(Essay 3) Magos, Muses, and Matrikas: The Magoist Cosmogony and Gynocentric Unity by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, Ph.D.

Eight Female Immortals, Korean folk painting
Eight Female Immortals, Korean folk painting

[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 3) Cross-cultural Affinity in Magoist Cosmic Music and Greek Muses

With that said, a cross-cultural compassion is aptly available. Foremost, the gynocentric notion of Cosmic Music (Pal-ryeo or Yul-ryeo) in the Magoist cosmogony is strongly evocative of the Muses of the Greco-Roman world. They seem so close in manifestation and meaning that one cannot but infer that they possibly originate from the same source in a remote past. Indeed, juxtaposing them are mutually illuminating. On the one hand, the Magoist cosmogony, being a systemic and comprehensive account backed by the genealogy of Mago, offers a mythological background for the tradition of Muses. On the other hand, the Muse tradition, widely recognized and explored by scholars, proffers an exegetical explanation of Magoist Cosmic Music. The etymological connection between “muse” and “music” in European languages nicely sits with the notion of Cosmic Music in the Magoist cosmogony.[1] Also, the stem “mu” is similar to “ma” used in Mago and many other epithets of the world’s Goddesses. In fact, the word Eomma (엄마, Mother) in Korean has dialectical variations that include “Eomui (어무이)” and “Eomi (어미).”

Scholarly assessments on Muses demonstrate their affinity with Magoist Cosmic Music. Mary Daly, feminist thinker of the Euro-American world, treats on the gynocentric meaning of Muses. About the “Music of the Spheres,” Daly defines, “an ethereal harmony supposed by the Pythagoreans to be produced by the vibration of the celestial spheres upon which the stars and planets were thought to move.”[2] Precisely, the ancient Greek thought of “ethereal harmony” issued from “the vibration of the celestial spheres” parallels the self-equilibrating movement of Magoist Cosmic Music from which stars and primordial things were brought into existence. It is true that Muses are not directly associated with cosmogony. Nonetheless, the cosmgonic implication of Muses is highly plausible to consider the power and authority that were called upon them, a point to which I shall return below.

Daly goes further and quotes, “[O]riginally the Muses were represented as virgins of the strictest chastity.”[3] Here, whether “virgins of the strictest chastity” is taken literally or figuratively, it echoes the parthenogenetic parturition (the so-called virgin birth) of the Mago Triad. In my view, “virgins of the strictest chastity” conveys that Muses like Magos (Mago Goddesses) are of the primordial female prior to the diversification of sex. For the female principle that Muses represent, Daly states, “A woman wielding Musing Powers releases waves of meanings so that new and ancient words can be heard and spoken.”[4] Deductively speaking, gynocentric meanings released by Muses, as Daly enchants, strike the “waves of meanings” in the Magoist cosmogony.

Numeric Resemblances in World’s Goddess Traditions

Muses in Raphael's Parnassus (1511)
Muses in Raphael’s Parnassus (1511), Source

There are also numerical parallels among the Goddess traditions of the world. As for the Magoist cosmogony, three, five, seven, and nine appear to be the most prominent. Examples include the three-fold cosmic periods, the Mago Triad, the musical system of o-eum-chil-jo (五音七調, Five Notes and Seven Tunes), which Mago entrusted Her two daughters to cultivate, and the nine Goddesses (Gurang).[5] True that much about the Five Notes and Seven Tunes is, as many of the Budoji’s music-related notions, remain to be deciphered for moderns. Considering that Mago assigned Her two daughters to cultivate the Five Notes and Seven Tunes and Her third generation granddaughters (eight Goddesses) to cultivate the Original Music (Yul-ryeo or Pal-ryeo), according to the Budoji, it is possible to posit that the Five Notes and Seven Tunes is the pivotal component of Cosmic Music.

The triad is one of the most prevalent symbols of traditional Korea. It is inscribed literally everywhere including culture, art, thought, topography, architecture, and religions. I maintain that Magoism provides key to unlock the origin and meaning of the triad symbolism. Suffice it to say that Mago is referred to Samsin (Triad Deity) or Samsin Halmeoni (Triad Goddess/Grandmother). The Magoist triad has permeated the fabric of Korean culture throughout history, which include three mountain isles, three-peaked mountain, three-state confederacy of Joseon (2333 BCE-232 CE), three Sages, three states, triad bird (three-legged-and-winged bird), three-story pagoda, and three Buddhas. With regards to music, which concerns this paper, the triad is reflected in the names of ancient Korean musical instruments such as sam-juk-jeok (three bamboo flutes) and sam-hyeon (three stringed instruments).[6]  According to the Samguk Sagi (Histories of the Three Kingdoms), the music of three bamboo flutes has seven tunes. Given the role of music for kings and ruling elites in ancient East Asia, its importance for ruling elites is unequivocal.[7]

The three-and-seven symbolism with regards to the female divine dates back to pre-patriarchal times. I have written elsewhere that the pattern of three and seven appears on a plague unearthed from the site of Mal’ta, Siberia, dated to 16,000-13,000 BCE.[8] The Mal’ta site is, as Ann Baring and Julies Cashford recount, known for its archaeological finds of at least 20 female figurines alongside a plague that has meander inscriptions and ivory objects of several flying geese.[9] Stating that this plaque has the “seven-times spiraled dots coming out of the central hole as well as the three snake-like waves on the obverse side,” they further comment that the seven-fold spiral is reminiscent of the seven strata notched round the head of the Goddess of Willendorf from present day Austria.[10] The Paleolithic origin and cross-cultural dissemination of the symbolism of three and seven, as seen in the aforementioned examples, suggests the plausibility of gynocentric cultural unity at the dawn of history. Precisely, they lend credence to the Magoist cosmogony that pronounces the consanguineous origin of all peoples from the Great Goddess/Mago.

Three-and-seven symbols in Muses are also apparent, as Barbara Walker writes: “The Muses were originally a triad—the primordial Triple Goddess. [ ] The seven-tone musical scale was the Muses’ invention, supposedly based on their ‘music’ of the seven spheres [Italics are mine].”[11] Not only the triad but also the seven-tone-musical scale is closely resonant with the aforementioned Magoist notion of Cosmic Music.

According to Glenys Livingstone, the triad symbol appears as the three priestesses at Dephi, Gaia’s city in the fourteenth to eleventh century BCE. First located at the Corycian Cave, high on Mount Parnassus, Livingstone writes that “Gaia’s sacred shrine was home to a triad nymphs.” She continues to state:

The three sisters known as the Thriae, are said to have invented the art of prophecy, and are recognised as the “the triple muse of divination at Delphi (McLean 1989:79).”[12]

In the above, that the historical women of the Thriae were perceived as the Muse Triad indicates a thematic association among the Triad, Gaia, and Muses, culturally-specific and multiple manifestations of the Primordial Mother. Livingstone’s further insight about parthenogenesis for the Greek Thriae, as they were known as “bee maidens, is another signification of cultural unity found in the Great Goddess of the world.”[13] Images of a cave, a high mountain, muses, and parthenogenetic bees parallel the gynocentric principle expressed in the Magoist cosmogony, which I discussed elsewhere in detail.[14]

Barbara Smith adds that Muses “were the fount of all knowledge, and poets would invoke them at the beginning of each declamation, thus ‘proving’ that the poet sang the truth.”[15] That the Muses were invoked for purpose of proving or as token of the poet’s authenticity/authority lends credence to the power associated with Muses. From the perspective of Magoism in which a ruler is deemed as the successor of Mago, it is not surprising that the tradition of Muses was revered as moral authority in remote Greek history.

The flexible number of Muses is noted in Smith’s treatment of Muses. Furthermore, high divinity given to Muses is illumined further by the fact that ancient Greek philosophers continued the legacy of Muses, as Smith continues to write:

The number of Muses varied from three to nine; originally the triad together held the various powers, but by the Roman period each of the nine was attributed separate spheres of influence in arts. Mouseia were sacred places where birds sang—thought to be manifestations of the gods—and later philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, called their Schools ‘museums.’[16]

That Plato and Aristotle associated their thoughts with Muses by calling them “museums” parallels East Asian male thinkers such as Confucius, Laozi, and Zhuangzi whose thoughts show a direct or distant relation with Magoism.

Inconsistent number of Muses from the original three to nine is reminiscent of the number of Mago Goddesses of the first three generations. Shown in the Table below, the first three generations in Mago’s genealogy suggest one, three, eight, and/or nine Goddesses. One is for Mago, the progenitor, three for the Primordial Triad (Mago and Her two daughters), eight for Mago’s granddaughters, and nine for Mago and Her eight granddaughters. In some manifestations, the number nine symbolism becomes prominent in a wide range of cultural and mythological themes that include the nine-story pagoda, the nine suns, and the nine-tailed fox.

[1] In several variations of dictionary, the word muse means “any art presided over the Muses, esp. music.” Refer to Miriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

[2] Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language. Cited by Mary Daly, Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, in cahoots with Jane Caputi (Beacon Press, 1987), 147.

[3] New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Cited Mary Daly, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press 1984), 304.

[4] Mary Daly (1984), 301.

[5] I have discussed these topics to a various extent. See Helen Hye-Sook Hwang 2005 and 2007.

[6] Kim, Bu-sik, Samguk Sagi (History of Three Kingdoms), translated and annotated by Byeongsu Lee (Seoul: Elyu Munhwasa, 1977), 503; 507.

[7] It is deemed that there were many books on music in pre-Qin Chinese times but lost in the course of history. It is known that one of the Confucian texts called the Class of Music was lost as early as the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). In Korea, we have only the title of the Eumsin-ji (Book of Music and Faith), one of the fifteen books of the Jingsim-rok (Record of Illuminating Mind/Heart) together with the Budoji. See my dissertation, Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, 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), 102-3.

[8] For details of this plague, see my dissertation, Hwang (2005), 184-5.

[9] Anne Baring and Julies Cashford, eds. The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (London: Viking Arkana, 1991), 13 and 23.

[10] Baring and Cashford, 24.

[11] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 701.

[12] Glenys Livingstone, “A Western Primordial Mother: Gaia, Her story from Greece and into Post-modern Times.” Paper presented at Mago International Conference, October 18, 2014, Mago Stronghold, Jiri Mountains, South Korea.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See Hwang (2005), Chapter 4.

[15] Barbara Smith, “Greece” in The Feminist Companion to Mythology, Carolyne Larrington ed. Hammersmith, (Hammersmith, London: Pandora Press, 1992), 86.

[16] Ibid.

(To be continued in Part 4. Read Part 2.)

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Helen Hye-Sook Hwang.

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