconscious under patriarchy: the origin myth, the pre-Chinese history, the pro-Magoist Korean identity, and the erased gynocentric civilization of East Asia. Through my research, I discovered and conversed in my imagination with Magoist priestesses and priests, sovereigns, shamans, immortals, grandmothers, witnesses, and supporters, and visited natural and human-made architectural structures across time and space. My consciousness entered a new reality that I longed for but had never traveled before. My life journey began to make sense in Magoism. I was coming Home.

In fact, the remnants of Magoism appear countless throughout East Asia. Rocks (boulders, dolmens, and menhirs), mountains, hills, roads, villages, lakes, ponds, and seas are told to have myths, rituals, place-names, episodes, and histories of Mago. Magoism has resurged, although fragmentarily, through cultural events in Korea in recent years. To name a few; the children's storybook, Mago Halmi (Grandmother); the title of a movie; the name of a female rock band; and the name of a meeting place. (5) National interests in documenting and preserving Korean traditional cultures, equipped with a nationwide online accessibility, have made folktales and place-names concerning Mago visible to an unprecedented extent in recent years. Websites run by cities, citizens, amateur scholars, businesses, and cultural centers list numerous data. Writers, including myself, have written about a variety of Mago literature in journals, newspapers, websites, and blogs.