7 Horror Stories From Korean Traditional Folklore That Will Give You The Chills
It’s that time of the year again when we start breaking out costumes we have stashed away, pumpkin everything, and not to forget, horror stories. Halloween wouldn’t be complete without a good night of horror stories around a circle of friends. And to help spice up those nights even more, we’ve rounded up some of the most hair-raising tales from Korean traditional folklore. Think you have the chops to stomach them? Turn off the lights, huddle up, and read on!
Nine-Tailed Fox (Gumiho)
Nine-tailed foxes are commonplace in folktales originating from Korea, China, and Japan. According to these legends, a fox that lives for a thousand years can turn into a fox spirit and shape-shift freely. Its most preferred form to take, though, would be that of a beautiful young girl who seduces men and makes a meal out of these unfortunate souls.
The Korean fairy-tale “The Fox Sister” features a couple with two sons who really wanted a daughter. Praying fervently for a daughter even if she were a fox, the family were indeed blessed with one. However, the happy and idyllic story soon took a turn for the gory when the family started to probe why their livestock was mysteriously dying off.
Investigations by the two sons culminated in accusations that their sister was the one responsible — accusations that their parents firmly rejected. Both sons were shown the door, and when they later returned, they found that the only one left in their family home was their sister. The night of their return, the oldest son was roused from his sleep by a commotion only to discover that his younger sister was actually a murderous fox spirit who had devoured the rest of the family so as to become a human for real.
In modern times, however, you are more likely to find nine-tailed foxes (or tamed representations of them) gallivanting around in K-dramas such as “My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho,” “Grudge: The Revolt of Gumiho,” and “Gu Family Book.” The original folklore lends a touch of mysticism to these contemporary dramas through concepts like physical transformations and the fox’s desire for mortality. And fun fact, while most nine-tailed foxes are portrayed as women, “Gu Family Book” interprets their fox spirits as males (who are no less charming than their female counterparts, it seems)!
They have even made an appearance on the beloved reality show “Running Man,” where Song Ji Hyo and the other female guests had to collect nine tails in order to become human.
Virgin Ghost (Cheonyeo Gwisin)
Overflowing long hair and dressed in white all over? Chances are, what you have in mind is a gwisin! In truth, “gwisin” is a pretty generic word that translates into “ghost,” and they fall under the myth category of Korean supernatural tales. Tied to the land of the living by unfulfilled tasks and untold suffering, ghosts haunt places such as abandoned buildings, forests, and schools.
Of the lot, the most infamous would probably be the virgin girl ghosts who lead a cursed existence for dying before being able to carry out their Confucian duties of serving her elders and future husband. Bitter and resentful, these malevolent spirits were said to terrorize their former villages until the village folk made attempts to appease them with . . . of all things, phallic statues. Some statues have survived until this day. Haesindang Park in Samcheok, for instance, plays host to a collection of them.
As fearsome as their reputation is, virgin ghosts appear in mainstream Korean media in a more palatable form these days (think less revenge and more love!). The drama “Oh My Ghostess” connects a lustful virgin ghost with an assistant chef in an ill-fated possession so that the ghost can lose her virginity and successfully move on to the afterlife.
In Lee Jung Hyun’s “V” music video, the age-old virgin ghost also gets a K-pop worthy revamp; the ratty tatty white dress is cast aside for a glamorous wedding dress, and the ghost herself hangs with a pretty awesome zombie girl-gang!
Egg Ghost (Dalgyal Gwishin)
You might have already guessed from the picture, but yes, this specific type of ghost is called an egg ghost for their smooth and faceless appearance. Egg ghosts have many contemporaries such as the Noppera-bo in Japan and Mujina in Hawaii.
Depicted as emotionless with slight statures, Korean egg ghosts are thought to have been childless individuals in their former lives. Without descendants to hold memorial rites for them, these spirits are gradually stripped of what humanity and personality they once had and are cursed to a wretched existence in their afterlives. Even though they have no discernible motive, egg ghosts inevitably cause instant death to anyone who sees them, milking life out of their victims the way they once experienced.
Water Ghost (Mul Gwishin)
Born of victims of accidental drownings, water ghosts are ghosts who inhabit water. Chained to the realm of the living by the shackles of trauma, they do not realize they have died and instead avidly pursue other swimmers for help, company, or for sheer schadenfreude.
Next time you’re in a body of water and feel something tugging on you, it might be a water ghost at work trying to replicate its ill-fate on somebody else. While they are usually described as an invisible force that keeps to their watery depths, such ghosts are sometimes portrayed with long hair and arms that jut out of the stillness to grab at any unfortunate swimmers.
In the Korean horror movie “Dear Friend,” water ghosts are out for a group of high schoolers’ blood after the girls used a Korean traditional oujia board (called “bunshinsaba“) to conduct a séance and visited a spring in a forest.
Outhouse Goddess (Cheuksin)
Brutal and hostile, outhouse goddesses are goddesses of Korean traditional outhouses, which were dark and isolated from the main house. Manifesting as long-haired women, these deities lie in wait in the dark and groom their long tresses in preparation for their cruel misdeeds.
It is said that anyone who approaches the outhouse has to cough three times to alert the outhouse goddess of their presence and give her time to shy away. However, should one fail to do so, an exposed outhouse goddess would fly into a vicious rage and direct her hair to wrap around the victim’s neck and strangle them to death from her ceiling perch. Even if the unfortunate escape death, they would still be inflicted with a medley of maladies incurable by modern science.
If you think these are a thing of the past now that outhouses are not in use, you’re sadly mistaken. Toilet ghosts called “hoajangshil gwisins” are a close cousin, for they too reside in washrooms (although they haunt unsuspecting users much more indiscriminately!).
In “Let’s Fight Ghost,” an exorcist named Bong Pal (2PM’s Taecyeon) bumps into one while he’s going about his business brushing up in the washroom. Enshrouded in dark mist, the long-haired woman would have floated past until she realizes the exorcist can see her.
Grim Reaper (Jeoseung Saja)
From La Calavera Catrina in Mexico to the classic Grim Reaper adopted across the West, personifications of death traverse cultures. In Korea, grim reapers hold supreme as death gods who reap the souls of the dead. Under the charge of Great King Yŏmna, grim reapers escort souls from the land of the living to the underworld upon their death.
Although these death gods make multiple appearances throughout Korean traditional folklore, they are frequently bested by their opponents who successfully cheat death. One of the rare tales in which a grim reaper is able to carry out his unearthly task is “Myth of General Sineui.” In this folklore, a strong and capable General Sineui attempts to ward off the deathly prophet to no avail by planting a ring of orange trees, piercing his head with a silver needle (desperate times indeed call for desperate measures), and fighting off legions of ghosts in the underworld. Each time, the unwavering death god finds a way to thwart the great general, alluding to the futility of cheating death.
However, not all reapers have to jump through such arduous hoops in order to transport their charges to the nether realm. The one in “Goblin” carries out his duties seamlessly and without a fault, using his supernatural powers to check off his list of potential deaths (and sometimes, even causing them!). Tying past and present to show how the fates of the characters are intertwined, the drama also unveiled the beginnings of how a grim reaper comes to be.
Having brought up grim reapers, we would be remiss if we didn’t give goblins the spotlight they deserve too! Korean goblins are created by the spiritual possession of objects that hold the stain of human blood. Bearing an arsenal of extraordinary powers and abilities up their sleeves, these goblins are not to be taken lightly, for great responsibility does not always come with great power.
In one traditional folktale, an old man befriended a visiting goblin over drinks and conversations only to get a rude shock when he saw his friend’s reflection one day and realized he was turning into the creature! Feeling betrayed, the old man doused his house with cow’s blood, said to be the goblin’s fear, and successfully deflected the sly goblin.
“Goblin” stays true to the goblin’s powerful and vicious nature by playing up the historical connection with a general’s bloodstained sword. Gleaming red in the daylight with the blood of the soldiers he had massacred, the sword becomes a mystical item tied to the lifespan of the wily goblin thereafter.
Hey Soompiers, which of these folklores was the creepiest? Share with us your favorite horror stories or movies, and we’ll be ready with popcorn (dokkaebi-style)!
Aetcult is your friendly K-beauty enthusiast who loves her tea on and off her face (no lie). In between bouts of tinkering with new beauty products, she will probably be writing about her finds, revising her Korean language coursework and jamming to the latest K-pop song. Say hi to Am on Tumblr.