Spirit Animals in Korean Culture

⁠— Written by Josh Lee —

It wasn't until I became an adult, did my mother begin sharing important stories of her life - perhaps she felt like I would be far more engaged as an adult. They felt like my history's secrets being exposed, like when King Tut's Sarcophagus was dug up, opening up new fascinations, discoveries, and questions. One of these stories is about her conception dreams, or in Korean, taemong (태몽), where for superstitious Koreans, is often when you are given confirmation from the cosmos that you are pregnant.

Taemong - Korean Conception Dreams

This bizarre occurrence is infused into only a handful of cultures - namely in India and Korea. You can find more on Indian and Korean conception dreams on Wikipedia.

Taemong dreams consist of the dreamer interacting with fruits (e.g. apples, watermelons, persimmons, chestnuts), animals, nature, children, or precious jewels. The interaction can be giving, taking, or consuming the fruit, embracing or catching an animal, or interacting with nature. The setting in the dream can be a significant place or recognizable to the dreamer. These dreams can be had from the soon-to-be mother or by someone close to her. My mother would know someone was pregnant at church before they even announced it, based on her taemong dreams.

There are sometimes heavy meaning in these dreams - such as identifying the gender of the child. Some omens in these dreams could be favorable, in which, people may try to "purchase" the omen from you. Being raised American, this all sounded like nonsense to me, nevertheless, it sounds like a lot of fun - and it didn't seem like anyone took it too seriously. The practice of Taemong dreams seem to be very old. One of the earliest accounts being in the 6th century by Kim Yu-shin, a Korean General during the Silla period - a time when Korea practices shamanism.

The Turtle

Mama Lee Meets My Brother's Spirit

My mother's taemong dream of my brother was set at a small creek on her sister's farm. In her dream she is a girl, and can hear her siblings' playful laughter in the background. She describes her feeling in the dream to be warm, safe, and clear.

She recalls sunbeams glistening onto the bumbling creek like jewels. On a flat-top stone in the creek, was a baby turtle who looked at her as she approached. As she walked along the creek, the turtle slowly followed her.

Korean Mythos

The Turtle or Tortoise

Koreans respect turtles as symbols of longevity, content life and knowledge of the future. One of the four legendary creatures that guard the compass directions - it represents the North. It's also associated with winter, the color black, and the water element.

The Black Carp

Mama Lee Meets My Spirit Animal

My mother's taemong dream of me takes place at a lake she almost drowned in as a child. Like my brother's dream, she is once again a younger version of herself and she is fishing at this lake.

She noted that the lake in this dream was "oil black," the sky was grey, and the trees stood ominously around the lake like gothic spires. The fishing line goes taut and begins to battle the fish until her hands begin to bloody. She finally catches the fish, which is revealed to be a 10ft-long black carp.

Korean Mythos

The Carp, Koi, or Dragon

The carp are often seen in nature, swimming upstream to it's original birthing grounds - so are associated with persistence, fearlessness, and glory.

The carp is identified across multiple Asian cultures as the mythical beast that has to potential to become a dragon - this is also true in Korean culture. It is said, that if the carp succeeds to swim up a waterfall, that it transforms into a dragon. The Dragon is also one of the four cardinal directions of the compass, the guardian of the east. Black carps are exceptionally rare and expensive in Asia.

Your Spirit Animal

Document Your Dreams

Have you recorded your child's conception dream? One would imagine that these must happen to people in other cultures, but hasn't necessary gained enough traction to talk about in the culture. If you're fortunate to still be able to speak with your mother, maybe ask her, if she can recall having any dreams about fruit, animals, or nature around the time of conception before you were born. You may be surprised to find that your spirit animal is not anything you thought it would be - and perhaps may explain your life and even give a glimpse of your destiny.

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