Korean mythology is absolutely amazing and swamped with fantastic legendary creatures. However, in this article, we will do an in-depth examination of Korean goblins, or Dokkaebi (도깨비). It has become an increasingly famous mythological creature in recent years due to its presence in popular media. Fans of the Korean drama Goblin may believe they are quite familiar with the creature. However, the historical myth is a far cry from the handsome, kind-hearted Gong Yoo.
Throughout Korean history, folktales and legends from different parts of the peninsula passed from generation to generation through storytelling and became ingrained in Korean culture. Most of Korea’s folktales were not recorded in writing until the 12th century. However, it is evident through artwork that legends of goblins and other mythological creatures existed long before that. Perhaps, dating all the way back thousands of years, to prehistoric times.
While some mythological characters are fairly realistic and well-grounded, others are described as creatures with magical powers passed down from the gods. Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism play an integral part in forming the majority of Korea’s myths. Even though the main religion in Korea changed throughout history, the evidence of its ancient religious history remains in its storytelling.
Korean Goblins are born from abandoned or discarded objects that are stained with humans’ blood. The more people who have bled on the object, the fiercer the goblin. Often they are born from murder weapons or soldiers’ swords.
Their appearance is vastly different from the human form. They may have their own appearance, meaning no two goblins look alike. However, they have a common thing, which is their fearsome appearance.
They are described as having such a grotesque appearance that your soul leaves your body and you momentarily lose your breath when your eyes land on them. In some versions of the myth, they have only one right leg or a single eye.
Pairing with their scary looks, Goblins are mischievous and sneaky. In some stories, they play jokes and challenge travelers with high-stakes riddles. Some myths even mention wrestling matches between goblins and humans.
Goblins carry magical powers, therefore, they are supernatural and can do the thing that humans cannot do. Despite their terrifying appearance and threatening powers, many stories present Korean goblins in a positive light.
For example, they often either punish the bad guy or reward good, kind-hearted people. In fact, the most common stories involve goblins using their powers to help farmers live better lives.
Nowadays, many people who practice shamanism still participate in rituals dedicated to Korean goblins. These are some of the most lighthearted shamanistic ceremonies. They involve dancing, playing games, and food offerings in the form of traditional snacks and candies. Farming communities often do these rituals while wishing for a good harvest, to ward off evil spirits, and to encourage long and happy lives.
However, there are some communities that believe they are host to evil Goblins. These goblins have turned against humans for one reason or another. However, often it is due to humans’ cruel actions towards nature or the goblin itself. As a result, evil Goblins curse communities with bad luck, diseases, and unfruitful harvests. In this case, shamans often perform exorcism-like rituals to remove goblins from the area.
There are multiple types of Korean goblins. Each type of goblin has its origins in a different region of the Korean peninsula. Today I will go over four of the most common types of Korean goblins featured in modern popular media and childrens’ stories.
Weather Goblins are commonly featured in mythology from Korea’s western coast. It is believed that they controlled events such as typhoons and the conditions of the sea. Many fishing communities worshiped weather goblins and prayed to them for safe conditions. Korean historians believe that many early weather goblin myths evolved into tales of dragons as Chinese influence increased.
This is the most common type of goblin featured in Korean mythology. While there are legends of fairy goblins throughout North and South Korea, the most popular stories are believed to have originated in Jeolla-do and Gyeonggi-do.
They are described as low-ranking gods who are often miniature in size and can fly. They are extremely mischievous and independent in nature. More often than not, fairy goblins are blamed when things go missing around the house (similar to the western leprechaun). Additionally, they have magic powers and often carry magical objects such as invisibility hats and magic bats.
It is said that if you burn a traditional Korean broom, fairy goblins will reveal themselves and try to run away.
This is actually the type of goblin that is most common in Japanese mythology. In Japanese, insidious goblins are called Oni (鬼). As such, many of the regions where these stories originate from had regular historical contact with Japan, such as Busan and Daegu.
They are evil goblins that have turned against humans. Often, they are thought to be responsible for plagues and bad harvests. However, there are some darker tales where insidious goblins gain a preference for the taste of human flesh. In that case, they murder and eat unsuspecting villagers.
Lucky goblins are often deities worshiped by local inland and mountain communities in Korea. They are friendly towards humans. Often they are featured in stories feeding beggars and helping elderly farmers. They are the type of Korean goblin most commonly worshiped in local shamanism.
Want to learn more bout Korean mythological creatures? Click Here to read about the 8 most common creatures featured in Korean fairytales.