The Life and Death of Grandmother Seolmundae


The many volcanic cones of Jeju, known as oreums, are said to have been built by the goddess Grandmother Selmundae, as well as Halla Mountain itself. Some say she carried shovelfuls of dirt and built the oreums up bit by bit. Others say that her skirt had holes in it, and when she filled it with dirt to build up Halla Mountain, clumps of material fell out here and there, forming the oreums. After piling up dirt to make Darangswi Oreum, she decided it was too large, so she smacked her fist down on top of it, creating the large crater that is there today.

Darangswi Oreum, also called Wollangbong

Although this goddess is known today as Grandmother Seolmundae, she was called by other names as well. Variations on her name include Seolmyeongji, Seolmyeongdu, Semyeongdwi, Sswemengdeui and Seolmyeongdae. Some say she is the same goddess as Grandmother Mago.

There are many descriptions of just how tall Grandmother Seonmundae was. Some legends say that she was so tall that she would lie down and use Halla Mountain as a pillow, with her legs stretching out to Gwantal Island off the coast of Jeju City. Others say that it only took her one step to get from Halla Mountain to Sunrise Peak, or to the sandbank called Hanmosal off the coast of Pyoseon Village. We also hear that she squatted with one foot placed on Halla Mountain and the other on Sanbang Mountain.

Sanbang Mountain (Sanbangsan)

There is a place in Gwakji Village that has three rocks that resemble stones used to hang a pot by its rim. It is said that Grandmother Seonmundae used them to hang her pot when she prepared her rice, and that she would scoop up water from Aewol Village while sitting there. A large rock with a cavity in it above Han Stream in Jeju City is said to be Grandmother Seolmundae’s horsehair cap.

When the goddess wanted to do her laundry, she would lay her clothing out on Gwantal Island off the coast of Jeju City and rub them clean with her feet while resting her elbows on top of Halla Mountain. A similar story is that she used to do her laundry sitting with her buttocks settled on Halla Mountain, one leg resting on Gwantal Island and the other placed on Jigwi Island or Mara Island off the south coast. Some say she used Seongsan Sunrise Peak as a laundry basket and Udo (Cow Island) as a washing stone. 

Seongsan Sunrise Peak – Photo: Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

Udo lies just off the coast of Seongsan Village, and was originally connected to the main island of Jeju. A long time ago Grandmother Seolmundae squatted to urinate with one foot on Siksan Peak in Ojo Village, and the other on Sunrise Peak in Seongsan Village. The force of the stream of her urine was so great that it dug out the land and formed a long channel, creating a small island from a piece of the main island. An effect of the gushing torrent of urine remains in the strong waves in the area which caused many shipwrecks in the past.

There are many strangely shaped rocks at the top of Seongsan Sunrise Peak, including a large one which looks as though someone had placed it on top of one of the rocks that sticks out higher than the rest. It is said that when Grandmother Seolmyeongdu did her weaving, she would use this rock as a lamp stand, placing a bowl-shaped oil lamp on it. At first there was just the one rock, but when she lit the lamp, she found that the stand was not high enough, so she put another rock on top of it. These are known as the Lamp Stand Rocks (Deunggyeongdol).

There are two different stories told about how Grandmother Seolmundae died. One version appears in the story of the 500 Generals at Yeongsil. The other version is as follows.

Grandmother Seolmundae was proud of her giant stature. One day she decided to find out if there were any bodies of water whose depth exceeded her height. She had heard that Dragon Pond (Yongso) in the neighborhood of Yongdam was deep, so she tested the water and found that it only came up to the top of her foot. Then she went to Hong Village Pond (Hongnimul) in West Hong Village, since people said that it was deep, but it only reached her knees. She went all around the island, testing the depth of all the waters on Jeju until only Muljangori on Halla Mountain was left. She jumped into the water with a splash, and then just kept on sinking and drowned. She hadn’t known that Muljangori was actually so deep that in fact it had no bottom at all.  

From 99 Legends of Jeju Island, based on the various accounts compiled and edited by Professor Hyun Yong-Joon in Legends of Jeju Island, 1976. His sources were Mr. Lee Ja-Yeong (77) of Gosan-ri – 1975, Mr. Hong Seong-Heup (73) of Pyoseon-ri – 1975, Mr. An Yong-In of Gimhak-ri – 1975, Mr. Gim Seok-Bo and Mr. Han Gong-Ik of Goseong-ri, Seongsan-myeon – 1974, Mr. Yang Gi-Bin (69) of Siheung-ri – 1975

Daransgwi Oreum : 다랑쉬

   Also called Wollangbong : 월랑봉 : 月郞峯

Dragon Pond : Yongso : 용소 : 龍沼 or Yongyeon : 용연 : 龍淵

Han Stream : 한내 : 漢川 : Hannae

Grandmother Mago : 마고할망 : 麻姑

Gwantal Island : Gwantalseom : 관탈섬

Halla Mountain : Hallasan : 한라산 : 漢拏山

Hong Village Pond : 홍리물

Jiwgwi Island : Jigwiseom : 지귀섬 : 地歸島

Lamp Stand Rocks : Deunggyeongdol or Deunggyeongseok : 등경돌 / 등경석 : 燈檠石

   People used lamps called jeobsibul (접시불). They were also known as pine lamps (solbul: 솔불) since people burned pine knots in them.

Muljangori : 물장오리

Seongsan Sunrise Peak : Seongsan Ilchulbong : 성산일출봉 : 城山日出峯

   The ‘seong’ in Seongsan : 성산: 城山 means castle or fortress. San means mountain.

Siksan Peak : Siksanbong : 식산봉 : 食山峯

Udo : 우도 : 牛島 : Cow Island

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