Myths often sound absurd, but they are a type of a bowl that contains reality through imagination. “Shinseon Jaegon” in Midang Seo Jeong-ju’s prose collection the “Jilmajae myth” shows how the bowl is made in an intriguing way.
A crippled guy named Jaegon, which meant “a person who deserves to live on earth,” lived in Jilmajae village, Gochang, Jeonbuk Province. He resembled a turtle when he crawled around. He weaved and sold straw mats and baskets for a living, but barely made ends meet. People in the village gave him “a right to beg for food,” crawling around the village like a turtle. They gave him food, clothes and fire.
But he suddenly disappeared. Something clearly went wrong. People in the village had a heavy heart. “Jaegon looks like a turtle. Turtles, like cranes, live almost 1,000 years,” said an old person in the village. “He was so bored to live that long here. He grew wings and flew to heaven as a shinseon.” From then on, Jaegon became a shinseon and a myth.
People were generous to him when they were comfortable, but they may have treated him unkindly or been annoyed by him when things were difficult for them and their family. Indifference and isolation would have pushed him to death. They realized he was gone when time passed. They felt so sorry. They felt as if the god would punish them. A sense of guilt grew in their mind, but they couldn’t talk about it openly or pass down the story to their children. That’s why they chose a myth with imagination. They created a story that he went to heaven to remember and mourn him, which was an attempt to lessen their sense of guilt.
It was the village’s conscience and ethics that gave him wings and made him a shinseon. Not all myths do, but they often contain truth of communities.