While American audiences are familiar with Japanese ghosts from movies like The Ring or The Grudge, the Korean ghosts (or myths in general) are less well known. Since I’m working on an urban fantasy series based on Korean myths, I thought I’d share a little information about the ghosts from that culture, since it is Halloween after all.
Korean ghosts are called Gwisin or Gwishin. There are three very popular types of gwishin that have recurring appearances in folktales.
The first is the Cheonyeo Gwishin, which is the virgin ghost. This might be the most iconic of the gwishin largely because they look very similar to the female ghosts from the aforementioned Japanese films. Usually they are found wearing a white hanbok (traditional Korean clothes) called a sobok, and remain trapped on Earth after dying without being married. In Confucian culture the place of the woman was to serve the men in her life, especially her husband and sons, and so a woman who died unmarried was seen as having not fulfilled her potential.
The Cheonyeo Gwishin can be bitter and might attack families or married women or try to break up weddings, lashing out at the things it was unable to attain during life. One way to get rid of this type of ghost is to create a spirit marriage between her and a Chonggak Gwishin, essentially the male equivalent.
The second well known gwishin archetype is the Mul Gwishin who is a drowning victim. They hang out in bodies of water like lakes or wells, but sometimes they have supposedly shown up in smaller things like bathtubs. They are known to occasionally drown people, inflicting their own fate upon others.
Finally there is the Dalgyal Gwishin or Egg Ghost, which is the worst of the spirits. A faceless entity, the Dalgyal Gwishin are said to roam remote locations like mountains or forests. This fortunate, since seeing one means death for the viewer.
In Nine Tails, gwishin are attached specifically to one of the story’s protagonists, a nine-tailed fox spirit. She is haunted by the ghosts of her victims who try to give her helpful advice. They know that the only way they can enter the afterlife is if the fox ascends to being human. The primary function of the ghosts in more story is as helpers to the fox, but I may draw on some of the spirits I mentioned above to flesh out the tale and add some interesting moments.
I hope you found this little rundown interesting or entertaining. Do you know any stories about Gwishin or any good ghost stories from other parts of the world? Feel free to share them in the comments!
Nine Tails, Episode 1: Of Faeries and Demons is available in the Kindle Store now. If you want to see the kumiho (nine-tailed fox spirit) and her gwishin in action, check it out.