|This article does not cite any references or sources. (January 2009)|
|Revised Romanization||yong/ryong (mireu)|
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2010)|
Whereas most dragons in European mythology are generally related to the elements of fire and destruction, dragons in Korean mythology are mostly viewed as benevolent beings related to water and agriculture, often considered bringers of rain and clouds. Hence, many Korean dragons are said to have resided in rivers, lakes, oceans, or even deep ponds within mountains.
The symbol of the dragon has been used extensively, both in Korean mythology and ancient Korean art.
Ancient texts sometimes mention sentient speaking dragons, capable of understanding such complex emotions such as devotion, kindness, and gratitude. One particular Korean legend speaks of the great King Munmu, who on his deathbed wished to become a "Dragon of the East Sea in order to protect Korea".
The Korean dragon was said to have certain specific traits, generally like the Chinese dragon, but it developed a longer beard. It is in many ways very similar in appearance to dragons of Chinese and Japanese mythology.
Very occasionally a dragon may be depicted as carrying a dragon orb known as the Yeouiju (여의주) in one or more of its claws or in its mouth. Modeled after the mythical Cintamani jewel or pearl, it was said that whoever could wield the Yeouiju was blessed with the abilities of omnipotence and creation at will, and that only four-toed dragons (who had thumbs with which to hold the orbs) were both wise and powerful enough to wield these orbs, as opposed to the lesser, three-toed dragons.
As with China, the number nine is significant and auspicious in Korea, and dragons were said to have 81 (9×9) scales on their backs, representing yang essence.
Korean folk mythology states that most dragons were originally Imugis (Pronounced "Ee-Moo-Gi"), or lesser dragons, which were said to resemble gigantic serpents. There are a few different versions of Korean folklore that describe what imugis are and how they aspire to become full fledged dragons. Koreans thought that an Imugi could become a true dragon, or yong/mireu, if it caught a Yeouiju which had fallen from heaven. Another explanation states they are hornless creatures resembling dragons, who have been cursed and thus were unable to become dragons. By other accounts, an Imugi is a proto-dragon which must survive one thousand years in order to become a fully fledged dragon. In either case they are said to be large, benevolent, python-like creatures that live in water or caves. Their sighting is associated with good luck.
In the 21st-century Korean film titled D-War, two Imugi were seen, of which one was benevolent and the other evil, were seen competing for possession of a source of power (the Yeouiju) by which one of them could become a dragon. Ultimately, the evil Imoogi is destroyed by his rival moments after the latter had captured the source. Here, the two are shown to be physically different, in that the evil Imoogi is darker-colored, more slender, and distinguished by an inflexible hood similar to that of a cobra, whereas the good Imoogi is paler, stockier, and hoodless. Narration in the film implies that many Imoogi exist at a time, whereof one is designated to become a dragon.
The Alosha series by Christopher Pike (author) features a variation of the Imugi called a "koul". A koul is a snakelike, gigantic proto-dragon that must pass three tests of courage; Coming to aid of others, the act of swimming, and a literal 'leap' of faith in order to become a dragon. Upon coming to the aid of others, the koul grows legs; after swimming through water, the koul is able to breathe fire; upon making the leap of faith, the koul immediately sprouts wings. A successful koul resembles a European dragon, whereas a koul who has completed only one or two of its tests resembles a Chinese dragon or Korean dragon of the type described above.
The Korean cockatrice is known as a gye-ryong (계룡/鷄龍), which literally means chicken-dragon; they do not appear as often as dragons. They are sometimes seen as chariot-pulling beasts for important legendary figures or for the parents of legendary heroes. One such legend involves the founding of the Kingdom of Silla, whose princess was said to have been born from a cockatrice egg.
- Bates, Roy, Chinese Dragons, Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Bates, Roy, All About Chinese Dragons, China History Press, 2007.
- 'Korean Water and Mountain Spirits', in: Ingersoll, Ernest, et al., (2013). The Illustrated Book of Dragons and Dragon Lore. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN B00D959PJ0