(Bell Essay 2) Ancient Korean Bells and Magoism by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang

Part II 

Overall Structure and Parts of the Ancient Korean Bell

The ancient Korean bell takes on the female form figuratively. In other words, its female implication is expressed symbolically rather than descriptively. Unlike the ancient Greek bell that literally depicts a woman’s body (See Bell Essay 1), the ancient Korean bell characterizes female anatomy with symbols and designs. Neither limbs nor a human face is seen. Instead, breasts and nipples are stylized. The head is represented by a dragon. The belly is adorned with the relief of celestial nymphs.

Sangwonsa Jong, Korea
Sangwonsa Jong and Ullimtong (Depressed Ground for Sound Transmission), 725 CE, Korea

The female symbology that the bell invokes is not limited to the material body of the bell only, however. The legend of a female child sacrifice to the casting of the bell should be taken in the light of its female symbology. Likewise, the inscription made on the Sangwonsa Jong indicating that the commissioner was a woman needs to be taken into consideration. Foremost, the Magoist cosmogony that attributes cosmic music to ultimate creativity holds the key to unlock the very purpose of the bell: The bell is created to sound the Call of Mago, the Great Goddess. Visualizing Her, the bell emits the Sound of Mago for which its sacredness is explained. The bell, if we call it Buddhist, redefines Buddhism, Korean Buddhism, to be precise. It calls people to the arcane knowledge of the female origin. These points are to be discussed in more detail in the forthcoming sequels. In this part, I discuss the overall structure of the bell and examine some major characteristics of its parts.

An ancient Korean bell consists of two parts: the bell’s body (jongsin) and the dragon loop (yongnu). The bell’s body part includes the Nipples, the Bell Breast, the Breast Circumference, Bell’s Belly, Celestial Nymphs, Bell’s Mouth, the Striking Seat, the Heavenly Plate, the Upper Support, and the Lower Support. And the dragon loop part includes the Dragon Loop and the Dragon Tube (Sound Tube). In addition, the piece of wood (mallet) that is designed to strike the bell on Dangjwa (Striking Seat) is called Dangmok (the Striking Wood). It also requires an Ullimtong (Depressed Ground for Sound Transmission) for the sound waves to travel.

Names of Parts, Ancient Korean Bell
Names of Parts, Sangwonsa Jong (Modified, Norugwi, See the Source below)
Dangjwa and Dangmok, Ancient Korean Bell
Dangjwa and Dangmok, Korean Bell

Each part, as a microcosm, adds to the beauty and function of the bell. Images sculpted including foliage, flower, lotus, humans, celestial nymphs, breasts, nipples, and dragon are achieved in sophistication. Artistic mastery is sublime.

Behold! The bell is a metaphor of not only the body of a woman, the vulva in particular, but also what she is, her purpose! The bell transforms the female to the divine, the Goddess.

Dragon Loop and Nipples, Ancient Korean Bell
Dragon Loop and Nipples, Sangwonsa Jong
Dragon Loop, Ancient Korean Bell
Dragon Loop, Dragon Tube, and Heavenly Plate, Sangwonsa Jong
Celestial Nymphs, Sangwon-sa Jong, Yongmunsan
Celestial Nymphs, Sangwonsa Jong, Yongmun-san, Gyeonggi (To be distinguished from Sangwonsa Jong from Pyeongchang, Gangwon)
Dangjwa (Striking Seat), Sangwonsa Jong
Dangjwa (Striking Seat), Sangwonsa Jong
Lower Support, Sangwonsa Jong
Lower Support, Sangwonsa Jong
Upper Support, Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong
Upper Support, Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong
Lower Support, Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong
Lower Support, Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong

Now I invite the reader to take note of the overall shape of the bell made in the form of a large Korean crock (hangari) placed upside down. The curved line drawn from top to bottom with the diameter of its mouth smaller than that of the belly is another distinguishing feature. In fact, there are quite a few features that distinguish ancient Korean bells from the bells of China and Japan. The parts that I illustrated above, in particular the nine Nipples, the Bell Breast, the Dragon Tube, Celestial Nymphs, and the Striking Seat, are its representative characteristics.

Earthen Jar, 766 CE, Silla
Earthen Jar, 766 CE, Silla

As a percussion instrument, the ancient Korean bell epitomizes precision and sophistication. Everything contained on the surface of the bell is made to resonate with the inner hollow to maximize the travel of sound waves. As shown below in the figure, even the metal residue remaining on the inner wall plays a key role, creating the sound waves. Without those irregular lumps, the sound will have a far lower frequency making fewer waves. In other words, the rough surface of the inner hollow is intentional.

'How sound waves are created," Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong
‘How sound waves are created,” Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong

Beauty and functionality are conjoined to create the sound of the Goddess. Functional parts such as the Dragon Loop, Dragon Tube (or Sound Tube), and the Striking Seat are seamlessly integrated with the artistry. The Dragon Loop is there to represent the divinity of the Goddess and at once to be used as a hook for hanging.  The Dragon Tube open-ended upward is there to vent out the impurity of the sound. When all is said and done, it is designed not just to please the eye but to awaken the mind to seek. The bell in its mesmerizing beauty wakes up the mind of people, otherwise made dull or dormant under patriarchal inflictive routines.

Dragon Tube, Sangwonsa Jong
Dragon Loop and Dragon Tube, Sangwonsa Jong
Dragon Tube and Dragon Loop, Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong
Dragon Tube and Dragon Loop, Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong

Buddhists might say that the reality to which the sound calls is “the way things are” or “suchness.” However, such understanding is only a tingle of the patriarchal mind that refuses to hear the deeper call. The bell awakens people to the reality of the Goddess. Each striking carries the pulse of Mago, the Great Goddess.  


Norugwi. [http://blog.daum.net/euijj31/11296149]

Cultural Heritage Administration [http://www.cha.go.kr/main/KorIndex!korMain.action]

Sin Hyeongjun. “Why is the Sound of Bell beautiful? The Delicacy of the Striking Spot… The Uneven Thickness Creates Sound Waves” Choson Ilbo, October, 9, 2001.

(To be continued in Part III, Read Part I)