(Essay 2) Returning Home with Mago, the Great Goddess, from East Asia by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang

Dolmens, Ganghwa Island, S. Korea

[Author’s Note: This essay was first published in Trivia, Voices of Feminism, Issue 6, September 2007. Also to be included in the forthcoming anthology She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism, and Spirituality?]

An Introduction to Magoism

Mago is the Great Goddess of East Asia. Nonetheless, she remains barely known to the world. Her equals, Xiwangmu (the Supreme Goddess of Daoism) and Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess of the Japanese imperial family), are said to comprise the pantheon of East Asian cosmic goddesses. Considering that these goddesses are often aligned with the ancient culture of China or Japan, one notices that the pantheon of East Asian Great Goddesses thus omits both Mago and “Korean culture.”

That is, both Mago and ancient Korea are made invisible in the modern scholarship of East Asian Studies.

Prompted by the sporadic reemergence of the “forgotten” corpus of Mago, which abounds in pan-East Asian sources from Korea, China, and Japan, I have sought, in a spirit marked by continuous surprise and exhilaration, the one unbroken rubric of the gynocentric cultural matrix and named it Magoism. Magoism refers to the anciently originated gynocentric tradition of East Asia, which venerates Mago as originator, progenitor, and ultimate sovereign.2 The book I am now writing, by examining a large corpus of Magoism, delineates how the mythos of Magoism has played out in specific contexts in the course of history.3 It epitomizes an effort to translate, as ancient Koreans did, the universal language of Magoism into the specific Magoist mythological motifs – paradisiacal community, trinity, parthenogenesis (“virgin-birth”), immortality, veneration of mountains and rocks, missionary/emissary institution, realizing the reign of Mago on earth, multi-cultural/multi-racial celebrations, the second-coming of Mago, and returning to Mago – that recur in the ancient world across cultures and also linger in patriarchal religions.

To reinstate the anciently originated cultural matrix of Magoism is a complex and daunting task. Methodologically, I have employed a trans-disciplinary approach that I call a mytho-historic-thealogy of Magoism – a thealogy (study of the female divine) that is primarily illumined by the specific feature of Magoist mythology, which necessarily exposes the pre- and trans-patriarchal history of East Asian peoples. This trans-disciplinary method of studying Magoism not only uncovers the usurpation of Magoism by patriarchal polities and religions in East Asia, but also suggests a new paradigm in studying primal Goddess traditions.

This book takes a first step and offers an overall picture of reconstructing Magoism, a task that leads us into uncharted territories. Historiographies lead us to nowhere for the pre-patriarchal (read pre-Chinese and ancient Korean) past. Mythographies make the idea of female supremacy unimaginable. Nationalist and ethnocentric perspectives hinder us from seeing a trans-national gynocentric tradition. There is a new trail to be broken in every direction that Magoism turns. I have arranged this book, however, so that primary sources speak for themselves about the vicissitudes of Magoism. Primary sources, rich and complex in trans-disciplinary implications, are our guides to this yet-to-be-rediscovered reality. This book ultimately exposes a nexus of nationalist, patriarchal, and colonialist attempts that have dethroned the female power embodied in the mythos of Magoism.

Overall Implications of Magoism

The occultation of Mago along with ancient Koreans has, most immediately, made the patriarchal histories and cultures of East Asia tongue-tied about their origins. Her equals, Xiwangmu and Amaterasu, as seemingly unrelated deities demarcated by nationalist ideologies, betray the fragments of the anciently originated East Asian gynocentric tradition that I call Magoism. I do not mean to say that the invisibility of Magoism has paralyzed one’s view of East Asia only. It debilitates a historical view of the pre- and proto-patriarchal ancient peoples of the world. The Magoist mythos not only retrieves the evidence of pre- and proto-patriarchal gynocentric civilizations unfolded through the three magocratic confederated polities (ca. 7199 BCE – ca. 232 BCE) but also restores archaic knowledge that peoples of the world maintained cultural and political unities in lieu of female principle/power.

Magoism offers a consistent view that names the history of humanity as gynocentric. It is one way, perhaps one of the oldest ways, of looking at the present in light of its gynocentric origin and the cross-cultural unities of pre- and proto-patriarchal times. I propose Korean Magoism as a hidden piece that has been “unconsciously” pursued by those studying ancient worldwide mythologies, legends, and archaeologies. In Magoism, we, together with ancient trans-national East Asians, see the second coming of the Female Origin, the First Cause. I suggest ancient Magoism as an alternative consciousness to modern, Eurocentric, nationalist, and colonialist worldviews. This book ultimately aims at unleashing a new grammar that explains how cross-cultural symbolism is organically interrelated.

To speak macrocosmically, Magoism refers to the gynocentric matrix from which humanity evolved. It is immortal insofar as humanity continues to exist. That is, Magoism is an ever-living tradition. It has never completely disappeared from the course of history but has been truncated, distorted, and appropriated in patriarchal times. Traces of Magoism abound in East Asia, not only in written and oral texts, but in religious and cultural practices that have survived to this day. Magoism re-awakens us, as it did ancient Magoists, to the knowledge of the female cosmic music that resonated into existence as Mago. Ancient Magoists understood the mythos of Magoism as an ultimate counter-testament to the usurpation of forthcoming patriarchal powers.

Naming and reconstructing Magoism would not have been possible without the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City), allegedly written by a Silla Korean in the late 4th or early 5th century CE and re-emerged in the mid-1980s in Korea. The Budoji‘s diachronic narrative is a complex and systematic one, telling of the cosmogonic origin of Mago, the paradisiacal community called the citadel of Mago, the tribal polities, the early developments of magocratic polities, and the decline of ancient magocratic polities owing to the rise of patriarchal regimes. The ancient civilization of Magoism culminated in the establishment of three archaic magocratic polities – the oldest polity of 12 confederated states (ca. 7199 BCE – ca. 3898 BCE), the second oldest polity of 9 confederated states (ca. 3898 BCE – ca. 2333 BCE), and the third oldest polity of 3 confederated states, otherwise known as Old Choson of Korea (ca. 2333 BCE – ca. 232 BCE). These periods are characterized by gynocentric cultural unities and political alliances. Magocracy gradually dwindled under the assault of patriarchal powers.

Re-emergence of Magoism

The mid-1980s marked a watershed in the modern history of Magoism with the re-emergence of the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City) and the Handan Gogi (Archaic Chronicles of Han and Dan), which I see as two primary texts of Magoism. Of the two, the Budoji occupies a central place, as it presents the epic of Magoism beginning with a universal origin story that is succeeded by the history of the archaic Magoist states. My first acquaintance with the Budoji opened my eyes to a yet-to-be-named tradition of Mago. The overt gynocentric principle that runs through this epic text was a strong attraction for me. Intrigued by the Budoji, I began to seek a larger corpus related to Mago by asking various friends in Korea if they had heard of Mago. The result was beyond my expectations. I soon learned that Magoist folklore, paintings, poems, sagas, and shaman lyrics, as well as written texts, exist in abundance, not only in Korea but also in China and Japan.

Suggested Ideas for Contemporary Feminists

Based on what I have learned so far about the ancient reality of Magoism, I would like to suggest the following ideas for us:

  • We must have a clear understanding that contemporary international politics, characterized by ethnocentrism, nationalism, and colonialism, harnesses women without acknowledging us – it excludes the agency of women. Patriarchal rule is wrongful in its very foundation because it is, by definition, a rule of men predicated on the subjugation of women: it is a violation/betrayal of the whole by a part and, as such, necessarily involves violence. Having assaulted the principle of symbiosis that was traditionally cultivated and sustained by gynocentric political powers, a patriarchal political power, at once, seeks to defend itself from the assault of the other – other groups, races, and nation-states. That is, it is destined to guard against the other doing what it does. This is a self-undermining mechanism that constitutes its very existence, and modern patriarchal nation-states have inherited this self-corruptive biology from their predecessors. Our conscious or subconscious identification with the ethnocentric, nationalist, and colonialist ideologies underlying international politics is ultimately detrimental. We need to seek ways in which our ethnic, racial, and cultural identities are not only acknowledged but celebrated.
  • We need to re-establish an understanding of gynocentric principles with which everyone can agree. We can test whether a principle is gynocentric by asking ourselves if it fosters the spirit of inclusion and collaboration. By a gynocentric principle, I mean chiefly the principle of symbiosis. I am not saying that only women can enter into this reality. Nor do I say that all men were the messengers of patriarchy. As this gynocentric principle embraces women of all races and states, it does not exclude men. This principle embraces everyone and everything by its very nature. I distinguish gynocentrism from feminism in this sense. Gynocentrism does not contradict but completes feminism. Feminism is an indispensable politic of gynocentrism that copes with patriarchalism but is not the ultimate goal. This is not merely a wishful theory-making. It is the principle on which ancient Magoism is solidly grounded. The cosmogony of Magoism shows an East Asian way of expressing the work of this gynocentric principle of symbiosis. We need to pay attention to gynocentric traditions from around the world that have survived to this day. I suggest that we draw gynocentric principles from matriarchal (matrilineal, matrilocal, and matrifocal) societies of the world. There are abundant sources that reflect the gynocentric principle, including myths of goddesses, archaeological findings of female figures, megalithic cultures, and goddesses/shamans/women traditions. Even the world’s so-called great religions like christianity, judaism, buddhism, daoism, and confucianism could not completely remove gynocentric heritages.
  • We must name patriarchal civilizations in gynocentric terms. We will tell where patriarchal civilizations came from, what happened in the process of making patriarchal regimes, and how patriarchal fathers maintained their worlds. We will tell who men were and what they should be like. Ancient magoists began this work and showed us its plausibility. At last, we will speak of the world, humanity, the universe, history, technology, art, economy, and nature in gynocentric languages.
  • We need a new world order that is not based on domination of the other (a universal grammar of patriarchal regimes), and for this, we should look to non-colonialist/indigenous female-centered traditions as well as pre- and proto-patriarchal histories and cultures. Magoism offers the history of gynocentric confederated polities in which peoples of the world were united rather than competing against one another. Ancient Magoist states were organized as self-governing communities: for example, the third Magoist state was comprised by three autonomously governing substates, each of which was comprised by numerous self-governing tribal communities, each of which was comprised by clan communities, and so on. The gynocentric polities were like the Russian doll that has layers of dolls inside of her – the image of the Russian doll, in fact, epitomizes the gynocentric principle of the natural world. In order to maintain peace and unity among peoples, ancient Magoists also invented the institution of missionaries, who were dispatched to the peoples of the world. They held intercultural conventions on a regular basis for several millennia.
  • Last but not least, we must recognize our alliances among and beyond the circles of self-identified modern feminisms. Gynocentrism is one way to see all sorts of racial, cultural, and historical feminisms as an allied force. However, the gynocentric matrix is of a nature that is much bigger than women-only worlds. It is Home for everyone and everything to find our common origin in the Female. Any individuals or groups that act according to the principle of symbiosis are our allies: environmentalists, freedom fighters, non-governmental organization activists, farmers, mothers, grandmothers, artists, spiritualists, scientists, the unemployed and employed, or public and private intellectuals from all parts of the world. The allied force is a surge and resurgence of people who have been called to live a life of Symbiosism across time and space. They may be “foreigners” who speak another tongue. We certainly cannot know them all. Our ultimate alliance is with the Great Goddess – Mago, Gaia, Tiamat, Muse, and many more as we name Her – who was there in the beginning to cultivate the principle of symbiosis for humanity once and for all. She is with us through her light that shimmers through anything and everything. Recognizing our alliances is ultimately a matter of opening a spiritual eye.

I can tell you that ancient Magoists have anticipated this work. They teach us that Mago/Female is the original divine that needs to be revered for the sake of human survival and prosperity. They teach us that humans are responsible for maintaining society in resonance with cosmic music, the ultimate creative power from which everything was born in the beginning. They show us that it is possible to build human communities that resemble the paradisiacal community of Mago.

As for myself, I will continue to follow my dream to bring my ancient tradition alive and to carry on the Magoist mission my foremothers passed on to me.

[Trivia’s Original Editors’ Note: “Prompted by a suggestion from Mary Daly, we searched the web for articles on Mago by Hye Sook Hwang, were excited by what we found, and asked Hye Sook to write an introduction to Magoism for Trivia readers. The above is a development of part of the speech she gave at the Feminist Hullaballoo, June 22-24, 2007, Santa Fe, New Mexico.”]


  1. The “ma” in “Mago” is pronounced as in “mama.” “Mago” is a generic term for the Great Goddess, and at the same time a proper noun indicating an East Asian manifestation of the Great Goddess, including women of the Great Goddess. By “the Great Goddess,” I mean the Goddess who is deemed supreme. She may also be called the Cosmic Mother, the Great Mother, or the Supreme Goddess.
  2. I avoid the term “creator” and instead employ “originator,” for the former is conventionally understood as the divine who creates from nothing or from something like mud or soil. Mago provides an initial momentum and maintains cosmic balance for the natural world to self-create and self-evolve.
  3. The book is tentatively titled: The Mago Hypothesis: Reinstating Mago, the Great Goddess, and Magoism, a Trans-patriarchal Gynocentric Tradition of East Asia (Korea, China, and Japan.


Bak, JaeSang. Budoji (The Epic of the Emblem City), EunSu Kim, tr. (Seoul: Hanmuhwa Press, 2002, c1986).

Gye, YeonSu, ed. Handan Gogi (Archaic Histories of Han and Dan), SeungGuk Im, tr. (Seoul: JeongsinSegyesa, 1986).

Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook. 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). Dissertation Abstracts International, publ. nr. AAT3159640, DAI-A 66/01 (Jul. 2005).

Noh, JungPyoeng. GoChoson-ui Jonggyo Hyoekmyoeng [The Religious Revolution of Old Choson] (Seoul: Daehan, 2003).

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

Read (Essay 1) Returning Home with Mago, the Great Goddess, from East Asia by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang.

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Helen Hye-Sook Hwang.


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