IntroDan-gun pattern is named after Dan-gun Wanggeom (also known as Dan-gun or Tangun) was the legendary holy founder of Gojoseon (or Old Joseon), the first recorded state in Korean history, in 2333 BCE. This state covered the northern part of the Korean peninsula and parts of northeast China. Artifacts associated with the Gojoseon culture, such as mandolin-shaped bronze daggers and dolmens, have been found in these areas but to learn more about Dan-gun we have to study written sources, tradition, and myths.
Like most Asian nations, Korea has a myth about the origins of their people. China has the legend of the Yellow Emperor and Japan has the myth of the Sun Goddess. Korea has the legend of their descent from Dan-gun, which is still taught today to elementary school level students.
The legend of Dan-gunThe legend of Dan-gun was first recorded by the 12th-century scholar, statesman, and general Kim Pu-Sik in his historical work Samguk-yusa (Annals of the Three Kingdoms), the earliest and most important surviving source of history on the three kingdoms of Korea. The legend is also chronicled in the Jewang Ungi (Rhymed Chronicles of Sovereigns) which was written toward the end of the 13th century CE.
These works tell about the earliest Korean people, believed to have come from present-day Manchuria, northern China, and Mongolia. These people eventually formed tribal leagues which collectively became ancient Korea or Joseon, literally meaning "Land of the Morning Calm." They ruled the territory between the Liac River in southern Manchuria and the Taedong River in central North Korea.
Among these people, the most powerful clan was the Bear Totem family, which provided most of the rules for this tribal league. Since the word "gom" means both king and bear in ancient Korean languages, this may have had influence on the bear part of the Legend of Dan-gun.
The beginning of the legendThe legend of Dan-gun begins in a time when heaven and earth were one and animals could speak as humans. Hwan-in (called the Lord of Heaven) was Dan-gun’s grandfather and his father, Hwan-ung, was one of Hwan-in’s younger sons. As a younger son, Hwan-ung had no hope of succeeding his father so for him to be a ruler and avoid conflict with his older brothers, he had to go somewhere where he could rule his own kingdom. So, he asked his father to send him down to earth so that he could govern his own land.
Hwan-in granted the request and surveyed the earth and determined that Mount Taebaek-san (Grand White Mountain), which is located in modern-day South Korea, was the most suitable site for this venture. In some versions of the tale, the chosen site was Paektu (also spelled Baektu) Mountain, on the border between present-day North Korea and China.
Hwan-ung then descended onto a sacred Pak-tal (sandalwood tree) on the peak of Mount Taebaek-san and declared himself the “King of the Universe.” He brought 3,000 spirit followers and three ‘heavenly seals’ or treasures with him. He governed his kingdom with the help of three spirit ministers: the "Wind General," the "Rain Governor," and the "Cloud Teacher." They established a government of laws and moral codes where agriculture, medicine, as well as various sciences and arts, were taught. However, Hwan-ung began to realize that to reign over a human kingdom one day, he would need to be in a human form. The next part of the story pertains to Dan-gun’s mother, and it involves a tiger and a bear.
The tiger and the bearThese two animals came to Hwan-ung’s kingdom and yearned to become human beings. When Hwan-ung heard their prayers, he decided to give them a chance and gave each animal a bundle of mugwort and 20 cloves of garlic. Hwan-ung instructed them to eat only these sacred foods and to stay in a cave and avoid sunlight for 100 days. After this, they would become human beings. Both did as they were told and retreated into a cave.
The tiger, because of his fierceness and his hunger, could not endure the entire 100 days and came out of the cave after only a few days. But the bear, with greater patience and faith, stayed for the duration. Nearing the end of the 100 days, the bear began to lose its fur and its back feet began to change until at the end of the 100th day the bear was fully transformed into a beautiful woman. She became known as Ung-yeo, which means, "the girl incarnated from a bear."
The Ung-yeo was grateful to Hwan-ung and made offerings to him. Soon, however, she became sad, as she realized that she had no companion. She went to the sacred sandalwood tree on the peak of Mount Taebaek-san and prayed for a child to accompany her. At that moment, Hwang-ung was passing by on the wind, saw her sitting by a stream, and was moved by her prayers. Hwan-ung transformed himself into a male human and mated with the Ung-yeo. Nine months later, her son was born on Mount Myo-hyang under the Pak-tal tree and was named Dan-gun Wang-gum, Lord of the Pak-tal Tree.
The first kingdom is foundedIt is believed that Dan-gun founded Gojoseon, Korea’s first kingdom, in 2333 BCE when men of the "nine wild tribes," called the Ku-i, found Dan-gun sitting under the Pak-tal tree. These men wore clothes made with grasses and ate fruits, berries, nuts, and roots. They lived beneath the trees during the summer and in holes in the ground in the winter. Into their simple life, Dan-gun introduced the rite of marriage, the subject-king relationship, the arts of cooking and house building, the cutting of trees, agriculture, and how to bind up their hair with a cloth. He also introduced religious worship and is said to have built the first altar on Kang-wha Island. Today, this altar is atop the island's highest peak, Muni-san, and is known as Dan-gun's Altar. Dan-gun ruled the kingdom and lived with his wife, Pi-so-ap, and his sons, who are said to have built the fortress of Sam-nang at Chung-dung Island.
In some accounts, the capital of Dan-gun’s kingdom was Pyongyang, which is also the capital of present-day North Korea. Dan-gun later moved his capital to Asadal, speculated to be on Mount Guwol-san in Hwanghae Province. In other accounts, Asadal is named as the original capital of Gojoseon.
In 1122 BCE, the uncle of the Shang King of China, Ki-ka, escaped the overthrow Shang Dynasty and migrated to Korea with 5,000 of his followers and began to take control of the land. According to the legend, after reigning for 1,500 years, Dan-Gun fled from the Ki-Ja forces to the mountain town of Mun-wha where, at the age of 1908, he became a Sanshin (an immortal mountain spirit) and disappeared from the earth. Today, the shrine to the "trinity" in Mun-wha contains his supposed 410-foot in circumference “grave.” The Ki-ga e ruled Korea from 1122 BCE to 193 BCE, teaching the people Chinese culture in the form of letters, reading, writing, medicine, and art.
Dan-gun’s legacyAfter the Silla unification of Korea, the myth of Dan-gun became widely respected. The Koryo dynasty viewed Dan-gun as the sole founder of the Korean kingdom and used the legend to prove Korean superiority over the Mongolian tribes who had invaded and conquered Korea several times. By keeping the Korean culture, the myth of Dan-gun played an important role in protecting Korean from invasion for several thousand years.
In 1909, the legend of Dan-gun again increased in popularity in the form of the Tae-jong-gyo, or Great Dan-gun Teaching. As a spiritual figure, Dan-gun is still worshiped today as the first ancestor of the Korean people and stays in the people's minds as the firm spiritual root of the Korean nation. October 3rd is celebrated as a national holiday, commemorating the founding father of Korea, Dan-gun. For those who follow Korean shamanism, Dan-gun is venerated as a god. A number of movements focusing on the worship of Dan-gun have also been founded over time. This traditional belief system, however, is said to be practiced by a minority of Koreans.
Diagram of movements