Bul-Gae (Korean: 불 개 fire dog), the mythical Fire Dogs in Korean mythology, are dog beasts from the kingdom of darkness that always chase the sun and moon, causing eclipses when they bite both the celestial bodies.
In Korean mythology, the cosmological narratives and legends such as the "Isik, Wolsik" legend, explain the eclipse phenomenon with the Bul-Gae dogs.
According to the myth recorded in the Hangugui-Seolwo (Folk Myths from Korea), there were many realms of heaven. One of them, the kingdom of darkness, was called Gamangnara (the Dark World). The king of Gamangnara got weary with darkness and desired the light of the sun and moon. He sent one of the gigantic fiery hounds, the Bul-Gae, belonging to one of his dark world subjects, to chase the sun and bring it to his realm. However, when the Bul-gae tried to bite the sun, the sun was too hot, burning the dog's mouth and the Bul-Gae had to let it go. The king of darkness got angry and then sent another, more ferocious Bul-Gae to fetch the moon at least. When the Bul-Gae bit the moon, the moon was too cold, freezing the dog´s mouth and the Bul-Gae had to let it go as well, which infuriated their master. The king always sends his dogs, they try to fetch the light, but they always fail and run back to Gamangnara. When the Bulgae bites the sun, it is called a solar eclipse; when they bite the moon, it is a lunar eclipse. During eclipses, the dark parts covering the sun and moon were believed to be the parts bitten and covered by the mouths of the Bul-Gae.
This myth is quite reminiscent of the Nordic myth of the chtonic, giant, monstrous Sköll wolf, which always hunts Sol, the sun goddess and will eat her at Ragnarok, and his brother Hati, who serves the same role with Máni, the personified moon. The Bul-Gae myth also shares similarities with the Hinduistic serpent villain, Rahu, who chases the sun and tries to swallow it, creating solar eclipses, as well as the Slavic mythology dragon-serpents Zmej, that try to swallow the sun in the sky during rain storms and can absorb and steal the power of the sun by sunbathing.
Bul-Gae Dog Breed
In South Korea, in the Daegu-Gyeongbuk province, an ancient, nearly extinct breed of dog is called Bul-Gae. The name of this breed refers to its obvious resemblance of the mythical dog beasts, with its completely reddish-maroon coat and nails, amber-colored nose and amber-colored eyes. The dog looks very much like the Jindo spitz dog breed, with the curled bushy tail and pointy ears, just with the exception of the deep maroon coat. The looks are archaic and suggest some relation to Jindos, Inu Shibas and Asian wolves, especially the wolves of the Sobaeksan. The average height of Bul-Gae would be 50–55 cm at the withers and average weight ranging from 15 to 25 kg. In the 1990s, this dog breed was threatened by extinction due to the Korean dog meat cuisine. In 2012, the breed was saved from complete annihilation by the efforts of Dongyang University, researching and rebreeding the 20 last individual dogs.
In popular culture
The Japanese design company Kikkerland sells a small Bul-Gae Dog flashlight, designed by Kyungmi Moon, one of the winners of the Kikkerland Korean design challenge in 2013. The flashlight is small and shaped like a spitz dog, with the light bulb framed by a black ring, where the dog's muzzle and eyes would be, and the rest of the head and body completely red. The name, dog shape and color are of course based on the Korean mythical dogs, as well as the Bul-Gae mythical connection to light and darkness.
- Encyclopedia of Korean Folklore and Traditional Culture Vol. III by The National Folk Museum of Korea (South Korea) 길잡이미디어, 2014 ISBN 9788928900848
- An Illustrated Guide to Korean Mythology by Won-Oh Choi, published by Global Oriental, 2008 ISBN 9781905246601
- Korean Breeds of Dog in Korean. Retrieved from 2015 by Wayback Machine
- Rare Korean dogs, at the PPSS portal (in Korean)
- Kikkerland Korean Design Challenge and Bul-Gae flashlight