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Revised RomanizationUngnyeo

Ungnyeo (Korean웅녀; Hanja熊女) is a popular name, which refers to Goma. [1] Helen Hye-Sook Hwang delineates the linguistic link between "Ungneyo" and "Goma" as follows:

The link between “Ung” and “Gom” is not something unfamiliar to most Koreans. Researchers note that “Goma-seong (Goma Stronghold)” better known “Ungjin-seong” was the capital of ancient Baekje Korea from 475 to 538 CE. However, “Gom” as an alternative epithet of “Goma” remains unfamiliar to many modern Koreans. Furthermore, little known is that “Ungnyeo” is derived from “Goma,” the queen of the bear clan. Korean linguists infer that “Ungsim (熊心)” is an Idu word and should be read “Goma.” Accoding to them, the second character “Sim (心)” meaning “Maeum (마음)” in “Ungsim” is an indicator of its phonetic sound, “Ma.” Following the first character “Go” in “Gom (곰), “Ungsim” should be read as “Goma.” A compound of “Ung (熊)” and “Nyeo (Woman),” “Ungnyeo” is a euphemism for “Ungsim (熊心).” Idu (吏讀 Official’s Script) is an ancient Korean writing system that uses logographic characters for the Korean spoken language. Its use is noted during the early three states (Silla, Goguryeo, Baekje) to Joseon (1392-1919) periods. That Goma is the Idu word for Ungsim offers no small insight. It holds key to unlock a broad range of the Goma words found trans-nationally in East Asia and elsewhere. [2]

According to Hwang, the story of "Ungnyeo" remains largely misrepresented. Her myth, better know as the Myth of Dangun or the Korean foundation myth, Ungnyeo (lit. 'bear/sovereign woman') is a she-bear who becomes a woman after undergoing "the cave initiation" [3]


In the myth, a tiger and a bear lived together in a cave and prayed to the divine ruler Hwanung (the Son of Heaven and son to Hwanin) to be made human.[4]: 179  Hwanung heard their prayers and gave them 20 cloves of garlic, a bundle of mugwort and ordered them to stay out of the sunlight and eat only this food for 100 days. Due to hunger, the tiger left the cave after roughly 20 days, but the bear remained inside. After 21 days, she was transformed into a woman, and came to be known as the bear woman Ungnyeo.

Ungnyeo was grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. Her lack of a husband drove her to depression, and she began to pray beneath a sacred betula tree (Korean신단수; Hanja神檀樹) to be blessed with a child. Hwanung heard her prayers and was deeply moved. He took Ungnyeo as his wife and soon after, she gave birth to a son, Dangun, who would go on to found the nation of Korea.

Interpretation of the story[edit]

There are two main characteristics of Ungnyeo. The founding myth of the Korean ancient nation generally sets the founder's paternal blood line as the Cheonsin (Korean천신; Hanja天神, sky god) and the mother line as the Jisin (Korean지신; Hanja地神, land god). As a result, Ungnyeo is regarded as a type of totem deified by Dangun (단군 [ko])'s mother lineage.

On the other hand, the bear itself has religious implications. The bear is the god of the land and symbolizes the uterus that produces products in farming culture. Thus, bears are predominantly interpreted as female. Ungnyeo is also interpreted as a kind of goddess.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook (2018). "Goma, The Shaman Ruler of Ol Magoist East Asia/Korea and Her Mythology."Goddesses in Myth, History and Culture. Mago Books. p. 259. ISBN 978-1976331022.
  2. ^ Hwang, Ibid.
  3. ^ Hwang, Ibid., 252.
  4. ^ Bierlein, J. F. (1999). Living myths : how myth gives meaning to human experience (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Pub. Group. ISBN 0-345-42207-4. OCLC 39624790.

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