Korea's Religious Places - 4.2 Daejonggyo (Religion of Dangun)
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
|← Previous||Korea's Religious Places||Next →|
|* Cheondogyo Central Temple (Seoul)||2) Daejonggyo (Religion of Dangun)_* Mt. Manisan (Ganghwado Island, Incheon)||3) Won-Buddhism_* The Sacred Territory of Iksan (Iksan, Jeollabuk-do)|
Mt. Manisan (Ganghwado Island, Incheon)
There was a myth, thought to be one of the Goguryeo myths from the northern part of Korea, recorded in Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, 1281), but having an oral tradition that predates the compilation in the thirteenth century, that told of a bear that desired to be human and was transformed into a beautiful woman, who then mated with a god and gave birth to Dangun, the first Korean ruler. According to the legend, he ruled for 1,500 years and spread benefits to the people—this has become the ideal for good rulers in Korea.
In 1909, a man named Na Cheol started teaching that Dangun had ascended to heaven to become the third of the gods in a triumvirate that ruled the heavens. There was God the Father, the creator of the universe; God the Teacher, who teaches of universal truths; and God the King, the ruler of creation. It was God the Teacher who came to earth and mated with the bear-woman to produce Dangun, who, when he ascended to heaven, became God the King.
The religion had great appeal to those who were learning about the concept of nationhood and nationalism as the Japanese were growing in imperial ambition and about to take over Korea. The rationale then, and to an extent today, was that Korea needed its own native religion. Other religions were imported. Christianity was an import. And, for that matter, so were Buddhism and Confucianism. The true religion for Koreans should be an indigenous belief system, and Daejonggyo (the religion of the great ancestor) or Dangunism fit the bill.
The sacred space for Daejonggyo is the altar atop Mt. Manisan, a mountain on Ganghwado Island. There ceremonies are held on the national holiday called Gaecheonjeol, “Opening of Heaven Day” (National Foundation Day), October 3. The actual mountaintop where Dangun was born is in North Korea today, but the site on Ganghwado Island, where it is known that Dangun set up an altar and carried out the ceremonies to heaven (jecheon ceremonies), has become the official site for South Koreans.
Na Cheol, after founding the religion in 1909, soon found his movement suppressed by the Japanese when they took over control of the peninsula; therefore, he took refuge in Manchuria. In 1916, with a statement that he had failed to prevent Japan’s takeover, he committed suicide in protest. But the religion lives on. A 1995 survey said there were about 10,000 people who adhered to the doctrine.