(Essay 3) Why Reenact the Nine-Mago Movement? by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang

Nine-tailed fox, public domain image
Nine-tailed fox representing Goma, public domain image

[Author’s Note: The sequel of this essay will be released in preparation for the 2015 Nine-Day Solstice Celebration Project.]

Part III In Search of Goddess Goma via Linguistics, Place-names, and Myths

Goma was widely worshiped and commemorated by East Asians and beyond. There is another vein of assessing the pervasive manifestations of the Goma tradition–the linguistics. “Goma,” originally meaning “the People of Mago” and/or “of the People of Mago” is embedded in state-names and place-names in Korea and Japan. It is associated with ancient Korean states and their cultures, indicating that Old Korea was the successor and the defender of Magoism in pre- and proto-Chinese times. In ancient East Asia, it is noted that “Goma” meant both ancient Korean States and their cities.

For example, the Japanese called ancient Korean States Goguryeo (高句麗) and Baekje (百濟), “Goma Koma (高麗).” Also, “Goma” meant the name of Baekje’s capital city. It is evident that that ancient Korean states and their peoples were identified as of Goddess Goma. Goma-related place-names in Japan were created in honor of ancient Koreans who migrated to Japan. These are Goma Shrine, Goma River, Goma Station, Goma Village, Goma district, and Goma Mountain located in Japan, all of which are associated with ancient Korean States, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. It is also noted that ancient Koreans who resided in the region are known as the Old Goma Family.[1]

The linguistic roots, “Gom (Kom)”, “Geom (Keom)”, and “Geum (Keum)”, which respectively mean bear, ruler/head, and/or gold/head, refer to Goma. I hold that the Japanese term “Kami,” which is known as “Spirits” or “Gods,” is a derivative of Goma or Gom. One of several distinctive cultural practices of the Goma religion is geum-jul (Goma/Gold Cord) in traditional Korea. Made of rice-straw, it was hung in an area of the house to announce the birth of a baby. At other times, it was hung around the divine tree to inform the villagers of the sacred presence of Goma. This is a widespread symbolic act for Koreans to express reverence and celebration for the life which is allowed by the power of the Mago Triad, also known as the Birth Grandmother.

Place-names that are associated with Goma profusely recur nationwide in Korea. Some examples include Gomsil (Village of Goma), Gomnae (Stream of Goma), Gomso (Sea of Goma), Gamcheon (River of Goma), Geumo-san (Mountain of Goma Crow), Geumam-san (Mountain of Goma Rock), and Geum-gang (River of Goma). Some words like Gammun and Geomdan are ancient in origin but their definitive meanings are unknown. Such titles as Imgeum (Goma Ruler), Wanggeom (Goma King), Daegam (Great Honor), and Sanggam (Your Majesty) convey the political authority of Goma. It is not surprising to note why the surname Kim (金, Gim or Geum) is the most common among Koreans.

Goma is also known as the Bear Goddess, Ungnyeo (熊女), in Korea.[2] In fact, Koreans are aware of her as Ungnyeo since she is known as the mother of Dangun, founder of the Korean State, Joseon, in the so-called Korean foundation myth or the Dangun myth. The Goma myth has been misnamed as such, which consequently reduces her to the role of a mere receptacle as a child-bearer of the God. Reinterpretation of the Goma myth goes beyond the scope of this essay. In any case, the Goma myth is no local account that explains the origin of Korean people only. It is the code that unlocks the origin of the worldwide female symbolism of the number nine, to say the least.

Her name as “Ungnyeo,” the compound of “Ung (Bear)” and “Nyeo (Woman),” is also inscribed in such old place-names as Ungjin (熊津, Ferry of Goma), Ungsim-san (熊心山, Mountain of Goma Center), Ungsim-guk (熊心國, State of Goma Center), and Ungseup (熊襲, Underworld of Goma) or Kumaso in Japanese. According to Hong Beom Rhee, there are major Shinto Shrines named after “Ung,” which means “bear” in the Kyushu district.[3] These place-names located in Kyushu (Nine Provinces) Island, Japan, suggest that Kyushu was under the influence of Goma’s rule at one point in the past, to say the least.

The modifier “Dan,” which is derived from “Danguk,” also indicates Goma and/or the rule of Goma.[4] Among the examples are Dansu (Tree of Goma Rule) and Dangun (Head of Goma Rule). Given that these terms, “Ung” and “Dan,” are used as a modifier, their variations manifest in a much broader and larger scale.

In Daoism, Goma is referred to as Divine Woman of Nine Heavens (九天玄女 or 九天玄姆娘娘) or Holy Goddess of Water and Wind (風水聖姑).[5] The Daoist description of her as an incarnation of the immortal of the previous cosmic era is a convoluted way of saying that she is a Magoist priestess who is also venerated by the Chinese.[6] Given that the primordial community of the Mago Clan in Mago Stronghold is deemed as of immortals, the Daoist portrayal of Divine Woman of Nine Heavens accords with the Magoist account of Goma, shaman founder of the nine-state confederacy of Danguk. Chinese legends about her continue to illuminate her Magoist identity. She is said to be the teacher of Huangdi (Yellow Emperor), the forebear ruler of ancient China, and the adherent of Holy Mother of Primal Authority (聖母元君).[7] Here, Holy Mother of Primal Authority, also known as Ancient Mother of the Non-birthed (無極老母 or 無生老母), refers to Mago. Reading the Chinese Daoist account requires a Magoist hermeneutic, however. In point is the part that she aided the Yellow Emperor to win the war against Chiu, his arch-enemy who represented Danguk. Lore says the other way around: The Yellow Emperor was defeated by Chiu who led the allied force of the nine states (Nine Goma Peoples).[8] In sum, it is deemed that the Daoist appropriation of Goma was to legitimize the patriarchal rule of China as the successor of Danguk for later generations. Such ancient texts as the Classic of Mountains and Seas, allegedly the oldest written text of China, recount the allied force of nine states as people of Daein-guk (大人國, State of the Giants) or Cheongu-guk (State of the Blue Hill), another name of Danguk. Symbolized as the fox with nine tails, the rule of Goma was revered as the alliance of Nine Giant Peoples, who were not only enormous in physical feature but also in culture and manner.

As seen above, the Goma tradition comprises a major substratum of the Mago Myth. Mago (the Great Goddess) and Goma (the Magoist Shaman ruler and the Sea Goddess) are the two different Goddess-heads, which are, however, inextricably connected and mutually inductive. Goma was commemorated by ancients for her enactment of the Mago Myth. She flowered the civilization of Old Magoism and maintained gynocentric unity among people across the oceans. Her rule was remembered as “the bygone era of grand peace” with civilizational inventions and sophistications. The whole world benefited by her rule for a long time prior to the establishment of patriarchal rule in East Asia. She was deemed to be a Mago incarnation par excellence for restoring the Origin of the Great Goddess among the peoples of the Earth.

(To be continued in Part 4. Read Part 1 and Part 2.)


[1] “G” and “K” can be interchangeably used in romanizing the logographic characters. Goma Shrine, Goma River, Goma Village are located in the City of Hidaka in Saitama Prefecture. Goma Mountain in Kanagawa Prefecture and Goma Station in Kyoto Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture. http://newsletter.kf.or.kr/english/contents.asp?vol=110&lang=English&no=1369; https://ko.wikipedia.org/wiki/%EA%B3%A0%EB%A7%88; http://www.komajinja.or.jp/

[2] The etymological connection between “Goma” and “Mago” remains to be explored. That said, both “Goma” and “Mago” are associated with the Big Bear constellation, given the old lore that Mago originates or resides in the Big Dipper (the Seven Stars), which is part of the former.

[3] See Hong Beom Rhee, Asian Millenarianism: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Taiping and Tonghak Rebellions in a Global Context (Youngstown: Cambria Press, 2007), 29.

[4] It is sometimes interchangeably used with “Han” as in Dan-ung and Dan-in.

[5] See Extensive Records of the Taiping Era(太平廣記) and Treasure biography of Sacred Woman of the Nine Heavens (九天玄女寶傳) http://cidian.xpcha.com/a08638kruna.html (September 1, 2015). Intriguingly, her title, Holy Goddess of Water and Wind (風水聖姑), parallels the title of Silla Korean Queen Seondeok, Holy Ancestor Empress Goddess (聖祖皇姑).

[6] See The Mago Way: Re-discovering of Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia (forthcoming in September, 2015, Mago Books).

[7] She is also called Ancient Mother of the Non-birthed (無極老母 or 無生老母).

[8] Chiu is commonly deemed to be male. Nonetheless, one cannot rule out that Chiu was the empress of Danguk who subdued the Yellow Emperor of pre-dynastic China.

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Helen Hye-Sook Hwang.

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