Haneullim or Haneulnim (하늘님 "Heavenly King"), also spelled Hananim (하나님) or Hanunim (하느님), Hwanin (환인) or Hanin (한인), also called Sangje ("Highest Deity") or Sangjenim ("Kingly Highest Deity"), also known simply as Haneul ("Heaven") or Cheon (천 "Heaven", in Sino-Korean), or Cheonsin ("God of Heaven"),[1] is the concept of supreme God peculiar to Korean shamanism,[2] and religions rooted in Korean shamanism (including Cheondoism and Jeungsanism).[1] In some of these religions he is called Okhwang Sangje ("Highest Deity the Jade Emperor").

Haneullim is etymologically explained as meaning "source [im, in] of all being [haneul, hwan]", indicating the absolute principle of the universe, the supreme being, or the supreme mind.[2] According to scholars, the belief in this supreme God is at the heart of all religions in Korea, being deeply rooted in the mind of the Korean people.[2]

Dangun myth

Dangun is traditionally considered to be the son of Hwanin, the "Heavenly King", and founder of the Korean nation.[3] This myth is reputed to be older than that of the mother goddess.[3] Myths similar to that of Dangun are found in Ainu[4] and Siberian cultures.[5]

The myth starts with prince Hwanung ("Heavenly Prince"), son of Hwanin. The prince asked his father to grant him governance over Korea.[6] Hwanin accepted, and Hwanung was sent to Earth bearing three Heavenly Seals and accompanied by three thousand followers.[6] The prince arrived under the holy tree of sandalwood (Sintansu 신단수, 神檀樹)[7] on the holy mountain, where he founded his holy city.[6]

At the time of his reign, Ungnyeo or Ungnye (웅녀, 熊女)[7]—who was a she-bear—and a tiger were living in a cave near the holy city, praying earnestly that their wish to become part of mankind might be fulfilled.[6] Ungnyeo patiently endured weariness and hunger, and after twenty-one days she was transformed into a beautiful woman, while the tiger ran away for it could not tolerate the effort.[6] The woman Ungnyeo was overjoyed, and visiting the sandalwood city she prayed that she might become the mother of a child.[6]

Ungnye's wish was fulfilled, so that she became the queen and gave birth to a prince who was given the royal name of Dangun, the "Sandalwood King".[6] Dangun reigned as the first human king of Korea, giving to his kingdom the name of Joseon, "Land of the Morning Calm".[6]

Dangun was the first shaman, intermediary between mankind and Haneullim, to whom he worshipped and prayed on the behalf of his people.[8] The importance of the worship of ancestors and gods reside in their being the mean of communion with the supreme God, Haneullim.[8] According to some scholars, the name Dangun is related to the Siberian Tengri ("Heaven"),[9] while the bear is a symbol of the Big Dipper (i.e. Ursa Major), itself a symbol of the supreme God in many Eurasian cultures, including Chinese theological thought.[10] Later in the myth, Dangun becomes the Sansin, the "Mountain God" (metaphorically of civilising growth, prosperity).[11]

Haneullim's threefoldness

Korean theology has a triune idea of God expressed in the myth of Dangun, the third and fully incarnated form of Hwanin.[2] With Dangun as Sansin ("Mountain God"), the divine trinity of Korean religion represents the three stages of Haneullim's manifesation.[2] Hwanin represents the transcendent source, with "haneul", "hwan" indicating "all being" or "Heaven", and "im", "in" the cause of it.[2] Hwanung, the second hypostasis of Hwanin, is the god of the middle realm, between Heaven and Earth.[2]

Dangun, the "Sandalwood King", is the god of the Earth.[2] In the role of Sansin, he represents the axle of the world around which all things spin and which links up to Heaven.[12] In the place where Heaven incarnated, the "holy mountain" of civilisation was established, and the sandalwood became the "holy tree". The symbols of the cosmic mountain and tree are common to all shamanic experiences, as highlighted by Mircea Eliade in his studies.[13]

In the Korean tradition, the threefold conception of divinity is also explained in terms of: God-the-Father, creator of the universe (Hwanin); God-the-Teacher, the order of nature (Hwanung); and God-the-King, the supreme God incarnated by the human king (Dangun), who governs his kingdom according to the laws of nature, granting well-being to his citizens.[14]

See also


  1. 1 2 Hong (2009), p. 39.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Lee (1981), p. 18.
  3. 1 2 Lee (1981), p. 13.
  4. Lee (1981), p. 20.
  5. Lee (1981), p. 21.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Lee (1981), p. 14.
  7. 1 2 Lee (2010s), pp. 10–13.
  8. 1 2 Lee (1981), p. 17.
  9. Lee (1981), pp. 17–18.
  10. Didier (2009), passim but especially Vol. I, pp. 143, 154.
  11. Lee (1981), pp. 16–18.
  12. Lee (1981), pp. 18–19.
  13. Lee (1981), p. 19.
  14. Lee (2010s), pp. 13–14.


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