(Essay 1) Magos, Muses, and Matrikas: The Magoist Cosmogony and Gynocentric Unity by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, Ph.D.

Gurang (Nine Maidens) also known as Gyeyang Halmi, Mago and Eight daughters
Gurang (Nine Maidens) also known as Gyeyang Halmi, Mago and Eight daughters. Replica, Suseong-dang, S. Korea

[Author’s note: This paper is published in the journal, the Gukhak yeonguronchong 국학연구론총 (Issue 14, December 2014). Here it will appear in five sequels including the response by Dr. Glenys Livingstone.]

Magos, Muses, and Matrikas: The Magoist Cosmogony and Gynocentric Unity[1]

Abstract: This paper discusses the gynocentric principle in the Magoist cosmogony embodied in Cosmic Music and compares it with the traditions of Muses in ancient Greco-Roman culture and Matrikas in Hindu cultures. Methodologically, being the first research of its own kind, my study of Magoism takes a path led by the peculiarities of primary sources from Korea, China, and Japan. As a result, a feminist, transnational, multi-disciplinary, and comparative approach is employed to dis-cover otherwise irrelevant or isolated materials that include written texts, folktales, art, literary and place-names. The Magoist cosmogony characterized by Cosmic Music as ultimate creativity and Mago lineage of the first three generations known as Gurang (Nine Goddesses), the Mago Triad (Mgo and Her two daughters) and eight granddaughters strikes a strong resonance in Muses and Matrikas. In the latter two traditions, not only linguistic and numerical evidence but also the gynocentric (read female-centered) principle represented by parthenogenesis, matri-lineage, and cultural manifestations appear akin to the Magoist cosmogony. From the perspective of Magoism, such multifaceted unity is not surprising. Precisely, traditional Magoists self-proclaim as the memory-bearer of the original narrative of the Primordial Mother.

Keywords: Mago, Mago Stronghold, Budoji, Parthenogenesis, Muse, Matrika, Goddess, Cosmic Music, Music of the Universe, Nine Goddesses, Triad, Matrilineal, Korean Goddess, Mago lineage, Greek Goddess, Indian Goddess, Hinduism

제목: 마고, 뮤즈, 마트리카 여신들: 마고문화 창조론과 여성중심적 일치성

요약문: 이 논문은 마고문화의 창조론에 나타난 여성중심적 원리에 관하여 토론하고 그것을 고대 그리스-로마 문화에 나타난 뮤즈 여신들과 힌두 문화의 마트리카 여신 전통과 비교한다. 방법론적으로, 이 유형의 첫 번째 연구인 본인의 마고문화학은 한국, 중국, 일본에서 나오는 원천자료들이 인도하는 방법론을 따른다. 그 결과 기록된 문서, 설화, 예술, 문학, 지명을 포함하는 문헌들(다른 곳에서는 상관이 없거나 고립된 자료들로 남게되는)을 들추어서 재발견하는 여성주의적, 횡민족주의적, 다학제간, 비교 연구 방법이 사용되었다. 궁극적 창조성인 우주음악과 구랑(마고와 두 딸, 즉 삼신과 여덟 손녀딸)으로도 알려진 마고 계보의 첫 3대로 특징지워지는 마고문화의 창조론은 뮤즈와 마트리카 여신들과 매우 강하게 공명한다. 후자의 두 전통에서, 언어적, 숫자적 증거뿐 아니라 동정출산, 모계적 계보, 문화적 양상들로 나타나는 여성중심적 일치성은 마고문화의 창조론과 밀접하게 연관된 것으로 보인다. 마고문화의 관점에서는 그러한 다양한 면모의 일치가 놀랍지 않다. 정확하게도, 전통적인 마고문화인들은 자신들이 태고 어머니의 첫 번째 이야기를 전수하는 기억 전달자로 규명하고 있다.

핵심어: 마고, 마고성, 부도지, 동정출산, 뮤즈, 마트리카, 여신, 율려, 팔려, 우주의 음악, 구랑, 삼신, 모계, 한국여신, 마고계보, 그리스 여신, 인도 여신, 힌두교

That Mago (麻姑)[2] is the Great Goddess of East Asia is still new to the world. The topic of Mago remains largely unexplored in its own right in the West. If known at all, Her identity remains slippery at best. Even among Koreanists, a full-fledged study is yet to be made due largely to the peculiarities of Korean primary sources. Korean primary sources are marked by the following three traits. First, primary sources embody the gynocentric (read female-centered) principle. Secondly, they attest to an alternative view of pre-Chinese Korean history.[3] Lastly, a pan-East Asian manifestation of Mago makes the topic touchy. Ironically, for the three aforementioned reasons, I became interested in pursuing the topic. Prompted by the sporadic reemergence of the “forgotten” literature of Mago in Korea, China, and Japan, I sought, in a spirit marked by continuous surprises and exhilarations, the one unbroken rubric of transnational context concerning Mago and named it Magoism. Magoism refers to the archaically-originated gynocentric cultural matrix in which Mago is venerated as cosmogonist, progenitor, and ultimate sovereign. I maintain that Magoism not only underlies the edifice of East Asian civilizations but also has directly and indirectly influenced the formation of the latter.

Methodologically, this study did NOT begin with a ready-made theory to prove or counter-prove a topic that is in debate among scholars. That was likely so. I had been seeking a gynocentric perspective of East Asia/Korea in Western academia, which was not available. Consequently, this study has chosen to follow a new path unfolded by the documentation and interpretation of pan-East Asian primary materials. In other words, method is guided by the primary sources not the other way around. Rarity of the topic has hurled this study to the uncharted territory, so to speak. My research is destined to carve out its own methodology to serve the particularities (feminist, translational/cross-cultural, and multi-disciplinary) of what the primary sources implicate. Plainly, a mono-disciplinary approach is inadequate in treating the various and sundry data including written texts, folklore, place-names, literature, and art from Korea, China, and Japan. Naturally and consequently, a feminist, trans-disciplinary, and comparative method was taken to uncover, decipher, and connect what is intimated in the primary materials. Mythology, history, thealogy, and cultural manifestations within and outside East Asian/Korean Studies are chosen as major disciplines and fields for this study to interact with. Also, writing in the English language with the aim of bringing out East Asian/Korean Studies to Western audience sets this study to take a cross-cultural comparative approach, juxtaposing it with the counterpart of Euro-American perspectives.

The task of reconstructing Magoism is daunting. The areas and data it needs to cover are immense. However, that is not unexpected. Any effort to revive an old gynocentric tradition of the Great Goddess that has been made invisible in the course of history is nothing less than daring and subversive. Doubtless that, if this research holds truth, the impact would be far-reaching. As is with other studies, there is a personal aspect involved in the making of Magoist Studies. By doing it, I have dis-covered my own historical and cultural identity as a Magoist Korean woman. In short, this research is motivated by the enquiry of what has gone wrong and what has been replaced under the patriarchal (read Sinocentric) representation of ancient East Asia with regards to the female principle.

This paper delineates the crux of the Magoist cosmogony that depicts Cosmic Music as ultimate creativity, and compares it with the traditions of Muses in the Greco-Roman culture and Matrikas in Hindu tradition. It shows how both Muses and Matrikas bear a close resemblance to Magos (Mago, Her two daughters, and eight granddaughters), the first three generations of Mago’s linage. From the perspective of Magoism, I propose that parallels among these Goddess traditions are not accidental. The Magoist cosmogony is meant to offer an etiological framework to Muses and Matrikas. The mytho-history of Magoism has an innate purpose to tell how ancient Magoists took the self-identified mission of maintaining and spreading the Magoist cosmogony among peoples of the world. Speaking from the perspective of the Budoji, principal text of Magoism that gives a systematic and account of the Magoist cosmogony, it is a corollary that world’s Goddess traditions are similar to one another, ultimately witnessing to the common origin from the Great Goddess. The Budoji, unapologetically yet nostalgically, pronounces (1) that Mago (the Great Goddess) is the progenitor of all peoples, (2) that ancient Korean Magoists were the primary bear of the gynocentric beginning myth that involved the Great Goddess, and (3) that they were able to maintain gynocentric unity across cultures and lands in pre- and proto-patriarchal times.

Because the Magoist cosmogony is heavily drawn from the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City)[4], delineating some pivotal background of the Budoji at the outset would help readers. Among the primary sources that I have collected and documented, the Budoji, reemerged in the mid-1980s in Korea, weighs a primal importance for its exclusive treatise of Old Magoism.[5] The Budoji, allegedly written around the early fifth century, records a consistent and sophisticated account of ancient mytho-history of Magoist Korea from the perspective of Early Silla (57BCE-935 CE). Its cosmogonic chapters, out of thirty-three chapters in all, are rife with gynocentric notions and terms such as Cosmic Music, parthenogenesis, Mago Stronghold (world center and the primordial home of humans), and Mago lineage. It pronounces that everything owes to Mago for its existence and prosperity. In around the late fourth century, Sillan ruling elites faced the military and ethnocentric expansion of the Han Chinese rule. The dilemma concerned whether Silla should adopt the Chinese model (monarchical rule) or maintain the traditional model of theacratic confederacy. With Magoist confederacy of Joseon (2333BCE-232 BCE) long declined, the Budoji was written to advocate Old Magoism to be revived as state policy for Silla.

[1] This paper is a spin-off of an earlier paper, “An Investigation of Gynocentric Unity in Mago, the Great Goddess, and Elsewhere,” presented in the Conference of Pacific and Southwest Women’s Studies on April 17, 2004, in Scripps College, Claremont California. It is also slightly revised from the version that I presented at Mago International Conference, October 18, 2014, Mago Stronghold, Jiri Mountains, South Korea. I dedicate this paper to late Dr. Yenkyu Chung whose scholarship on Magoism has opened a venue for future research and discussion among scholars and the public.

[2] Read Ma as in Mama.

[3] I have discussed the issues of primary sources in “”Issues in Studying Mago, the Great Goddess of East Asia: Primary Sources, Gynocentric History, and Nationalism,” in The Constant and Changing Faces of the Goddess: Goddess Traditions of Asia, eds. Deepak Shimkhada and Phyllis Herman. Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2008, 10-33.

[4] See Bak, Geum, The Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City), Eun-Su Kim, translated and annotated (Seoul: Hanmunhwa, 2002), 1986c. Also refer to Thomas Yoon’s English translation and commentary on the Budoji. Thomas Yoon, The BuDoZhi: The Genesis of MaGo (Mother Earth) and The History of the City of Heavenly Ordinance (Notre Dame, IN: Cross Cultural Publications, 2003).

[5] Old or Early Magoism is characterized as its theacracy by Magoist shaman rulers, which I call magocracy. Old Magoism prevailed in pre- and proto-Chinese times. New or Late Magoism, characterized by the loss of political hegemony, begins after the decline of Joseon (2333 BCE-232 BCE), the confederacy of three states.

(To be continued in Part 2)

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Helen Hye-Sook Hwang.

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