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Tangun

by Charles La Shure
The legendary founder of the first Korean kingdom, Old Choseon, in 2333 BCE near modern P'yeongyang. His full name was Tangun Wanggeom, which is actually more of a title than a name; Tangun means "high priest" and Wanggeom means "king," symbolizing the spiritual and political power invested in the ruler. His father was Hwanung, son of Hwanin, emperor of heaven, and his mother was a bear who had been transformed into a woman. It has been speculated that the bear-woman transformation story indicates that the woman was from a bear totem clan. On a more symbolic level, though, the bear's passing of the test shows how highly early Koreans valued perseverance. It was not the strength and impetuosity of the tiger that helped the Korean people resist attacks from both China and Japan, but the determination and perseverance of the bear.

Tangun is still worshipped today in modern Korea by followers of Ch'eondogyo, "The Religion of the Heavenly Way," and Koreans often refer to themselves as "descendants of Tangun."


Article details:

  • Etymology:
    High priest

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