(Book Excerpt 4) The Mago Way by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, Ph.D.

cover front final rdcd[Author’s Note] The following is from Chapter One, “What Is Mago and Magoism and How Did I Study HER?” from The Mago Way: Re-discovering Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia, Volume 1. Footnotes below would be different from the monograph version. PDF book of The Mago Way Volume 1 download is available for free here.]

This chapter,[i] interweaving the personal (how I came to study Mago) and the political (why I advocate Magoism), informs the general and particular tenets of Magoism. My study of Mago was, although it took the form of a doctoral dissertation, ultimately motivated by my self-searching quest as a Korean-born radical feminist. I came to encounter the Great Goddess known as Mago in East Asia by way of several detours on my life’s journey. Like my non-Western andformerly colonized modern-Korean female identity, Mago was made to lurk beneath the thick layers of patriarchal puppetries throughout the course of fairly recent times—for patriarchy is really brief in the history of the Mago Clan. Ironically, however, my East Asian cultural legacy of seeking the Way made me stay on the course. I learned that the Way which my ancestors sought has deep roots in Magoism. The Way is a short form of the Way of the Great Goddess that East Asian patriarchal masters don’t want to know or don’t teach. Moreover, there is something very special about being an ancient Korean spirit. Old Korea was the eldest daughter of royal Magoism which knew nothing of difference between you and me or between one nation and another. It was the Big WE that Magoist Mudangs protected and transmitted in the ever present reality of HERE and NOW, lighted by the Female Beginning. The story of Mago’s beginning is salvific. The beginning of the Great Goddess is still taking place and all are invited to join the ecstatic celebration of life on the earth, HER garden.

What Is Mago and Magoism? How Old Is Magoism?

The Great Goddess is known to all peoples throughout history. Under patriarchy, S/HE is either temporarily forgotten or disguised as another name or form. The knowing of the Great Goddess goes beyond any human language, more precisely, patriarchal languages. S/HE is rooted in the unconsciousness or the collective consciousness. For our discussion, I call HER S/HE, the Female. East Asians have called HER Mago. Mago signifies the Female, another name for the Creatrix of the universe. Throughout East Asian history, Mago has manifested as S/HE (One) AND HER representatives (many). S/HE is the All, WE, the entirety of the earthly eco-system. Magoism refers to the Way of the Great Goddess, the gynocentric reality of all beings on the Earth. The word “Mago” is salvific, codifying the ultimate reality.

The Great Goddess, Mago, symbolizes the power of genesis on macro- and micro-cosmic levels. Here is the gynocentric narrative: Mago is supreme as the progenitor, cosmogonist, and ultimate sovereign of the Earth. S/HE is not only the First Mother of humans but also the Originator of all species on Earth. As the Goddess of the Earth, Mago mediates the earthly community to the universe. Thus, S/HE is called the Heavenly Goddess. Note that Heaven and Earth are not deemed dualistic. Mago is addressed by many names. Among them are the Triad Deity (三神, Samsin), Grandmother or Crone (Halmi), Auspicious Goddess (瑞姑, Seogo), Evil (Magui), Immortal Goddess (仙姑, Seongo) and Old Goddess (老姑, Nogo), all of which have roots in Korean/East Asian traditional culture.

In lore, S/HE is thought to have come from the Seven Stars (the Big Dipper). The serpent that symbolizes the Seven Stars was deemed sacred, a reminder of Mago’s Abode. As Samsin Halmi (Triad Grandmother/Goddess), Mago oversees the birth, death, and illness (especially chickenpox) of a child. She is also depicted as the Giant Crone who shapes natural and cultural topography such as mountains, rivers, villages, stone walls, and megalithic structures. Although having been favored, revered, and celebrated by East Asians in the course of history, Mago was largely forgotten in the public domain up to the 1980s in Korea. She re-emerged to the public, as the principal text of Magoism, the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City), was made available in the Korean language in the mid-1980s.

The term “Mago” itself manifests universally as the notion of the Great Goddess. The root “Ma,” which means both the Mother and the Goddess, is found in many names of the Goddess for the world. “Go” in “Mago” is used as a modifier indicating Mago, as in “Seon-go (Transcendent/Immortal Goddess),” “No-go (Ancient Goddess),” and “Seo-go (Auspicious Goddess),” to name a few. “Go” is also related with if not derived from Goddess “Gom” or “Goma,” the She-Bear Sovereign of Danguk, the nine-state confederacy of the remote past. The Japanese term “Kami (Deity)” is derived from “Goma.” “Go” appears linguistically and mythologically related with “Gaia” and “Guanyin.” As such, “Ma-ga (Ma Gaia)” in Mycenean Greek and “Ma Guanyin,” the Magoist Goddess commonly known through Buddhism, all can be seen as the derivatives of “Mago.”

The Magoist Cosmogony highlights the sonic movement of cosmic elements as the Creatrix. In the beginning, there was light. The movement/vibration of light (cosmic music) in the universe caused creation to take place over eons. Stars were born in the previous cosmic era. In due time, Mago was born together with the Earth (the Stronghold of Mago) with her moons. Her (self-)emergence marks the beginning of earthly history. Mago listened to and acted in tune with the cyclic movement of the cosmic music. In further due time, S/HE bore two daughters, Gunghui (Goddess Gung) and Sohui (Goddess So) parthenogenetically. This Primordial Triad laid the foundation for the earthly environment for all species. Mago, assisted by HER two daughters, orchestrated the terrestrial plan to bring acoustic balance in harmony with the cosmic music/sound/vibration. S/HE delegated HER descendants to cultivate and manage the sonic equilibrium of the Earth.

Like the word “Mago,” “Magoism” manifests as One Culture AND many cultures of the world that venerate the Great Goddess. In a broad sense, “Magoism” refers to the entirety of gynocentric civilization. It is pre- and meta-patriarchal. It is the Source of patriarchal cultures. In a narrow sense, it indicates the one that has shaped East Asian histories and cultures. The very naming of “Magoism” restores the nature of East Asian civilization as gynocentric, contrary to the standard Sinocentric [read ethnocentrically patriarchal] view that ancient China is the origin of East Asian civilizations. Magoism is the golden measurement.

Mago’s manifestations, varying from nature-shaper to Daoist Goddess, are so multivalent that they appear to be unrelated to one another. As such, it is not surprising to note that scholars including Daoist scholars and Korean folklorists have respectively focused on some particular manifestations in China and Korea. They either treat Mago as a Daoist Goddess of unknown origin or conclude that the Mago known in Korea is not the same Goddess known in China.

The transnational occurrence of the term “Mago (麻姑)”  should not be dismissed or treated as anomalous. Likewise, HER seemingly heterogeneous manifestations should not be taken selectively for scholarly investigation. In understanding the multivalent and transnational manifestations of the Great Goddess, we need a new theological lens of the Great Goddess, which I would call Magoist theism. Water is a good metaphor for the Great Goddess. Rivers and lakes cannot be said to be the nature of water by taking into consideration only bodies of water. Magoist theism is NOT compatible with the binary scheme of monotheism or polytheism. The Great Goddess is not measured by the number of Goddessheads. S/HE is NOT either One or many but One AND many. S/HE is like water in bodies of water. Magoist theism is even different from henotheism, which refers to the worship of a particular deity among multiple deities. The Great Goddess (Mago) is inseparable from HER other multiple manifestations (Magos). She is the All. She is the whole AND the particular at once. By extension, the term “Mago” is sometimes used to mean Magoism, the matrix of the Great Goddess. When “Mago” is invoked by poets or devotees with a nostalgic emotion, it means the gynocentric bygone antiquity or Old Magoism, which is equated with the paradisiacal home/womb/tomb of All. The term “Mago” also means “the Reign of Mago,” the gynocentric mytho-history of grand peace.

The provenance of Mago is as old as the concept of mother. “Ma” in “Mago” refers to both “mother” and “the Goddess.” It is difficult to date the earliest evidence of Magoism simply because we do not have written records of pre-patriarchal times. HER supreme nature is written out of history.

(To be continued. See Book Excerpt 1 here.)

Meet Mago Contributor Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, Ph.D.


[i] This is a revised version of the original conversation with Jayne DeMente and Anniitra Raven Moon, which took place during their radio show, the Creatrix Media Live. It was aired on May 22, 2011.