(Essay 3) Making the Gynocentric Case: Mago, the Great Goddess of East Asia, and Her Tradition Magoism by Helen Hwang

[Editor’s note: Numbers of endnotes differ from the original ones in the article]

Claiming the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City)

as a Principal Text of Magoism

The Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City) stands out from other sources for its systemic and refined mytho-historical account of Old Magoism. Alleged to have been written in between the late fourth and early fifth century of Silla Korea (57 BCE-918 CE), the Budoji is the Sillan testimony to the history of Budo (Emblem City), a replica of Mago’s Citadel. It is a book that summons ancient Koreans to remember the glorious history of their Magoist ancestors particularly Budo, better known as Dangun Choson Korea (2333 BEC-232 BEC). Budo’s construction and administration in East Asia for nearly two millennia are attributed to the leadership of Imgeom or Dangun. She is the third of the triad sovereigns of Old Magoism after Hanin and Hanung. Designating the civilization of Budo as a direct successor of its previous civilization Sinsi (Divine Market) attributed to the leadership of Hanung, the Budoji traces the Magoist pedigree of pre-patriarchal civilizations ultimately back to Mago and her paradisiacal community, Mago’s Citadel.[i]

Why Budoji, principle text of Magoism, important? That is because it tells us about the lost story of our beginning from the Primordial Goddess.
Why is the Budoji, principle text of Magoism, important? That is because it tells us, in a systemic manner, about the lost story of our beginning from the Primordial Goddess, that is, Mago, in the paradise called Mago-seong (Mago Castle/Citadel). Ten beings of longevity, folk painting, Korea.

Composed of thirty-three chapters, its epical narrative is replete with unheard but resonant concepts and symbols such as cosmic music, triad, parthenogenesis, mountain paradisiacal community, genealogy, and so on. Among others, the Budoji unleashes one most fascinating cosmogonic account yet-to-be-known, the story of Mago’s beginning.[ii] Mago, emerged by the cosmic music alongside the stars in the primordial time, began her procreation. Then she initiates the natural process of self-creation. She had her offspring to procreate and asked them to administer the paradisiacal community in Mago’s Citadel. She is the cosmic being who listens to the rise and fall of the cosmic music. The primary task of Mago’s community was to produce Earthly musical resonance that corresponds with the music of the universe. The sonic balance between the universe and the Earth is absolutely essential to the survival and prosperity of the earthly community.[iii]

Mago Castle, Hebei Province, China
Mago Castle/Citadel, Hubei Province, China (courtesy of Mr. Junhui Song)

The Budoji not only makes it possible to recognize a large corpus of transnational primary sources as coherent within the context of Magoism but also enables the researcher to understand erosion, variation, and mutation wrought on individual data in the course of history. Budoji’s mytho-historical framework is particularly crucial in assessing the large number of folkloric and topological data that are otherwise seen anomalous or corrupted. For example, the stories that Mago lived in a rock or Mago carried large boulders on her limbs and built megalithic structures find resonance in Budoji’s narratives. Its accounts concerning rocks and landmasses are too complex to present here. Some examples are: Mago began her act of creation by moving and dropping a heavenly landmass and into heavenly water; Magoist sovereigns became rocks that made resonating sounds upon death. In short, Magoism animates pre-Chinese history of East Asia otherwise labeled as “primitive societies.” It entertains the idea that animism and shamanism are not isolated practices but the older religious forms of Magoism.

Mago Castle/Citadel in Mt. Jiri, Korea, photo by Helen Hwang
Mago Castle/Citadel in Mt. Jiri, Korea, photo by Helen Hwang

Nonetheless, the Budoji has an issue of verification for its original account is found nowhere else today. Alleged to have been written by Bak Jesang (363-419?), the Budoji re-appeared in the mid-1980s in Korea in the Chinese written language alongside its Korean translation.[iv] According to Bak Keum, its modern scribe and descendent of the last preserver, the original Budoji was lost or made inaccessible due to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 and the subsequent division of two Koreas up until today. He further states that the Budoji is the first book of the fifteen books called the Jingsimrok (Literature of Illuminating Mind/Heart) whose authorship is attributed to the same author.[v] The Jingsimrok had been handed down in different families including the family of the author throughout the generations. Bak was able to reconstruct it almost identical to the original text from his memory of childhood reading of it as well as his translation work of it. According to Bak, he and his forefathers grew up reading and hand-scribing the Jingsimrok. Later during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), he translated the Budoji but was unable to publish it.

Having that said, I hold that the issue of unverified authorship does not diminish the present Budoji’s value for the study of Magoism. In my view, it is unlikely that modern authors would have written the origin myth of Korea in such a full-fledged gynocentric narrative. More to the point, the mytho-history of pre- and proto-Chinese Korea is not unique to the Budoji. It is supported by the Handan Gogi (Old Record of Han and Dan Korea) and other “apocryphal texts.”[vi] Even the foundation myth of Korea, also known as the Dangun myth, bears witness to the Magoist pre-patriarchal mytho-history of Korea albeit in a much coarser and simplified manner.[vii] It is unfortunate that the history of Budo better known as Dangun Choson is treated as a myth that lacks historicity by mainstream historians. In fairness, we may call the Budoji an apocryphal text and its mytho-historical framework a hypothesis. Then, my study takes the task of proving that hypothesis. When Magoism remains invisible in modern scholarship, it is only a corollary that Magoist texts are labeled as apocryphal texts.

To me, the silent treatment given to the Budoji by the majority of Koreanists appears to point to something else. What is tacitly objected is not its unverifiable authorship. It appears that what is rejected is its untamable content of Korean Magoist identity as well as its historical contention that ancient Magoists laid the foundation for East Asian civilization before the arrival of the Chinese patriarchs. Thus, that Magoism is an antithesis to the Sinocentric and androcentric views of East Asia remains a non-topic for mainstream Koreanists. However, many seem to overlook or ignore the fact that this text is a gynocentric book. The Budoji subverts modern knowledge about East Asian history and culture from a gynocentric perspective. The Budoji is subjected to double biases for its mytho-historical content and gynocentric implication.

I also argue that one’s dismissal of the Budoji on account of accuracy is groundless. Bak Keum himself does not pretend for its mechanical accuracy. He admits a minimal degree of discrepancy is included in his work. Such discrepancy is, however, not unexpected, given that, as Bak denotes, the Jingsimrok was hand-copied and studied by its preservers throughout generations. In this regard, it is probable that some renditions occurred prior to its 1986 edition. When it comes to the female-related referrals, I detect some inconsistency in the Budoji to a minor degree and conjecture that previous scribes struggled over the gender implication of the text and altered female-specific concepts and terms into male or neutral counterparts. For this reason, a gender exegesis remains unsettled even in my work. What I draw from this is that these modifications are systematic rather than accidental, which makes it difficult for a gender critic to discern specific gender renditions. At any rate, the Budoji as a whole gives the impression that, while ascribing supreme authority to the Mago triad, Mago and her two daughters, male-gender rose as a major player in the mytho-history of Magoism from the third generation of Mago’s genealogy. In my view, this is a misguided interpretation that needs more comprehensive gender hermeneutics.

[i] For a more detailed discussion of the mytho-history of Magoism, see Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, “Issues in Studying Mago, the Great Goddess of East Asia: Primary Sources, Gynocentric History, and Nationalism” The Constant and Changing Faces of the Goddess: Goddess Traditions of Asia ed. Deepak Shimkhada and Phyllis K. Herman (London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 10-32.

[ii] Budoji’s cosmogonic account is distinguished from other oral narratives from Korea. Folktales, while describing Mago as the nature-molder, are fragmentary in nature. Nonetheless, central motifs are highly reminiscent of Budoji’s account. This is a discussion that requires a separate space.

[iii] I have treated Budoji’s cosmogonic account in an article. See Helen Hye-

Sook Hwang. “The Female Principle in the Magoist Cosmogony.” In Ochre Journal of Women’s Spirituality. Fall (2007) [http://www.ciis.edu/ochrejournal/index.html], 10-19.

[iv] The first edition of the Budoji was published in 198s by two publishing houses, Gana (Seoul) and Girinwon (Seoul).

[v] Bak Keum states that the fifteen books are organized to the three volumes. He recalls the titles of thirteen books. These titles indicate the Jingsimrok is an encyclopedic compendium that includes such topics as history, language, calendar, religion, astrology, geography, natural science, music, and medicine. For details, see Hwang (2005), 101-102.

[vi] Among these books, the Handan Gogi and the Gyuwon Sahwa (Historical Account of Gyewon) are counted. While both books are highly debated for their authenticity, I have discussed part of the Handan Gogi. See Hwang (2005), 115-127.

[vii] The lineage of Hwanin, Hwangung, and Dangun centralized in the Dangun myth is concurrent in the Budoji as well as other apocryphal texts including the Handan Gogi. There is a substantive discrepancy between historians and the general public in Korea as to ancient Korean history. While historians continue to treat the Dangun myth and Dangun Choson as a legendary state, the general public has accepted it as a history.

[The essay, “Making the Gynocentric Case: Mago, the Great Goddess of East Asia and Her Tradition Magoism” by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang was first published in She Is Everywhere! Volume 3: An anthology of writings in womanist/feminist spirituality (iUniverse 2012), co-edited by Mary Saracino and Mary Beth Moser. Used with permission.]

(Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

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