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.(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.