| Some creatures were particularly gifted, however, as
tales of these species appear frequently in Korean folklore. Animals probably play similar roles in the
legends of other countries.
tiger has always been important in Korean culture,
wihich has viewed the animal as a king or deity. Detail
from a larger work in the National Folklore Museum
Certain animals are believed to have supernatural powers ranging
from transmogrification to the ability to cause temporary
illusions. In Korea
the fox used to be regarded as particularly magical, although
most animals, including domestic ones, were believed to
command some of these powers if they outlived their normal
life span. I wonder
if the raccoon dog in Japan and the wolf in the West are
not the fox’s counterparts.
One striking thing about these stories is that the
animals almost invariably fail in their attempt to become
human beings. The
story of Tangun is an exception.
vixen who tried to become a woman
once lived a vixen whose sole and ultimate wish was to be
a human being. The
fox was unusually firm in its resolve.
For this purpose alone, it survived for one hundred
years, the magic period required to command metamorphic
power. The day it
became one hundred, it succeeded in turning into a human,
at least as far as its external appearance was concerned.
Outwardly, it was a perfect human being, an attractive
young girl. But she (or rather it) realized to its chagrin
that it was far from being fully human. Becoming human in the mental and spiritual sense was immeasurably
more difficult. Inside,
it was still a fox.
Determined, it did not give up its ambition. The vixen prayed for one hundred days to the
Lord Buddha to teach it how to be human being in mind as
well. On the hundredth day, the Buddha told it the
secret of becoming fully human: First, the vixen required
a genuine human affection, someone who would love and cherish
it more than his own life; second, it must live in a community
for three years successfully disguised as a human being.
If it failed in its endeavor, the fox would die instantly,
without returning to its animal self.
Fortunately, it found a poor woodcutter who fell in
love with it. He
took the vixen home and married it.
The second requirement proved more difficult.