도깨비 Dokkaebi

There is a dokkaebi that lives in our house. Doors will slam shut by themselves. The shower will start to run when no one is in there and the motion sensor light will come on in the middle of night when we aren’t in the enterway. We’ve tested the light. Jumping  and dancing next to it won’t trigger it, but walking by it at 2 am to go to the bathroom will. Goblins. 

Being a sucker for mythology and the fantastical I have of course been spending my time in Korea trying to learn about the mythology and folklore. Once such that I have discovered is Dokkaebi, or 도깨비.산수귀문전.jpg(Art like this adorns tiles of temples and other old important buildings. The dokkaebi is a guardian and protector as well as a trickster) 

This is the Korean Goblin. To be fair, I did not have to go far and out of my way to learn about it. This past fall the biggest hit K-Drama in the country was called Dokkaebi and was about …guess… yep, a dokkaebi!  It focused on an immortal goblin’s life and his bride who was to free him from it. It became a hit among my YAV family and we watched it ritually each week.


(A promo for the K- Drama. Dokkaebi is in the right…its a strange fellow. The man in black is a Grim Reaper) 

The Dokkaebi’s from folklore are a bit different from the show. The best way to think of them is a combination between a goblin and a troll. They are small Korean mischief makers, identifiable by their horns and club they carry.


(Super cute cartoon inspired by the drama)


Imbued with power, their clubs are used to make gold from thin air, and are often found in the forest at night, chanting, parting and creating piles of gold. Sometimes they stop travelers as challenge them to a wrestling match in order to pass. Other times people out smart them and take off with the gold.


Here is a folk story featuring a Dokkaebi that I found and wrote up. Enjoy the mischief.

The Woodcutter and The Dokkaebi

High and deep in the mountains there was an old house. With its thatched roof and windows battered shut against the wind, it stood empty and almost forgotten in the forest. No one had lived there for many years. Now and again the dokkaebi, small goblin creatures, would spend their time there, playing in the run down house and causing mischief.

One day, as it so happened, a young Woodcutter came upon the empty house and decided to move in with his Wife as it was bigger than their old house. Having little interest in sharing, the dokkaebi quickly packed their bags and left. All but one. A small baby dokkaebi remained. He had never seen humans before, only hearing of them in stories and was curious about them. So he hid himself away in a crack in the ceiling. There he could watch the Woodcutter and his Wife go about their day.

One night as the couple was sharing a meal together The Woodcutter said. “Everyday it grows colder out, winter must be coming.” Hearing this and making his voice match pitch and timber, the dokkaebi repeated “Everyday it grows colder out, winter must be coming.” Frightened to hear his own voice echoed back at him the Woodcutter shook in fear. Braver then her husband the wife called to the emptiness “Who is there?” The dokkaebi again matching pitch and timber repeated “Who is there?”

Now both the husband and wife were terribly frightened. Assuring themselves it was just the wind they searched the house for the hole from which is had come. They found the crack in the ceiling. Peering in the saw the baby dokkaebi rolling back and forth from laughing so hard. Startled they exclaimed “Why there is a Goblin living in our house.” Barely taking notice the Goblin repeated in exact likeness “Why there is a Goblin in the house.”

From that day forward the mischievous dokkaebi repeated whatever the husband and wife said. It began to sound as if four people lived there instead of two. The couple became annoyed and tried everything to make the creature leave. But threats and polite precaution had no effect on the goblin. Nothing they said could make him leave and abandoned his fun. Instead he took pleasure in their irritableness and continued to mimic them day and night.

Finally when the Woodcutter exhausted all attempts he asked a friend for help. The friend could hardly believe the incredible story about a dokkaebi living in the roof. Upon entering the house however and hearing his voice repeated back at him understood. He thought for sometime before he bade them outside and advised that they never speak in the room with the goblin.

Heeding this the couple began to communicate in the room only through glancing and knowing gestures. Anytime they needed to speak they would step outside. Inside they remained in silence, giving the dokkaebi nothing to repeat. At first the goblin was content to wait. Though, impatient as he was, he quickly became bored at the lack of fun. Before long it turned to irritation and he blurted out. “Why do you never say anything!” Hearing this the Woodcutter responded “Why do you never say anything!” This upset the goblin greatly. “Don’t do that.” He said. “Don’t do that.” The Woodcutter repeated.” Back forth this went, dokkaebi sulking aloud and the Woodcutter repeating.

Baffled that the tables had turned and losing all interest in the couple the dokkaebi finally came down from the roof. Grumbling under his breath he left the house, never to return, his view of humans tainted by the whole experience. The Woodcutter and his wife continued to live in peace and harmony in the small house, unhampered by other dokkaebi as they had been well warned to stay way.

The End –

And for a bit of last minute fun, here is a video  of my own dokkaebi experience on Jeju Island. There is a road tucked away where water and cars roll up hill. Legend is that the dokkaebi come out, invisible and push it up hill to scare the humans. Of course on our Study Trip we had to try it. Skeptical at first and a failed attempted at water we hopped in the car and well. See for yourself.





Can You Smell a Thousand Years?


IMG_3129.jpg(Beopjusa temple)

We remove our shoes at the door, stepping over the threshold onto the worn wood floors. I can feel the smooth and worn boards as I trod were many have before. Inside the temple the sound is soft, as if it too is hushed at the doors. The outside world paused while inside the colorful ancient walls. The older man beside me, takes a deep breath and exhales. “Can you smell a thousand years?”

IMG_3181This is 법주사 Beopjusa temple in 속리산 Songnisan Mountain.  It was Built in the 14th year of Silla King Jin-Heung’s reign. Destroyed and rebuilt many times in its long life the temple is a standing testament to Buddhism and strength of  Korea.

IMG_3325(Beopjusa temple) 

Although only roughly 15% of the population of South Korea identify as Buddhist, a 40% some precent identifying as unaffiliated. Buddhism is very much ingrained within the culture and history of Korea and its people.

IMG_3172(Lanterns hung for Buddha’s Birthday. From each lantern hangs a wish.)  

I stare up at the ceiling, my eyes lost in the weaving patterns and colors that adorn the wood above me. Just above that stacked tiles run up to the heavens, each on sitting higher then the next. Most traditional buildings are build of wood without nails, therefore each pieces of the temple needs the other pieces to stand, relying on unity and harmony.IMG_3105(The colorful paintings that adorn the the temples. )

IMG_3622(Out front of Jogyesa Temple in Seoul during the Lotus Lantern Festival)

The ceilings are made of layers upon layers of interlocking wood, in order to keep the heavy tile roofs up. The end result is a cloud like imagery. Within the wood structures the mokt’ak, a wooden percussion instrument, hit during ceremonies, echoes through the walls of the temples.

IMG_5266.JPG(Maguksa Temple in Gongju. This fish imagery hangs by the temple bell.) 

IMG_3716(One of the four gate guardians at the entryways to temples) 

They are painted in the style called “tanch’ong”. It means red and blue. Not only are the vibrant colors beautiful and rich to look at it preserve the wood from weather and insects. Images of sprits and monk are interlaced with the artwork, reminding people they are on a spiritual journey. Fish are seen as a reminder of the hard work as they never close their eyes.

IMG_7900(Golden Buddha Statue outside of Beopjusa Temple)


One cannot help but feel the hallow ground of the temples. Buddhism came to Korea around 800 years after Buddha’s death in 372. As it did not discredit or try to overhaul the shamanism that was practiced in the land it blended, the homes of the mountain spirits becoming homes of the temples. Most temples are located deep within the mountains and have shrines to the local mountain spirits.

IMG_3347(Carving of Buddha at Beopjusa Temple) 



Buddhism become the state religion during the Goryeo period. However it  was repressed during the Joseon era when Neo-Confusionism grew. Persecution of Buddishm grew less a few centuries later after the after Buddhist monks helped repel the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98). After the occupation period of Korea and WWII Buddism again grew acceptance, though not with out a few splits in the order and suppression and arguments with the growing Christian population.

IMG_3649(Jogyesa Temple – Buddha’s Birthday Celebration) 

IMG_3990.jpg(Temple at Donghaksa. This symbol predates the Nazi and is a symbol of  peace and harmony in Buddhism. )

May 3rd this year was the day that Buddha’s birthday was

celebrated. This day is called 석가탄신일 (Seokga tansinil), meaning “Buddha’s birthday” or 부처님 오신 날 (Bucheonim osin nal) meaning “the day when the Buddha came”. I went to Seoul the weekend before to attend the Yeon Deung Hoe, Lotus Lantern Festival. 연둥회. There were lights, music, performances and a parade of lanterns. It was simply beautiful. People came from all over the world and many different kinds of Buddhism was exhibited.

IMG_8280(Dragon head lantern and the operators.) 


IMG_3932(Dressed in traditional hanbok, woman carry moon lanterns in the parade.) 

3:00am. February. I am outside, the dawn light barely a whisper, a promise to come. dank dank dank sounds the mokt’ak. We follow slowly behind the monk bundled in his grey robes, circling. During our temple stay we were invited to awaken at 3 and join the ceremony of the morning. After the monks have risen they meditate together in the temple, chanting, the eternal sound of the mokt’ak beating with each breath.  It is beautiful, it is peaceful.

IMG_3964.jpg(A wish hanging from a lantern) 

IMG_5187(Maguksa at 3 am) 


My exploration of Buddhism in Korea has left me wanting more. As I dip my toes into the vast world I am apart of I am finding I wish to swim deeper. There is so much diverse beauty and knowledge, small pieces to the large picture.


I believe that by being fully present in my life with those around me and seeking out people, cultures and ideas different from me,  I can really come to understand the story of life. As my world becomes  more diverse  the more hope for peace I see. I am learning to smell 1000 years.