White Deer Lake and the Immortals

The area surrounding the peak of Halla Mountain was long considered sacred ground, and people were wary of climbing to the top. It was known as the home of immortal celestial beings called sinseon, who were said to ride around on white deer, admiring the fantastic scenery. They jealously guarded their territory through their control over the rain, wind and fog. In those days, when humans got around halfway up the mountain, a thick mist would suddenly envelop them, making it difficult to continue and forcing most to turn back. 

Photo: Jeju National Museum

These immortal sinseon took their deer to drink from the clear waters of the lake in the crater at the top of Halla Mountain, which is how Baengnokdam, meaning White Deer Lake, got its name. Hunters, of course, dared not target the white deer since they belonged to the immortals. If a hunter did happen to shoot one, he would incur their wrath and be killed on the spot. Nonetheless, a long time ago there lived a hunter named Ahn who lived to be one hundred and four years old despite having made this terrible mistake.

Ahn lived along the banks of Gambal Stream (Gambalnae) in Gyorae Village. He had spent his entire life as a hunter, and when he got a wild animal in his sights he never missed. One day while out hunting on the mountain slopes, a deer suddenly darted off through the woods. Ahn the hunter instinctively took aim and fired at it. Being a crack shot, he felt no need to first check whether or not he had hit his mark, so he just ran off towards the deer, and an instant after jumping on it, he had pulled out his knife and slashed open the animal’s stomach.

“Now I’ve got myself a fine catch,” he thought. But as the thrill of the hunt died down and he took stock of his surroundings, he realized it was a white deer. Ahn the hunter grew dizzy with fear. He pulled his knife out of its stomach, took about ten steps back and threw himself prostrate onto the ground. “Truly, I had no idea when I shot you. I didn’t take the time to see what animal I was targeting and now I’ve committed this great crime,” he said to the deer. He put his forehead to the ground and earnestly begged forgiveness. If not for the accidental nature of his crime and the sincerity of his apology, he would not have escaped with his life. 

Another legend tells of a young hunter who wanted to find a cure for his sick mother. He heard from a certain traveler that the blood of a deer would be especially effective, so he went off to Halla Mountain to hunt for one of the animals. By the time he reached the peak, thick banks of fog had made it hard to see. After wandering around for some time, the hunter finally spotted a white deer and took aim. As soon as he released his shot, a white-haired old man appeared out of nowhere and stopped the arrow, saving the deer’s life. The old man then climbed onto it and rode off into the mist. When it cleared, there was nothing but a small lake in the crater where they had disappeared. Giving up on his quest to capture a deer, the hunter decided instead to scoop up some of the water for his long-suffering mother. Amazingly, she was restored to perfect health the very same day that she drank it. When people heard this story, they began to call the place White Deer Lake.

Based on the account given on February 25, 1975, by Mr. Gim Du-Ik (70) of Songdang-ri, Gujwa-myeon.

From 99 Legends of Jeju Island, a compilation based on accounts compiled by Professor Hyun Yong-Joon.

Beginning in the late Goryeo dynasty, island officials and their attendants made a challenging and often dangerous journey up the mountain twice each year to perform rituals in honor of  Sansin, the god of the mountain. The ceremonial area and the altar were alongside the northern edge of the crater, overlooking Baengnokdam. The difficult trek led to cases of frostbite, accidents and even the deaths of participants, so in 1470 governor Lee Yak-dong ordered the altar moved down the mountain, where the rituals continued until the 18th century. That is when governor Lee Hyeong-sang had the altar destroyed during his campaign to rid Jeju of shamanic shrines and Buddhist temples.

Eulla : 을나: 乙那

   The two syllables are prounced eul and na or ra separately, but eulla in combination.

Honinji : 혼인지 : 婚姻池 : Wedding Pond

Joyful Cry Harbor : Kwaeseonggae : 쾌성개

   Kwae means joyful, seong means sound and gae refers to a section of coastline that resembles a harbor, with cliffs and a small inlet.

Ko : 고: 高, Yang : 양: 良, Bu 부: 夫

   Korea’s oldest official history, the Samguksagi (삼국사기 : 三國史記), or History of the Three Kingdoms, has Yang as the eldest brother, while other sources such as the early history of Jeju called the Yeongjuji (영주지 : 瀛州誌) list Ko as the oldest.

Moheunghyeol : 모흥혈 : 毛興穴

Nation to the East

   Some accounts say it is Japan, while others say it is Donghae Byeokrangguk : 동해벽랑국 : 東海碧浪國 : Kingdom of the Blue Waves in the Eastern Sea

Samseonghyeol : 삼성혈 : 三姓穴

   Samseong means three surnames, while hyeol means hole. Representatives of the three families still perform memorial services for their ancestors at Samseonghyeol in spring and fall each year.

Whinnying Horse Harbor : Molseonggae : 몰성개/말성개

   Mol means horse, seong means sound and gae refers to a section of coastline that resembles a harbor, with cliffs and a small inlet.

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