(Essay 4) Magos, Muses, and Matrikas: The Magoist Cosmogony and Gynocentric Unity by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, Ph.D.

Matrikas (Source)

[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. Numbers of end notes differ from the original paper.]


(Part 4) Parallels between Magos and Matrikas

The numeric fluidity of a particular pantheon of Goddesses from three to nine is no isolated phenomenon in Western Muse tradition only. Laura K. Chamberlain’s research on the Hindu Goddess Matrika, one of the major manifestations of Durga, bears a close resemblance to the counterpart in Magoism.[1] In the

story of Mago Halmi, Mago had eight daughters and dispatched seven daughters to seven regions/islands who respectively became the shaman progenitor of the region. She lived with the youngest daughter, whose region was the center of Magoism.[2]  The Mago pantheon is also addressed as Gurang (Nine Goddesses) in the case of Gaeyang Halmi (Sea Goddess/Grandmother).[3] Among others, a parallel between Chamberlian’s delineation of the worship of the Asta Matrikas (Eight Mother Goddesses) and folk rituals concerning Mago is striking with regards to the aniconic rituals offered at “crossroads, rivers, the sea, and mountains” to Matrika. In the case of Magoism, the veneration of rocks and mountains that may be seen as “animistic beliefs” is widespread throughout the Korean peninsula.

The linguistic resemblance is also present between Matrikas and Magos. According to Chamberlian, Mai (mother) and Ajima (grandmother) are the “two of the oldest names for the goddess in Nepal.” [4]  They appear analogous with the Korean words Eomma 엄마 (Omai 오마이, Omasi 오마시, and etc. for mother) and Ajime (아지매, a female relative or aunt), a dialect from which the modern term Ajuma (아줌마, neighbor woman often pejoratively referring to a housewife) is derived.

Chamberlain also notes the varied number of Matrikas and writes:

The inconsistency in the number of Matrikas found in the valley [Indus] today (seven, eight, or nine) possibly reflects the localization of goddesses [ ] Although the Matrikas are mostly grouped as seven goddesses over the rest of the Indian Subcontinent, an eighth    Matrikas has sometimes been added in Nepal to represent the eight cardinal direction. In Bhaktapur, a city in the Kathmandu Valley, a ninth Matrika is added to the set to represent the center.[5]

On the one hand, it is true that the indeterminate number of Matrikas, as Chamberlain points out, explains localization of Hindu Goddesses in the Indian Subcontinent. On the other hand, it is equally possible to posit that there was a Goddess myth once shared by the members of mother community in a remote past. A daughter community, which resided in the mother community, came to migrate farther away from the mother community. She herself became a mother and was known as the mother community by her own daughter communities. From the perspective of the original mother community, the memory of the original myth by granddaughter communities would be fragmented and flavored with their own cultural, historical, and linguistic backgrounds. After many generations passed, granddaughter communities would lose the memory of the original myth and that they would not recognize kindred communities all over the world. However, the first mother was wise. She chose one daughter to carry on the legacy of the original myth. This is exactly what Mago stories tells us. When all is said and done, the numeric similarity of three, seven, eight, or nine and the inconsistency of the number are only some of the fragmented testimonies by granddaughter communities. Under such circumstances, Mago’s lineage, especially the first three generations, works as a blueprint of the family tree lost among granddaughter communities.

(Read Part 3, to be continued in Part 5, Dr. Glenys Livingstone’s response to this essay.)


Bak, Geum (Bak, Jesang). Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City). Eun-Soo Kim, translated and annotated. Seoul: Hanmunhwa, 2002, 1986c.

Baring, Anne and Julies Cashford, eds. The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. London: Viking Arkana, 1991.

Chamberlain, Laura K. “Durga and the Dashain Harvest Festival: From the Indus to Katmandu Valleys” in ReVision (vol. 25, no. 1, Summer 2002), 24-32.

Chung, Yenkyu. Ancient Korea and the Dawn of History on the Pamirs. Seoul: Jimoondang, 2007.

Daly, Mary. Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1984.

Davis, Elizabeth Gould.  The First Sex.  New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1971, 33.

Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook. “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.

____________________. “The Female Principle in the Magoist Cosmogony.” Ochre Journal of Women’s Spirituality, (Spring 2007) [http://www.ochrejournal.org/2007/scholarship/hwang1.html].

____________________. Seeking Mago, the Great Goddess: A Mytho-Historic-Thealogical Reconstruction of Magoism, an Archaically Originated Gynocentric Tradition of East Asia. Ph.D. Dissertation: Claremont Graduate University, 2005.

Kim, Busik. The Samguk Sagi (History of Three Kingdoms). Translated and annotated by ByongSu Lee. Seoul: Elyu Munhwasa, 1977.

Lee, Ki-baik.  A New History of Korea.  Translated by E. Wagner and E. Shultz.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Smith, Barbara.  “Greece” in The Feminist Companion to Mythology.  Carolyne Larrington ed.  Hammersmith, London: Pandora Press, 1992.

Yoon, Thomas. BuDoZhi: The Genesis of MaGo (Mother Earth) and The History of the City of Heavenly Ordinance.  Notre Dame, IN: Cross Cultural Publications, 2003.

Walker, Barbara G.  The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.  San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983.

[1] Levy 1990; Slusser 1982, cited in Laura K. Chamberlain, “Durga and the Dashain Harvest Festival: From the Indus to Katmandu Valleys” in ReVision (vol. 25, no. 1, Summer 2002), 24-32.

[2] See Tales [9-1] and [5-3] in the Appendix, Hwang (2005), 391-8.

[3] I was able to join a field research trip organized by the research team of Kunguk University’s Korean Literature Graduate Studies to collect the folk stories of Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess, in Buan-gun (Buan County), North Jeolla Province, South Korea July 10-12, 2012. Only after the trip, I realized Gaeyang Halmi with her eight daughters was also called Gurang (Nine Goddesses)

[4] Chamberlain, 26.

[5] Ibid., 26.


Read Meet Mago Contributor, Helen Hye-Sook Hwang.