[Author’s note: The first Mago Pilgrimage to Korea took place June 6-19, 2013. We visited Ganghwa Island, Seoul, Wonju, Mt. Jiri, Yeong Island (Busan), and Jeju Island.]
Part 2 Traditional Korea and the Primordial Home of Magoism
It was the time for the sacred, ancient mystery of Magoism to be reenacted once again for the Race of WE! Mago Pilgrimage was an open invitation to the deep knowing that Korean Magoism unfolds beneath the surface of patriarchal consciousness. It was a call from the Background [to borrow Mary Daly’s term, which, I explicate, refers to the biophilic reality wherein the deep memories of Goddess are alive, unfettering from the foreground, patriarch reality] to be present with Mago, the Great Goddess, Here and Now! Third eyes flashed, while open hearts unlocked the doors to the path. We heard the whisper, the chorus of the natural, cultural, and historical landscapes of Korea, the arcane music of the Female Beginning. The magic worked its own feats.
As could be expected, undertaking the Mago pilgrimage entailed daunting tasks for me. Nonetheless, it was proven to me time and again that the purpose creates the means. The Korean saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” spoke to it well. We, the intercontinental pilgrims, were made welcome by supporters, organizers, and volunteers from the locale. We attracted fabulous scholars, teachers, artists, administrators, and activists along our paths. It was the first cross-cultural and cross-gender goddess event to be held in Korea in modern times! Excitement and anticipation were high.
As a researcher of Mago and Magoism, I knew the Mago pilgrimage was the right thing to do. In fact, I had been faithfully following the direction that my heart beckoned to throughout my life. The consequences were the actions that I took. This time, however, I was rewarded with the fate-ful encounter; the very research of Mago came as a revelation to me. The topic of Mago emerged from nowhere at the juncture of my labyrinthine journey to non-patriarchal [gynocentric] consciousness. I was a student of feminist studies in religions. Without knowing what was in store for me, I knew that I was not content with the feminist theology of patriarchal religions of the West and the East. If any theme of these religions had appealed to me — I wished at times, to confess to my readers — during those years, my path would not have crossed with Magoism. My radical feminist quest was the cause for encountering Mago.
I spent the years of my graduate studies in chiseling out my own cultural/spiritual/intellectual niche in the U.S. I had taken up the study of feminism and religion to outsource the need to nurture my radical feminist identity. Korea did not offer me a women’s studies program that could promote post-patriarchal feminist studies in religion in the mid 1990s. I returned to the U.S. to study radical feminism. No one could teach anyone to become a radical feminist. Radical feminists could only be self-defined. I soon realized that I needed to move further in the area of my study to East Asian religions and humanities. In my mind, I wondered what East Asian feminist thought would be like. Lo and behold, I encountered the topic of Mago for my Ph.D. dissertation! My need to broaden the background of my research did not disappear. I enrolled for another Master’s degree program in East Asian studies in the late 2000s. I plunged into the horizon that Korean studies showed, quenching a long delayed thirst. Dreams were accomplished. I was finally content with what my life granted me.
I no longer feel out of place intellectually/spiritually/culturally. Mago research is a Home-Coming for me. The Home of the Great Goddess is in no way comparable to a home — the unlikely conceptual space– of the god of patriarchal religions. It is the Home within and for everyone — ancient Magoist Koreans had such knowledge. There is a particularity, that is unexpectedly universal, about the Magoist Home: Traditional Korea can tell the whole world about the power of its memory of the mythological paradise, Mago Castle. In short, traditional Korea has the blueprint of the Primordial Home!
The most difficult challenges for me came from the following: Magoism is a forgotten tradition among contemporary Koreans. Koreans themselves do not have language that can explain the origin and overall picture of traditional cultural expressions. I must say that this is slowly changing now at the grass roots level. Although citizens appear active in organizing themselves to enhance the awareness of the indigenous culture and history, Magoism remains unregistered for many. Reductionist interpretations are readily distributed in the signposts and pamphlets of cultural sites. Mythological and folk heroines (goddesses, holy mothers, shamans, and priestesses) are still pushed backstage.
For example, many Koreans are aware that the symbol of the triad saturates traditional Korean culture, superb in design and quantity compared to China and Japan. The triad inundates arts and customs in the form of three-legged birds, triquetra, three birds (sottae), three gates, and triune figures, to name a few. That Mago is also called Samsin (Triad God) throws light on the quandary of the numerology of three. This is not exceptional with Korea’s traditional religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism. Also it is said that nearly half of the world’s dolmens are located in the Korean peninsula; it is speculated that Korea is the originator of the world’s dolmens. Similarly with ancient gold crowns. Korean shamanism is known for its female dominance. There are too many examples to mention here. They are the cultural manifestations of Magoism that originated in ancient times.
In general, the fact that Korea underwent the process of patriarchalization for the last four centuries wrought devastating havoc on the representation of women and goddesses. Sexist ideology of Neo-Confucianism began to take root in modern Korean culture from the seventeenth century on. The Japanese invasions (1592-1598) paved the way for the rulers of the modern Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) to reinforce Neo-Confucian state policies under which women were forcibly subjugated to men and their lives driven to the private sector. The trace of women and female-centered cultures (Magoism) were purged from the official realm wholesale. [Interestingly, the historical records of purging can be used as counter-proof.] Korea, unlike China, became a full-fledged patriarchal state only from this time on. Later on, the Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) cruelly sapped what was left in traditional Korea, while attempting to annihilate Korea, the root. The last blow against the representation of the women and goddesses came in the 1960s and 1970s, when Park Chung-Hee’s government took the policy of economic growth at the expense of traditional cultures. As village shrines and old customs as well as mountain centers for the spirit were demolished in each village and town in favor of meeting halls, TVs, and churches, women all the more drifted away from the gynocentric symbolic, that is, Magoism.
If Japanese colonial historiographers mis-represented, if not silenced, traditional Korea to the West in modern times, Sinocentric historiographers had wiped out the pre-patriarchal history of Korean Magoism from ancient times. Evidence of pre-patriarchal goddess civilizations had to go, together with the Great Goddess, Mago, Herself. [Pre-Qin history books were burned, accompanied by the purge of historians that retained the knowledge of old history books as early as the third century BCE in China.] Korean toadyists joined the powers of East Asia regardless. Their endorsement of Sinocentric historiography of East Asia as well as Korea coincided with the rise of Neo-Confucian state power during the late period of Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon dynasty. Massive tempering in pre-and proto-Chinese history of Korea was conducted by Korean ruling elites during the Joseon dynasty. Books on pre- and proto-Chinese history were confiscated by the state from the fifteenth century on. Facts were rendered as mere “myths” [myths being misunderstood here], while ancient histories were fabricated to fit the Chinese model. The mytho-history of Magoism suggests a whole new paradigm. Lack of information about traditional Korea in the West is not a coincidence or even a mere historical development. It has resulted from the symbolic matricide done by East Asian patriarchs over the course of time.
Traditional Korea being the cultural body of witnesses to Old Magoism during which women held political and religious authority, is, by definition, incompatible with patriarchal historiography of East Asia. It cannot and should not exist in the patriarchal mind. That said, the overall picture would be more or less capable of being grasped when the female deicide took place within the scope of a people or a nation. In the case of Magoism, the oldest matrix from which East Asian national identities are derived, the scheme of East Asian symbolic matricide is much more complex and colossal. Hijackers of Magoism were in no place to admit the crime, as the crime was supported by patriarchal state rulers, if not committed by the ruler himself, backed by military force. Patriarchal bloodshed misery caused by the lies, invasions, and wars trans-nationally was the consequence that affected all. Patriarchy justified the symbolic matricide by jeopardizing life itself on earth.
Information about traditional Korea remains thin and sketchy in the West. While modern knowledge manufactured in the West continues to occupy itself with the dominant discourse of East Asia, the absence of female-centered traditional Korea speaks ever more loudly. I am not suggesting that Korea needs to become stronger with the nationalist agenda to change the picture. That would go against the traditional Korean spirit. Korea needs to return to its old mandate, to tell the people of the world about the Beginning of Mago. That is the mandate of Koreans understood by my ancestors. And they were the strong universalist leaders in that mission for a long time because of which they were made forgotten in patriarchal history. Ultimately, the Mago Pilgrimage is an act of subversion to the patriarchal power of naming whose interlocking system appears adamant but insecure inside. The motivation for conducting the Mago Pilgrimage is epochal. Traditional Korea emerges from the forced oblivion, as the Mago Pilgrimage proceeds.
Read more of Helen Hwang’s other posts.