Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Goddess of Fateful Seeds

Okay, today I'm going to tell you about the raddest of ladies: Chach'ǒngbi, a Korean hero who became a goddess and left her mark in the general scorched remains of her awesomeness littering the landscape and all the people who could not handle her badassery as she went by. Chach'ǒngbi is a goddess of agriculture, but don't make the mistake of thinking of her as meek and docile as a result. Chach'ǒngbi could take you.

Like many other heroes of badass yore, Chach'ǒngbi's story starts before she was even born, when her parents were extremely rich and prosperous but didn't seem to be able to give birth to any children, much to their sorrow. By the time they were in their fifties and still childless, they were generally feeling pretty despondent over the whole situation; in fact, Chach'ǒngbi's father was so upset by seeing a beggar on the street with a happy child that he locked himself in his room for an epic sulk, until a monk arrived (as monks often do) to tell them that if they would get their piety on already, things could turn around for them.

So Chach'ǒngbi's parents rolled off to Sangju temple, where they offered a thousand pounds of white rice to the gods and prayed for one hundred straight days, because they were deadly serious about this needing children thing. Or, at least, that's what they thought they were doing, but at the end of the hundred days, the monks weighed the rice offering and declared that it was actually a little less than a thousand pounds, so as a result they wouldn't be able to have a son and would have to settle for a girl.

(As we will see later, this did not turn out to be a drawback in the slightest.)

The blessing of the temple did indeed work, and after a long pregnancy of ten months, Chach'ǒngbi's mother gave birth to a girl so beautiful that it was said she had the sun on her forehead, the moon on the back of her head, and stars on both of her shoulders. Because this was all sort of supernatural and questionable, they didn't name the girl until she turned three years old, at which point they called her Chach'ǒngbi, which means roughly "born because we wanted her". They went about teaching her the same general things you would teach a young Korean girl in the long-ago, and everything went about as normal until Chach'ǒngbi turned fifteen, and had started learning to weave at her loom.

The loom, apparently in defiance of the rules most looms abide by (or possibly just responding to being next to Chach'ǒngbi and all her nascent awesomeness), informed Chach'ǒngbi one day that she should go and wash herself in the pond of the Chuch'ǒn river, and while she was there, a young man by the name of Mun turned up and was understandably bowled over by Chach'ǒngbi's loveliness. He tried to hit on her via the tried-and-true method of asking her to get him some water, and during the course of his conversation bragged about how he was on his way to go study under the acclaimed Master Gǒmu, there to learn to be an ultimate badass. Chach'ǒngbi smiled and said she was very impressed and added that her own younger brother was also on his way to go study with the master, but had needed a traveling companion, and convinced Mun to hold on a few minutes so she could go get him.

(Spoiler: Chach'ǒngbi does not have a younger brother. Y'all can see where this is going.)

Chach'ǒngbi then went home, made the guy wait in the hall, and told her parents she wanted to go study. They reacted with dubiousness at first, but she reminded them that since they had no other children, they would have only her to take care of them in their old age, so really letting her have an education was only going to be helpful, and they were forced to conclude that this made perfect sense and sent her off. Of course, they thought she was going to a ladylike finishing school, but this is pretty much just evidence that they have no idea what they got into by giving birth to her in the first place.

So she took some of her father's clothes and dressed herself up as a man, collected up some books and brushes for maximum studiousness preparation, and then went to go introduce herself to Mun again, who was either not bright enough to recognize her or (more likely) simply in the presence of some extreme disguise badassery and unable to cope. And then she and Mun became school bros who spent the next two years reading and studying together, doing all their chores together, and sleeping in the same bed as penniless students were wont to do.

At this point, Mun started getting fresh with Chach'ǒngbi; although he clearly did not know she was actually a woman, that wasn't stopping him from making moves during the dark of the night (the translation I have literally says he "seemed to have noticed that she had a womanly body", but it's hard to tell if he actually suspects that she is a woman or whether this is just euphemistic language for Mun noticing that he was attracted to her). Annoyed by his attempts, she told him that she had learned a charm that if you slept with a washbowl with silver and brass chopsticks in it beside your bed, if the chopsticks fell off, you would become poor at schoolwork, while if they stayed in you would excel. Mun, being something of a booby, decided to try it but was constantly so worried it would fail that he wasn't able to get a good night's sleep, so he started both being too tired to try to molest her and started failing at his education, which made Chach'ǒngbi by default the best student by a mile.

At this point, Mun decided to get cranky about the situation, and confronted Chach'ǒngbi, claiming that maybe she was better in reading than he was, but he was better than her at everything else. Considering his track record thus far, it's not surprising that her response was, "Seriously, I'm not sure it's actually possible for me to be worse than you at anything." He did not find this comforting, and challenged her to a pissing contest. A real, actual pissing contest, in which the farthest pee-er is the winner. (Korean mythology is intensely fond of game challenges to settle who the top dog is, so this is only one of a long line of ridiculous contests that various heroes and gods get into.)

Mun went first, and pissed a prodigious six and a half feet, and then lingered around being smug about his impending victory (again, it's hard to tell if he might suspect that she doesn't have the physical equipment to compete, or if he's just that confident in his water-shooting abilities). But Chach'ǒngbi had been carrying a bamboo shoot around in her pants for JUST SUCH AN OCCASION, so she slotted it sneakily into place, and then pissed twelve and a half feet and Mun basically said, "Fine, I'll just go home and cry forever, then," during her victory dance.

But, in a last-ditch effort to pull off a gotcha, Mun then invited Chach'ǒngbi to bathe in the river with him, as they had been studying so hard for years that they had surely become very dirty (again, does he suspect? or is he just a weird dude?). Hilariously, even this didn't work; Chach'ǒngbi just used the water and stream movement to her advantage and enjoyed a full show of Mun being naked, while he wasn't able to see anything but her face and shoulders.

At this point, she took pity on him - well, sort of - and wrote him a love letter on a leaf, which read, "Hey, stupid, have we seriously been sleeping in the same bed for three years and you still haven't figured out that I'm the girl you met at the river, not a fictitious brother who looks exactly like her?" His mind was blown. And then she went home and told her dad that hey, I'm home, there's going to be a pissed-off dude here in about an hour so we may want to put in some extra dinner, and then went and spruced herself up back in her old feminine clothing and makeup. And clearly she knows exactly what she's up to, because her father says that the boy is welcome to stay with them, but if he's older than fifteen, he'll have to stay with him in his room rather than with her, and she says, "Oh, no, he is totally not fifteen yet." (This is a lie.)

Immediately afterward, she ran out and found Mun, told him her parents would murder him for his impropriety if they saw him, and convinced him to hide in her room where it would be safe. She is obviously not up to anything AT ALL. DEFINITELY NOT ALL NIGHT SEX. (No, wait, that's exactly what ends up happening. Mun is so confused.)

Speaking of confused, at this point it is revealed that Mun happens to be of divine blood, so Chach'ǒngbi has been running circles around a future deity this entire time, and he vanishes to go get his god on while she hangs around waiting to see if he'll be coming back any time soon. Eventually, a traveler informs her that Mun has become the King of Heaven and is hanging out with beautiful ladies and servants in a rich palace having a great time. When she asks if he's going to come back, the traveler doesn't know... so, being the dynamo she is, she decides she will just walk her ass up to heaven and ask him if he accidentally left her phone number in his other pants or something. She convinced the traveler to help her, and with the use of a magical horse, they started climbing the mountain of heaven in search of Mun.

Unfortunately, the traveler, like many other dudes on journeys with inexpressibly hot ladies in the middle of the wilderness, started getting ideas about how he should be allowed to start getting into her personal space without permission. Recognizing this, Chach'ǒngbi told him that she'd love to send the night with him if he would build them a little hut to sleep in, but then complained that the hut had too many holes in it that would let in a draft, and that she'd stay inside while he went around the hut blocking up the holes. Of course, for every hole he filled in, she opened two more, and he spent the entire night going in fruitless circles around the hut.

Then he tried to push the issue in the morning, so she stabbed him through the ears with a homemade skewer she fashioned out of vines. Honestly, he should have known better. (She also utters the immortal line "It'd be sweeter for you to lick my honeypot than try to kiss me," but he doesn't appreciate the pun.)

Various other adventures occur, during which Chach'ǒngbi figured that being a lady traveling in the wilderness with a magic horse was not worth it and got back into mens' clothing again so people would leave her alone, and eventually ingratiated herself with a family in order to use their loom, which she used to weave the finest silk that had ever been seen. The lady of the house decided to pass the silk off as her own handiwork in order to win accolades from the King of Heaven (our old friend Mun!) and took it up to him, but had to admit that it was Chach'ǒngbi who had woven it when he asked, which no doubt caused him to have a rather intense mixed bag of flashbacks. He of course immediately went to the house where she was staying and asked her to come out, and instead she asked him to put his fingers through the door to prove it was him, and then pricked his fingers with a needle. This proved that it was him, since he bled purple divine blood, but he ran away after the pain of the prick, so Chach'ǒngbi was once again back on the road pursuing him.

Mun, meanwhile, had been apparently pining over Chach'ǒngbi something fierce, and ordered his servants to go find the stream where he had once bathed with her and bring him its water to drink. The servants had something of a despairing meltdown, since they had no idea how to find some random stream in the mortal world without help, but Chach'ǒngbi ran across them crying over the situation and said, "Oh, well, you know, that's me, so how about I get the water and then you smuggle me into the palace with it?" And the servants were like, "Well, beats getting punished for not finding it, you're on."

Then she stole fine clothes from the palace to pretty herself up, sneaked around the palace until she figured out where Mun's room was, and serenaded him with songs about his handsomeness by moonlight, like you do. At this point, Mun's the one who has to smuggle Chach'ǒngbi into his room so his parents (gods and not to be trifled with) don't find out about her and get angry, but Chach'ǒngbi wasn't willing to wait around until they were caught, so she coached him on how to approach his parents. He went to his parents and, using the clever wordplay she had instructed him to repeat, convinced them that he could break his engagement to the goddess he was currently supposed to marry as long as he had another woman with whom he had had a longer acquaintance to marry instead. His parents agreed, but demanded that whatever bride he chose be able to walk across the blade of a sword over a fifty-foot-deep pit full of burning coal.

Chach'ǒngbi, being herself, was like, "Eff you guys, I will walk on all the swords," and after she had put way more cuts in her feet than anyone expected her to, his parents relented and told her to get down off there before she killed herself and to go ahead and marry the kid already, for heaven's sake. And that's the story of how Chach'ǒngbi essentially pranked a god so hard and for so many years that she eventually managed to marry him, become a goddess, and impress basically everyone in the universe at the same time.

Chach'ǒngbi has various other adventures, including trying to save Mun from certain disaster she has foreseen in prophecy (in case you were wondering, he is not good at following instructions so he ends up dying anyway), and then tricking three thousand dudes who tried to kidnap her into thinking that Mun was still alive, insanely strong, and coming to kill them, using only a fake pillow made of iron and some cicadas. She is a capable lady, is what I'm saying.

Female trickster archetypes are comparatively rare in mythology; although the character of a woman who uses clever words, persuasion, or lies to trick men is a fairly common one, women who actually go undercover and perform super-spy feats are rarer. Chach'ǒngbi is an example of a lady master of shenanigans who can easily stand next to other trickster favorites like Odysseus or Maui, and is an example to all of us who want to just basically run the universe and endlessly commit hilarious pranks against those who aren't good at keeping up with us.


  1. Bwahaha, Mun is the God of trust fund morons.

    1. He tries so hard, but he is but a confused godling in the woods.

  2. This, of course, makes me wish to see more on the Goddesses of Korea - it's hard to find anything about the mythologies of that country.

    1. True facts - I know it's out there, but there doesn't seem to be much translated into English, so I only have a handful of book sources I know of. (In case you wondered, Chach'ongbi's stories come from Choi Won-Oh's An Illustrated Guide to Korean Mythology, which is my current favorite.)

      I wonder if that's a function of western scholarship not paying much attention to Korean myth until recently - most older materials either ignore it completely in favor of China and Japan, or handwave it with some "Well, you know, also Buddhist" sidestep that refuses to examine it very deeply.