(Bell Essay 3) The Ancient Korean Bell and Magoism by Helen Hwang

            Part III

Nipples and Breasts of the Ancient Korean Bell, 

Revival of Old Magoism in Silla (57 BCE – 935 CE)

Beomjong, Cheonju Museum
Beomjong, Cheonju Museum

Female sexuality and the divine are seamless. The ancient Korean bell bespeaks the divine, derived from female sexuality. Emitting reverberation, it casts a spell on the hearer. It is the sound that connects one with the Goddess and with one another. However, lapse of time has never been neutral. It has wrought the change of gender principle in society and in human consciousness. The female principle is severed from the divine. The divine without regard to the female is only astray or make-believe. When the seamlessness is broken, the bell loses its power to enchant. The ancient Korean bell, as a time capsule, sets us to the task of undoing the gender reversal. Unfettering of the arcane knowledge of Magoism is the gain.

In proportion to the patriarchal progress in East Asia, Magoism, the gynocentric historical and cultural context, has been submerged. The fact that Magoism remains unregistered is a sign that moderns have drifted too far from the Female Origin. As a result, the female symbology of the bell is rendered irrelevant, if not obsolete.

The bell and Buddhism are dysfunctional, if not mismatched. Or, maybe the Sillans who commissioned the bells in the 8th century CE saw Buddhism differently. Keeping at bay what makes the bell as the bell — the female symbology, Buddhist patriarchs have set a maze, heading only to “nothingness.” The sonority of the bell travels to the ear of people. However, deep hearing is thwarted by the patriarchal concept of the divine. Part III begins to deprogram the patriarchal conceptual barrier by shedding light on the core of its female symbology, the Nipples, the Bell Breasts, and the Breast Circumferences.

Four Dimensional Mandala Is Here

The relief of Nipples depicted elegantly and realistically is an attention grabber. For fear of being mistaken for something else especially by the generation to come, Sillan ancestors named them yudu (breast nipples). To be certain, they named the seat of the nipples jongyu (bell breast) and the enclosure of the breast yugwak (breast circumference). Detailed and refined artistry radiates the spirit of honor and veneration.

As seen below, the nipples come in various styles showing the mastery of the bell casters in metallurgic technology. [The following images of Nipples are from the bells of different periods including Silla. The structures of nipples and breasts remain the same throughout history, characterizing Korean bells.] Sometimes, the nipples are depicted as the studs of lotus blossoms. Other times they are seated in lotus petals. Less frequently, the nipples are rendered as flat lotus flowers, perhaps to mitigate the graphic look.

Yudu (Nipples) of Korean Bell, Sangwonsa
Yudu (Nipples) of Korean Bell, Sangwon-sa
Nipples of Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong
Nipples of Seongdeok Daewang Sinjong
Nipples, Baengnyeon-sa, Seoul
Nipples of Bell, Baengnyeon-sa, Seoul
Nipples, Jeongbang-sa, Jecheon, Chungbuk
Nipples of Bell, Jeongbang-sa, Jecheon, Chungbuk
Nipples, Naeso-sa, Buan, Jeonbuk
Nipples of Bell, Naeso-sa, Buan, Jeonbuk

Regardless, the viewer can’t miss the number of the Nipples, nine. The nine nipples are aligned in three rows of three in the Bell Breast, which is enclosed by the Breast Circumference. Considering that the triad is the symbol of Mago as Samsin Halmi (The Triad Goddess), the three rows of three represent the triad in all ways, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. One is surrounded by the triad in all directions; an epiphany is stored to enact.

Now the bell caster conjoins the number three symbol with the number four symbol. In ancient East Asia, the four corners represent all directions, that is, the whole world. Placed in four corners, thirty-six nipples in all (a set of nine nipples in four directions) represent the female occupying the whole world. Seong Nakju in his inquiry about the thirty-six nipples of an ancient Korean bell states that the first emperor of the Qin dynasty (the first state that united China) divided “the world” into 36 heavens in 221 BCE. (Seong Nakju, see below in Sources.)

Unlike the rule of the first Qin emperor infamous for tyranny, the 36 Nipples hint at neither domination nor the hierarchical power of the patriarchal monarch. Instead, they saturate the whole world with the female anatomy. To be discussed at a later point, the nine nipples that came from the 8th century are a time-proven means through which we may enter the consciousness of the  Bronze Age, if not earlier when they originated and of the times whenever they reappeared. The four dimensional mandala is revealed, biding its time to evoke one to the fifth direction. The bell delivers the triumph of the Goddess (female principle) to the world in an utterly outlandish manner! Her Way is peace, integration, and beauty. Behold, She is enthroned.

Gom (Ungnyeo) and the Nine-State Confederacy of Old Magoism

What does a set of nine nipples signify? What does it mean that the ancient Korean bell has four sets of nine nipples? In Magoism the nine nipples are not an isolated symbol. They are on a par with the nine-tailed fox and the nine dragons from East Asia. These are the ancient representations of the female divine. I have delineated elsewhere that the nine-tailed fox is associated with Xiwangmu (Queen Mother of the West) and the nine dragons with Gwaneum (Guanyin, Kannon). Other times, Goddess Herself manifests as of the nine forms. As I discussed, the nine maidens of Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess of Korea, is a good example (see “Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess of Korea,” Part IV). The nine-female symbology goes beyond East Asia. The concatenation includes the nine Muses, the nine forms of Durga, and the African Goddesses of Oya and Mumbi who are known to have nine daughters. As such, evidence of the nine-female symbolism is intense and cross-cultural.

The recurring symbolism of nine in East Asia suggests the once prevalent mytho-history of Old Magoism. Old Magoism is characterized by the rule of Magoist shamans who invented and spread the gynocentric civilization of pre-Chinese East Asia worldwide. Precisely, the nine-female symbolism refers to Gom (Ungnyeo, Bear/Sovereign Woman), founder of the nine-state confederacy in pre-Chinese times (see Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess of Korea, Part V). In short, the framework of Magoism holds the key to the transnational and cross-cultural patterns of the nine-female symbolism.

The significance of Gom in pre-patriarchal history is yet to be known. She is everywhere yet remains unseen by the world. In addition to the nine symbology, she is embodied in the constellation of the Bear, the tree of life, the founder of civilization, and the shaman ruler by ancient Magoists. Place names as well as the words that indicate a ruler and leader are akin to her name, “Gom.” The mytheme of she-bear that appears in the myths and legends around the globe accounts for the extent of her influence.

Artio, Celtic-Bear Goddess
Artio, Celtic Bear Goddess

The framework of Magoism unveils Gom’s full-fledged identity. As the shaman ruler, she brought the Magoist civilization to its zenith and left a far-reaching impact on humanity to this day. The cross-cultural unity of the pre-historic (read pre-patriarchal) world is attributed to her accomplishments.

Like Mago who is the cosmogonist, progenitor, and ultimate sovereign, she is too big for patriarchs to patronize. Even among Koreans, her identity is misunderstood and misrepresented. Portrayed as the she-bear in the Korean foundation myth, she must not be read as the physical mother of Dangun, the founder of Joseon (2333 BCE – 233 BCE), proto-Chinese Korean state. She is the dynastic mother of her daughter dynasty, Joseon. In fact, she is referred to as one of the Three Sages of Old Magoism together with her predecessor, Hwanin, and her successor, Dangun, all dynastic founders. As the epochal founder of Danguk (ca. 3898 BCE – 2333 BCE), forerunner of Joseon, she laid the foundation for archetypal knowledge of civilizations, such as the calendar, astronomy, religion, government, law, mathematics, philosophy, and architecture. As Koreans gradually lost the primogenitor’s right for Old Magoism due to Chinese toadyism, Japanese colonialism, and patriarchal religions, Gom was rendered as a mere mythical mother figure.

Sillan Reinvention of the Nine Symbologies 

That said, the nine nipples of the Sanwon-sa Jong, cast in 725 CE in Silla, shed light on another layer of meaning, the historical and political backdrop of Sillan Magoism. As a product of 8th century Silla, the bell represents the Sillan Magoist attitude. Placed in the four corners of the bell, the four sets of the nine nipples mirror the Sillan Magoist manifesto: “We are to unite the whole world under the rule of Magoism.”

Despite the silence of official records, the traditionalists of Silla (57 BCE – 935 CE) actively and proudly advocated Old Magoism. [Readers are reminded that the era of Old Magoism, a theacratic rule by Magoist shamans, ended with the decline of Joseon (2333 BCE – 233 CE).] Connections between Magoism and the Sillans are unequivocal. The Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City) is a Sillan testament to Old Magoism, alleged to have been written by Bak Jesang, a distant member of the Sillan royal house, in the late 4th or early 5th century CE. In short, Sillans were the last dynastic people of Korea who took on the Magoist identity and carried out the Magoist mandate to bring all peoples to the knowledge of their common origin from Mago.

By no means do I contend that Magoist traditionalists won the political battle throughout the Silla period. The contrary was the case. Magoist traditionalists were losing the stronghold on the political domain as the history of Silla ran its course. The mid 7th century in particular appears to have been a fierce battle ground between Magoist traditionalists and pro-Chinese (Dang) Buddhists. For example, the legend of nine dragons, personified, who were driven out by Master Jajang suggests the loss of political grip on the part of Magoist traditionalists. Jajang’s victory meant the construction of Tongdo-sa (Tongdo Temple), one of the three historical Buddhist temples in Korea, in 644 CE.

Nonetheless, the newly risen Buddhists could not monopolize the political power. They had to appease Magoist traditionalists who were supported by the people. A negotiation was made, which was to create the Pond of Nine Dragons in the main sector of the temple. This is the backdrop of how the symbolism of nine was reinvented during the Silla period. The female symbol of nine itself does not substantiate the present power of its subject. It speaks in the past tense, conveying the emotion of nostalgia for the lost power and glory. This also explains how the ancient Korean bell made in the form of a female body came to be housed in the Buddhist temples, the inconvenient bondage.

Guryongji (Pond of the Nine Dragons), Tongdo-sa, Yangsan Korea
Guryong-ji (Pond of the Nine Dragons), Tongdo-sa, Yangsan Korea

The same dynamic took place at the court: A nine-story pagoda was reinvented. In 645 CE, about a century prior to the cast of the Sangwon-sa Jong, a mega-sized nine-story wooden pagoda, more than 80 meters tall, was constructed in Hwangryong-sa (Temple of the Yellow Dragon) located in the capital city of Gyeongju. [According to the legend, a palace was to be built but later the plan was changed to build Hwangryong-sa, the Buddhist temple. Also the fact that the construction of the temple took 90 years (553-754 CE) to be completed suggests complicated Sillan politics, a topic that needs another space to write.]

It is noteworthy that its construction was undertaken at the command of Empress Seondeok (r. 632-647 CE), alleged first queen of Silla. Her royal title, Seongjo Hwanggo (聖祖皇姑, Empress Goddess of the Sage Ancestor) [note the character “Go (Goddess)” in Hwang-go is shared by Ma-go], suggests that she was perceived as an incarnation of the ancestral goddess ruler, Gom.

Nine-story Pagoda, blueprint, Hwangryong-sa, Gyeongju
Nine-story Pagoda, blueprint, Hwangryong-sa, Gyeongju
Site for Nine-story Pagoda, Hwangryong-sa, Gyeongju
Site for Nine-story Pagoda, Hwangryong-sa, Gyeongju

Precisely, the construction of the nine-story pagoda reflects the rule of Gom. Empress Seondeok, according to the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), attributed each of the nine neighboring states, including China and Japan, to each of the nine stories of the pagoda [Hwang (2005), pp. 246-7, see below in Sources]. Like the ancient Sillan bell, the nine-story pagoda appears to have been a Sillan invention or innovation as a way of proclaiming her Magoist politics.

Nine-story pagoda, Hwangryong-sa, Illustrated by Helen Hwang
Nine-story pagoda, Hwangryong-sa, Illustrated by Helen Hwang

While the political and historical backdrop that she faced is far more complex than I can write here, Empress Seondeok’s intent to build the nine-story pagoda is quite overt: She proclaimed that her government would follow in the footsteps of the rule of Gom, the pacific era of the highest antiquity in East Asia.

Empress Seonseok, folkpainting
Empress Seonseok, folk painting
Empress Seondeok, modern drama
Empress Seondeok, modern drama

[Empress Seondeok needs to be reassessed in relation to her contemporaneous neighbor, Wu Zetian (625-705), the first and sole empress of China who ruled and even founded her own dynasty. Empress Seondeok is depicted as no tyranny or failure, in contrast to the account of Empress Wu Zetian. Historical records on Empress Wu are severely tainted by the misogynist bias of Dang historians reflecting a political environment starkly different from Silla. No historians of the time or later recorded Empress Seondeok disparagingly, without exception of Ilyeon (1206-1289), the male author of the Samguk Yusa. Being the “first” female ruler of Silla, she is portrayed as a people’s hero.]

(to be continued in Part IV. Read Part II.)


Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook. Seeking Mago, the Great Goddess: A Mytho-Historic-Theological Reconstruction of Magoism, an Archaically Originated Gynocentric Tradition of East Asia, Ph.D. dissertation (Claremont Graduate University, Claremont: CA, 2005).

Seong, Nakju. “Semiotic Interpretation of the Style of Silla Jong (신라종 양식의 기호학적 해석), The Sillasa Hakbo, Vol. 7, 2009. [http://blog.daum.net/chakraba/256]

Westcott, Wendell. Bells and Their Music: With a recording of bell sounds, G. P. Putnam’s Sons (1970). [https://www.msu.edu/user/carillon/batmbook/chapter1.htm].

Leave a Response

Be the First to Respond!

Notify of
Donna Snyder
Donna Snyder

Such a depth of knowledge of this interesting history is reflected here. Thank you.

Mago Work Admin

Thank you Donna! East Asian and Korean goddess contexts are still unknown to many. So I appreciate your close reading of it.

Mariamma Jones
Mariamma Jones

“The sonority of the bell travels to the ear of people. However, deep hearing is thwarted by the patriarchal concept of the divine.” Great observation. Your writing style is so elegantly concise; I really enjoy reading your work.

Mago Work Admin

Thank you so much, Marianmma, for your complement. It feels really nice to hear from you! Mago blessings!