FALL 2007

The Female Principle in the Magoist Cosmogony

Helen Hye-Sook Hwang

Background Information

A major part of this article is drawn from my dissertation research on Magoism. In a spirit marked by continuous surprises and exhilaration, I was able to document a wealth of the "forgotten" corpus of Mago from Korea, China, and Japan. I soon encountered an organic structure that permeated the fabric of East Asian civilizations and named it Magoism. Magoism refers to the anciently originated cultural matrix of East Asia, which venerates Mago as originator, progenitor, and sovereign. (6) Mago as originator completes and maintains the self-equilibrating power of the universe. According to the cosmogonic narratives of the Budoji and folktales from Korea, Mago moves and relocates the primordial water and land; including mountains, megaliths, rivers, ponds, and villages.

While the term Magoism is my neologism, the notion of Magoism proves to be archaic in origin. Magoism is explicitly and implicitly referred to as "the State of Mago," "the Principle of Mago," and "the Affair of Mago," in various pieces of literature from Korea. The Budoji records that most people forgot "the Affair of Mago" and that "the Principle of Mago" became vain, when the Sovereignty of Dangun—more commonly known as Old Choson (c. 2333-232 BCE), the ancient state of Korea, which I call the third Magoist confederacy—underwent the process of disintegration caused by the invasion of neighboring Chinese regimes. (7) Also the Goryoesa [Chronicle of the Goryoe Dynasty] records that people sang, "Ah, ah, if the State of Mago leaves us now, when will it return?" during the twilight period of Goryoe Korea (918-1392 CE) (8)

People's longing for the return of the State of Mago appears in many folk literature pieces as well as written records of Korea, China, and Japan. To name a few among Korean sources: a folk lyric, the Ujo or Men's Song, sings about a vagabond who asks people as well as animals if they know Mago's dwelling place; a poem engraved on Nakhwaam (Rock of Falling Flowers) expresses a nostalgic wish of the poet/government official to meet Mago again; Saga, the Sukhyangjeon (Tale of Sukhyang), portrays a male protagonist who asks Mago about the dwelling place of Mago without recognizing that he is speaking to her. In these pieces, Magoism is often addressed simply as Mago. To cite some examples from the Chinese context, Ta’ao T’ang (Tang poet) of the mid 8th century sang, "Once Miss Hemp [Magu] has gone away, none knows when she will come again." (9) An earlier record, the Maguzhuan (Biology of Magu) by Ge Hong (284-364 CE) and an epitaph, the Magushan Xiantanji (Record of the Altar of an Immortal in Mt. Magu) by Yan Zhenqing (709-785 CE) also address Magu (Chinese transliteration) in relation to her immemorial origin and her legacy on Mt. Magu. (10) In a Japanese source, The Tale of the Heike, Mt. Mako (Japanese transliteration) is referred to as a place where the deceased emperors return. (11)

According to my assessment, the history of Magoism dates back to several thousand years BCE within East Asian societies, to the mythic period of origin. I divide the history of Magoism into six distinctive periods; mythic, archaic, Budo, post-Budo, dark age, and modern revival. My historical reconstruction of Magoism not only suggests pre-Chinese histories of East Asian Magoist peoples but also reconfigures territorial demarcations among East Asian peoples particularly of Korea, China, and Japan. Since ancient Koreans are identified as pro-Magoists, the history of Magoism necessarily exposes the lost history of ancient Koreans. (12)

The mid 1980s marked a watershed in the modern history of Magoism with the reemergence of the Budoji [Epic of the Emblem City], (13) and the Handan Gogi [Archaic Chronicles of Han and Dan], (14) which I see as two major texts of Magoism. Of the two, the Budoji occupies a unique place, as it presents the epic of Magoism beginning with a universal origin story that is succeeded by the history of the archaic Magoist states. My first acquaintance with the Budoji opened my eyes to a yet-to-be-named tradition of Mago. The overt gynocentric principle that runs through this epic text was a strong attraction for me. Intrigued by the Budoji, I began to seek a larger corpus related to Mago by asking various friends in Korea if they had heard of Mago. (15) The result was beyond my expectations. I soon learned that Magoist literature such as folklore, paintings, poems, sagas, shaman lyrics, as well as written texts exist not only in Korea but also China and Japan in abundance.

For example, I documented over 300 folktales on Mago including place-names from Korea alone. (16)

In Korea, a good number of folktales documented in the Legends from Jejudo (1976) and the Hanguk Gubi Munhak Daegye [A Survey of Korean Oral Literature] (1980) predate the reemergence of the Budoji. Nonetheless, these modern documentations of Mago folktales should not be deemed as an indicator that Mago folktales began to appear only at this time in Korea. It is plausible that many folktales originated earlier than the Budoji. Dating the oral tradition of Magoism is a particularly precarious issue because Magoism remains largely unrecognized in academic domains even to this day. While some symbols such as rocks, mountains, birds, foxes, snakes, spirals, and meanders appear Paleolithic in origin other sources including written texts, epigraphs, sagas, paintings, poems, folk songs, and shamanic lyrics from Korea, China, and Japan appear to have been produced throughout history, beginning with the earliest written text of the Maguzhuan (Biography of Magu) by Ge Hong, dated between the late 3rd and mid-4th century CE.

Since a major part of my focus in this article is on the Budoji, I will give a brief survey of the text. The modern 1986 Korean version of the Budoji was derived from the notes and memory of Geum Bak (1895-death unknown), a descendent of the alleged original author, Bak JaeSang. Geum Bak, as modern scribe of the Budoji, presents evidence proposing that this book was originally written in the early 5th century. Geum Bak adds that the Budoji is the first volume of the 15 books entitled the Jingsimrok (Literature of Illuminating Mind/Heart), written by Bak JaeSang. (17) While the original text of the Budoji is thought to have been lost due to the out-break of the Korean War in 1950, the 1986 version appears to be the sole surviving text thus far.

My work suggests that one way to validate Geum Bak's testimony is to read the Budoji within the context of a larger corpus of Mago sources, which I listed above. Moreover, I hold that the Budoji should be read from a feminist perspective. The female principle explicated in the Budoji may well appear irrelevant if not spurious to scholars with androcentric perspectives who deem ancient Korean history and culture as unquestionably patriarchal. In accessing the issue of the Budoji's value or authenticity as a text, one needs to consider the controversy over the history and culture of ancient Korea among non-mainstream scholars and the general public in Korea. If one raises a question of the authenticity of the Budoji, he/she may have to provide counter-arguments to this controversy. Under this situation, mainstream Koreanists inside and outside Korea have kept silence about the Budoji along with the Handan Gogi (Chronicles of Han and Dan), which I consider as a second major text of Magoism. In order to overcome this tacit resistance, I have endeavored to show how the Budoji and the Handan Gogi are mutually supportive; moreover, that these two texts are supported by various forms of literature not only from Korea but also from China and Japan.

While the silent treatment by mainstream Koreanists appears as disinterest if not a stumbling block to my use of both texts, I hold that my historical reconstruction of Magoism based on these two texts has far-reaching implications. It grants a new scheme in which East Asian histories and cultures are viewed in a radically new light from a female gender perspective. In fact, my work coincides with the current situation in Northeast Asia which Chinese, Korean, and Japanese peoples are engaged in the battle of re-writing their nationalist historiographies. I have discussed why my work should not be lumped together with the Korean nationalist view in my dissertation. (18) In my view current knowledge about ancient Korean history and culture—a product of Chinese and Japanese imperialists as well as pro-Chinese and pro-Japanese Korean subordinates—is on the verge of disintegration. From the perspective of Magoism, this is an event that has been long overdue. Ultimately, my reconstruction of Magoism contributes to East Asian Studies beyond the realm of historiography. It re-envisions East Asian religions such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism as patriarchal offshoots of ancient Magoism. This is a complex discussion that needs a separate space for writing.

The Budoji contains commentary proposing that ancient (pre-Chinese) Koreans generated a flowering of Magoism and defended it. It accounts for a coherent historical trajectory of Magoism from the mythic time of the cosmogonic origin, through ancient Korean (pre-Chinese East Asian) states before c. 7199 BCE, until the early centuries of Silla Korea (c. 57 BCE-935 CE). Its mythic language conveys pre-patriarchal consciousness, and its multi-faceted holistic view is distinguished for its non-linear, non-hierarchical, and non-monist perspectives.

The first two chapters of the Budoji, which I introduce in this article, contain only a small part of the Magoist epic (a total of 33 chapters). I read these two chapters in light of the immediately successive chapters, which relate the creation acts of Mago Samsin (the triad), the procreation of her daughters and grandchildren, the stabilization of the Citadel of Mago, epicenter of the world, and the paradisaical life of immortal ancestors. I acknowledge that my interpretation of these two chapters is influenced by other materials, including hundreds of folktales that tell of Mago as "creator" (read originator: see note 5).

In approaching the Magoist cosmogony, it is necessary to explain some cosmological assumptions. In the Budoji, cosmic time and space are described as three epochs: the Former Heaven (Seoncheon); the intermediary period called JimSe (One’s World); and the Latter Heaven (Hucheon). Although the term heaven conveys a spatial dimension for modern readers, it is used in the Magoist context to indicate both space and time simultaneously. In other words, the concept of time does not exist in separation from space. Time is space-bound and vice versa. These three macrocosmic epochs, however, do not represent monolithic concepts of time in which past, present, and future are construed as linearly separate entities. Rather, they present the spiraling of time/space evolution. Points of the past, the present, and the future are not static but positional. In this cosmology, to speak technically, there is one direction to which time/space flows within a circle of time/space. To speak realistically, however, we humans live in multi-layered times/spaces. Magoist cosmology invites us to a reality in which we as human communities encounter past, present, and future events at once and in a continuum.

In the Magoist cosmology, the emergence of Mago demarcates the three cosmic epochs. The Former Heaven refers to the time before Mago’s emergence, whereas JimSe, the intermediary epoch, refers to when Mago and her two daughters and then their daughters and sons (referred to as immortals) began their lives. The Latter Heaven unfolds when and where the self-creation by all beings continues to evolve. (19)