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The Dokkaebi is a mythical being that appears in many old Korean folktales. Although usually frightening, it could also represent a humorous, grotesque-looking sprite or goblin. These creatures loved mischief and playing mean tricks on bad people and they rewarded good people with wealth and blessings. They are different from Gwisin (Korean: 귀신; Ghost) in that they are not formed by the death of a human being, but rather by the transformation of an inanimate object.
Different versions of the Korean Dokkaebi mythology assign different attributes to them. In some cases they are considered harmless but nevertheless mischievous, usually playing pranks on people or challenging wayward travellers to a ssireum (Korean wrestling) match for the right to pass.
Most Dokkaebi carry a kind of club or mallet called a dokkaebi bangmang'i (도깨비 방망이). They are like magic wands, from which it can summon anything it wants. Unfortunately, when it gets something by using it, it gets things by "stealing" from someone else, because this bangmang'i can only summon existing things, and it does not create objects out of thin air.
Dokkaebi love to play games, especially ssireum as mentioned above. They are extremely good at it and one will never be able to beat them by trying to push them from the left side. However, they are very weak on the right side. In other stories one should hook their leg and push them to win, as they have only one leg.
Dokkaebi can also have a cap which is called dokkaebi gamtu (도깨비 감투). Its most well-known ability is that it gives the wearer invisibility.
Most Korean legends have Dokkaebi in the stories. They are about Dokkaebi playing pranks on mortals or punishing them because of their evil deeds. One of them is about an old man who lived alone in a mountain when a Dokkaebi visited his house. With surprise, the kind old man gave the Dokkaebi an alcoholic beverage and they become friends. The Dokkaebi visited the old man often and they had long conversations together, but one day, the man took a walk by himself in the woods near the river and discovered that his reflection looked like the Dokkaebi. With fear, he realized that he was gradually becoming that creature. The man made a plan to prevent himself from becoming a Dokkaebi and invited the creature to his house. He asked, "What are you most afraid of?" and the Dokkaebi answered, "I'm afraid of blood. What are you afraid of?" The man pretended to be frightened and said, "I'm afraid of money. That's why I live in the mountains by myself." The next day, the old man killed a cow and poured its blood all over his house. The Dokkaebi, with shock and great anger, ran away and said, "I'll be back with your greatest fear!" The next day, the Dokkaebi brought bags of money and threw it to the old man. After that, Dokkaebi never came back and the old man became the richest person in the town.
Although Dokkaebis does not have actual form, some people divide them into types. These are common ones.
- Cham dokkaebi (Korean: 참도깨비; literally really dokkaebi): A mischievous dokkaebi. Contrast with gae dokkaebi.
- Gae dokkaebi (Korean: 개도깨비; literally wild dokkaebi): Evil dokkaebi. Contrast with Cham Dokkaebi.
- Gim Seobang dokkaebi (Korean: 김서방 도깨비; literally Mr. Kim Dokkaebi): A dumb dokkaebi that looks like a farmer.
- Nat dokkaebi (Korean: 낮도깨비; literally day dokkaebi): Unlike other dokkaebis, these appear during the daylight. They are known to give dokkaebi gamtus to humans.
- Go dokkaebi (Korean: 고도깨비; literally high dokkaebi): Dokkaebis known to be good at fighting and handling weapons, especially arrows.
- Gaksi dokkaebi (Korean: 각시도깨비; literally maiden dokkaebi) and chonggak dokkaebi (Korean: 총각도깨비; literally Bachelor Dokkaebi): Dokkaebis, known to attract humans.
- Oenun dokkaebi (Korean: 외눈도깨비; literally one-eyed dokkaebi): A one-eyed dokkaebi that eats a lot.
- Oedari dokkaebi (Korean: 외다리도깨비; literally one-legged dokkaebi): A one-legged dokkaebi that likes to play Ssireum.
In popular culture
- Larry Correia's 2014 novel Monster Hunter Nemesis includes a character, Michael Putlack, who has been possessed by a Go Dokkaebi.
- Correia, Larry (2014). Monster Hunter Nemesis. Riverdale, N.Y.: Baen Books. Chapter 7, pp. 123–124 (print). ISBN 978-1-4767-3655-6. OCLC 862788758. Retrieved 23 July 2014.