Friday, November 26, 2010

Evil Spirits: They hate red beans

Yesterday, one of my co-teachers moved into a new apartment with her family. Today, following the Korean custom to ward off evil spirits, she made red bean rice cake [시루떡] for everyone.

According to another teacher, this tradition can be traced back to the Silla dynasty, when Seol Chong [설총], son of the famous monk Wonhyo and princess Yoseok, used red beans to eradicate evil spirits (called dokkaebi in Korean) from his house.

Dokkaebi [도깨비] are mischievous mythical creatures said to be the transformed spirit of inanimate objects. They were traditionally depicted with only one leg, probably because of the belief that they were the embodied spirit of useful objects that had been misused or neglected, like a broom.  Nowadays they have two legs - because a one-legged monster isn't really that scary. They love to play pranks and tricks on people, or challenge wayward travelers to wrestling matches. (A one-legged wrestler isn't too believable now, is it?)

Legend has it that Seol Chong once returned from a battle or something to find that an evil spirit had slept with his wife. (Apparently his broom wasn't the only thing that had been feeling neglected lately!) His first reaction, apparently, was to whip up a batch of red bean rice cake, which scared the...ahem!...mischievous spirit away. As he later bragged about this feat to his neighbors, a legend was born (along with, perhaps, an illegitimate child).

And that, folks, is how traditions begin. Kinda like Christmas!


  1. hahaha. dude, just updated myself on the J-blog. after reading the last few months of entries I think I am more educated about Korea than I was at the end of my year there. great stuff man. i had the pear-seaweed thing fairly often at school, i thought it was pretty good!

    happy american chuseok!

  2. haha i'm glad to help.

    you thought wrong, though. it's actually not that good.


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