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South Korea: A debt of gratitude

South Korean snake
South Korean snake

In the previous article, the story was about a tiger who sneaked into a village during the night to steal an ox. He heard a baby cry and the mother hush it by giving it a dried persimmon called a “gakkon.” The tiger didn’t understand and thought the persimmon was a terrifying creature. A thief mistook the tiger for an ox and tried to steal it. Thinking the thief was the dreaded “persimmon” that had scared the baby into silence, the tiger ran off into the mountains never to return to the village.

But tigers aren’t the only animals with human attributes in Korean folklore. Snakes were also frequently portrayed in the role of antagonist. Being widespread and dangerous throughout South Korea, it’s no wonder that snakes were personified as beings to avoid or get rid of if possible. This next tale is about a man who encounters snakes and birds who know how to settle a debt of gratitude.

One day a man was traveling to the city. Along the way he came to a forest where he heard some birds chirping frantically. They were baby magpies left in their nest high in the branches of a tree and they were chirping in fear because a snake had wound up the tree to eat them.

Now in those days most men carried bows and this man was no exception so he quickly nocked an arrow, aimed and shot. The snake fell dead on the ground and the baby magpies chirped their gratitude to the man. On he continued to the city, thinking no more of the occurrence.

Later when his business was concluded, he began his journey home. However, he hit the same wood by night and couldn’t see well enough to find his way. After wandering about he spied a lit window and, being tired and hungry from his journey, stopped at the house. The woman who answered the door was very beautiful and allowed him to eat and drink. But when he tried to sleep, he found he couldn’t; nor could he leave when he thought he should move on instead.

The woman was actually a snake in disguise and would not free him. The snake the man had met and killed before had been her husband and she wanted revenge for his death. To Be Continued…