5 Disturbing Korean Urban Legends that Haunt Your Dreams
“Hush, hush, here comes the boogeyman/ He’ll catch you if he can” Remember the story of the boogeyman that our parents told us when we were little kids? — This is the kind of story we hear from our friend’s friends, the creepy urban legends. I’m sure you’ve heard so much about all that. But are you familiar with the Korean urban legends? Like in our article about the Korean drama Tale of the Nine Tailed, the nine tailed fox (Gumiho) is a mythical creature in one of the Korean urban legends. I guarantee that the Korean urban legends and folklore I’m gonna tell you soon will send chills down your spine…
CONTENT WARNING: Some of the images below may be graphic and unsettling. Be ready for that.
Korean Urban Legends: Ghosts
1. Cheonyeo Gwishin – The Virgin Ghost
Yep. You read it right – virgin ghosts. Like the name suggested, it means female ghosts who died a virgin. They died without being married to someone, so their bitter and shameful soul cannot cross the border to the underworld.
What does the virgin ghost look like?
Pale skin, bloody lips, long, loose hair, and a *sobok – the iconic look of a cheonyeo gwishin. As the virgin ghosts are not married, they do not have the right to tie up their long hair like a married woman could. Also, it is believed that they were not properly taken care of (being single and all). As a result, they have disheveled hair – symbolizing the wildness and alienation of their lives. The sobok also symbolizes the fact that their bodies were not protected (by their non-existed husbands).
*Sobok: a white traditional Korean mourning clothes
What’s the story?
This is probably the most famous myth out of all the other Korean urban legends. In ancient times, it was a disgrace if women died without fulfilling their purpose (i.e. serving their husbands, fathers and children). So, legend has it that once these single women are dead, their vengeful and bitter spirits would be cursed and stuck wandering on earth, haunting their own family for eternity. These virgin ghosts also always mess with couples, especially the newly weds, as they want their marriage to fail – like their own love life and how their mission of getting married was never fulfilled – pretty petty huh.
However, some believe this urban legend actually has so much more to it. They seem to think the social opression unmarried women used to face in traditional Korean society is related to why this urban legend exists and why only Korean women become virgin ghosts. It is because they are “failures” in the eyes of traditional Koreans. Therefore, this fear of becoming the marginalized group birthed the idea of Cheonyeo Gwishin. They fear that if they don’t get married during their lifetime, they would turn into sorrow spectres and might never transcend into the afterlife.
Some even believe that these virgin ghosts represent raped, betrayed, or wrongly murdered women. Legend has it that these women spirits linger on earth because they died unjustly. That’s why they could not enter the underworld – they have unresolved issues on earth and wish to seek revenge or simply want to be proven guilt-free. When they finally get their peace, they can move along.
Cheonyeo Gwishin Hotspots
They usually hang around abandoned buildings like schools and mental institutions, creepy places normally people don’t usually go to.
Urban Legend inspired movies/k-dramas?
Oh My Ghost (2015): This rom-com is about a Virgin Ghost taking over a woman’s body, in order to find a romantic partner to satisfy her sexual needs (which was not fulfilled in her short life). It is a funny and light-hearted portrayal of the supposedly terrifying spectre.
Arang and the Magistrate (2012): A person murdered an innocent woman, and she turns into a virgin ghost. Being more in line with the second meaning of why virgin ghosts exist, this resentful spirit has to avenge her wrongful death on her killer.
2. Mul Gwishin – The Water Ghost
When it comes to collecting bodies in the sea, ocean, or lake, there are three unwritten rules. One of them is the most important one – never go near a standing corpse. We all know that when someone drowns and dies, they float. But they never float upright. So when you see something like a piece of black seaweed floating on the sea surface, they are most likely the hair of water ghosts, trying to trick you into “rescuing” it or picking it up. If you try to salvage the body, you will get caught up in a whirlpool and drown like they did.
What’s the story?
According to some rescued drowning victims, they felt as if something was pulling them from below as they were struggling to stay afloat – it might be because these “black seaweeds” were trying to find some company… Which is not completely crazy – being trapped in the icy water forever? How lonely. It is not that unreasonable for them to want to have a friend down there, right?
Besides the wish to make friends, why else do these water loners kill people? There are actually a lot of other different theories attempting to explain this. One of the most common ones is because they want revenge. Much like the virgin ghosts, the water ghosts most likely hold a grudge too as they tragically died by suffocating in water. That’s why they lure other people in, for them to experience the same pain they did. On the other hand, some try to defend these water ghosts and say they have to drag others in. It is the only way they could get out of the water themselves. No matter what, if you don’t want the same destiny as they do, be careful the next time you want to go for a swim.
Mul Gwishin Hotspots
Rivers or other water bodies with frequent occurrence of drowning accidents usually are stigmatized as being places where water ghosts hang around. For instance, in the Myeongnyang Strait, where the Battle of Myeongnyang took place, many people got drawn into the water tornado. As a result, they might appear as standing for a short period of time – legend has it that these victims become water ghosts. Also, there are a ton of drowning cases in the Hongcheon River. Therefore, the place gained the infamous name – the Devil’s Hongcheon River – as mul gwishin possesses it.
3. The Hollow-eyed Woman
Imagine you’re driving one night, it’s foggy everywhere and you can vaguely see a woman with sunglasses walking along the sidewalk. You start thinking to yourself, “oh okay. It’s a little weird that she’s taking a stroll alone at this time of the day. And it’s not even daytime, why the shades? Maybe something happened to her? Maybe her car broke down?” Like a decent person that you are, you would probably stop and offer her a ride. Big mistake. Because when she approaches your windshield, you would realize that she is not a human wearing sunglasses, but a ghost with her eyeballs brutally gouged out, leaving a void behind – that is the Hollow-eyed Woman, haunting the Jayuro highway in Seoul Korea.
What’s the story?
Numerous car accidents have happened in Jayuro, a highway connecting two cities – Goyang and Paju. On the surface, the mistiness of the area can explain these injuries and deaths. However, the drivers racing through that highway might have a different theory in mind. As there have been multiple accounts of them witnessing the hollow-eyed woman wandering around since the mid-2000.
According to one of the witnesses, he was driving on Jayuro one night and almost hit a woman in her 20s, wearing a pair of “shades”. The woman apparently managed to dodge his car. She then went up to the driver and asked if he could drive her home. Obviously, feeling guilty about almost killing this person, he let her in. After she got in, the driver put in the address on the car’s navigator. Shortly after, they encountered a car accident and the driver stopped and turned around, wanting to explain to the hitch-hiker what was happening at the time. But guess what? She disappeared without a trace. Later on, she called his wife to drive him. Because his wife is not a good driver, she drove by follwing the navigator’s instruction, and ended up in a cemetery – guess the Jayuro ghost was heading back home.
Because of this horrifying myth, speculations on the identity of this enigmatic woman were flying around. They believe the ghost has a dark secret or past, that’s why she is stuck on Jayuro. An exorcist concludes that she was strangled to death on this very road, after investigating this region. But who knows what is real and what is not except for the eyeless woman herself?
Korean Urban Legends: Murderer
4. The Elevator Killer
I don’t know if you feel the same, but I’ve always thought that elevators are a little creepy. You’re shut in a confined space with strangers, what can you do if something happens? This next story I am going to tell you is pretty straightforward, but I can assure you the next time you step into an elevator with another person inside, you will hesitate. I would say it is even the scariest out of all the Korean urban legends I have talked about, because it is a real person so it could actually happen….
What’s the story?
The myth goes that when you enter an elevator going up, a man will go in with you and kill you. Years ago, a 19-year-old girl called Haruko went home really late one night. She lived on the 14th floor of a really old and desolate apartment building. As she dragged herself into the vacant elevator and pressed on the button for her floor, a man stepped inside just when the doors were about to close. The girl heart skipped a beat as he ran in. The man smiled at the girl and pushed the 13th floor button, the one right below hers. Haruko thought to herself, “eh, he probably worked until really late too”.
When the elevator reached the 13th floor, the mysterious man walked out. But as the door was closing, he turned around and took out a sharp knife in his jacket, saying in a menacing voice, “I’m gonna kill you on the next floor” followed by hysterical laugh
— with that terrifying announcement, Haruko sat in the sheer horror of knowing that she would get killed once the little screen on the panel shows the number “14” and the door opens back up. During this time, the murderer was sprinting up the stairs, waiting to slash her open….Rumour has it that girl was found stabbed to death the next morning.
Korean Urban Legends: Ritual
5. The Corner Game
There’s a Korean saying that goes (loosely translated),
“If you look at one of the four corners of the ceiling before sleeping, a ghost will come out and torment you.”
– making it a taboo to stare at the corners before going to bed, because according to one of the urban legends, a ghost would crawl it’s way down to the corner of the room. And now you are in trouble.
After knowing that it is possible that a ghost would come out to torture you, of course people are going to try and summon it. Afterall, that’s the only logical and smart thing to do. Hence, people invented the Corner Game with the sole purpose of being a ritual to request the presence of evil spirits inhabiting the corners of our ceiling.
How to play it?
Venue: A completely empty room with four corners. Cover and seal all your windows – creating a dark environment.
Before the game begins:
i) The building where your game takes place should be empty, with no other living things other than the four players.
ii) Turn off all the lights in other rooms (except for the game room).
iii) The players should all yell out their names three times as they enter the game room.
iv) Assign one of the players as the narrator. Apart from that person, nobody else should speak during the game.
v) Shut the door tight and shut off all the lights in the room. Shush.
Every participant should choose a respective corner to stand at, with face facing the wall and backs facing the center of the room. The minute they are all in position, the narrator has to count to three. After that, all players must rotate clockwise to the next corner. In the process, they must not turn around nor speak. Once they have finished rotating, they have to repeat that process until it is time to move to the completion procedure.
As you repeat this process of rotation, one of the players might disappear. Stay calm if that happens. This is when the emergency procedure needs to be enacted immediately: Each remaining player should say their names backward, three times, then turn around. One of the players should turn on the lights and the vanished player should have returned when the lights are on.
But… if after carrying out the emergency procedure (before switching the lights back on), an additional entity is spotted among the group, you must enact the completion procedure.
**Remember, you must NOT communicate or interact with this additional principal under ANY circumstances.
All players have to gather around the lightswitch, standing behind the “other figure”. Next, each of them has to speak out their own name, backwards, three times. Then, you may turn on the lights. Cross your fingers and hope to God that the corner ghost are in a good mood…
It is very important to remember that you should not make any other sound throughout the game except for the ones listed on the instruction. Follow these guidelines to a tee and you might have a chance to live.
Which of the Korean Urban Legends are your favourites?
Which Korean urban legends give you chills? Not going to lie, writing this gives me the chills too. Just remember, next time you travel to South Korea, better watch out….