Inwang-san [Benevolent King Mountain] looms above downtown Seoul as one of Korea's most significant
sacred mountains, serving as the nation's most active center of Shamanism and folk-religious traditions.
Above, the peak at the center is the Benevolent* King himself (in a seated position seen in left profile), or the San-shin if
you will. To his right (the other rocky peak) is his accompanying Tiger (pet / servant / guardian / mount / enforcer / alter-ego).
They are both "manifesting" up out of this mountain in geological time. Much more on this Korean concept of spirits
manifesting upwards in stone is here. Between and behind them is, most unfortunately, a military base, because this
most sacred peak overlooks the Gyeongbok-gung Palace (main royal seat 1392-1910) and Korea's Presidential
Mansion (the "Blue House").
These unique rocky outcroppings on the southern cliff face of this mountain, along with other striking natural features
such as the Seon-bawi (see below) have attracted shamanic worship to this place since before recorded history. The
main figure can be seen as a Benevolent King that will rule humankind (or at least Koreans) in a utopian state when he
finally finishes manifesting, or as a kind of natural Buddha statue, or as Mireuk-bul (the Buddha who will come in the
future for universal enlightenment and salvation), or as the very powerful San-shin [Mountain-spirit] of these crags
manifesting into the world in stone, in his role as King of the Mountain, extended to national significance -- he could
even be seen as the return of Founding-King Dan-gun, who is sort-of the San-shin of all Korea.
*The Chinese character pronounced In is one of the most important in Oriental philosophy; it is often translated benevolence, or
maybe human-hearted, or simply Good / goodness; it's a key Confucian and Neo-Confucian term, as the master himself repeatedly
used it to describe how rulers ought to act towards those under them (if they do not they are not to be considered legitimate rulers).
It is also heavily used by Buddhists due Inwang-gyeong [Benevolent King Sutra] which was very influential in the early centuries
CE when Mahayana Buddhism became established in China and spread to the Korean Peninsula.
Somewhere in the 1970s the authorities designated the entire cluster of Shamanic Shrines here as a single "Buddhist
Temple" named "Inwang-sa", with its own single "one-pillar" entrance-gate and a central Bell in a pavilion. On these
items they changed, for reasons unknown to me, the second Chinese character in the name from the "wang" = king to
another 旺 "wang" which means "prosper, flourish; or pretty, beautiful". It is made from the radicals for "sun" and "king"
to give a simple and direct idea of "prosperity" -- so therefore they were attempting to re-name this area "Benevolent-
Prosperity"... an auspicious name, but not the original one.
|close-ups of the crouching Tiger (left) and his seated master, the Benevolent King (right) -- clearly a head-with-crown on shoulders...
Closer look at the main area of the "Inwang-sa" shamanic-temple-complex on Mt. Inwang's south face --
indicated are features that are shown / explained in detail on the following pages: the "view crags" are gigantic
boulders that visitors can climb up on for one of the best views of Seoul City from anywhere; the Seon-bawi is a
weird humanish formation that just may be the most-worshiped rocks in the world; the Guksa-dang is Korea's
National Spirit Shrine (not actually visible in this shot because it is hidden behind those big trees); the "Main Hall"
is a Shamanic/Buddhist temple that calls itself the central worship-building of the entire complex; the sextagonal
roof of the Bell Pavilion built by the government in the 1980s; and Seonam-jeongsa, the largest and most prominent
out of the many Shamanic/Buddhist temples here.
In a gully next to the Seon-bawi,
a Shaman prays at a Yong-wang
[Dragon-King of the Waters] Shrine
built over one of this mountain's many
springs. Note the drum & gong on the
ritual- platform and the offerings on the
roof (red things are water-dippers).
|the highly-sacred "Benevolent King" Mountain
Shamanic center of Korea's Capital
an important part of the Bukhan-san Sub-Range
One of the largest shines in the nation to Founding-King Dan-gun is located just above Sajik Park, which besides
the old Altars to the Earth and Grain / Harvest features statues of Yulgok Yi I and his mother Shin Sa-imdang.
Just above Sajik Park is the Hwanghak-jeong, the best-preserved traditional Korean Archery pavilion and range,
one of the few remaining ones out of the 48 that once were in and around Seoul.
Inwang-san sprawls across the left, and its sister Bugak-san on the right, with Samgak-san
seen behind, downtown Seoul in front, at sunset. Excellent photo by my friend Robert Koehler.
|East face of the Summit, after a snowfall, with the historic Seo-chon [West Village] at its foot.
|The famously-holy Seon-bawi at top, Guksa-dang below it, An-san in distance upper-left,
Seonam-sa prominent front-left, other shaman-shrine-residences visible on the right.
good shot by mountain-master Roger Shepherd in June 2011
|the Summit, about 340m, is virtually a separate mountain to the north of the Shamanic crags I focus on, and has no particular
spiritual significance and little religious activity -- but it has long been all considered as one mountain. In the pungsu-jiri
geomantic configuration of Seoul as a capital city, Inwang-san is the Western Peak [Seo-ak] / White-Tiger Peak [Baekho-ak].
|most of the "Inwang-sa" shamanic-temple-complex, seen from the south in 2010 -- the Benevolent King at
top-left, the view-crags to the lower-right-of-him, the Tiger to the right of that with Seon-bawi at its right paw,
Seonam-sa temple prominent in center-right, and the Ilchul-mun Gate at the foot of the steep driveway bottom-right.
|Inwang-san seen over Samcheong-dong, under feathery clouds and a glorious sunset, August 2011
used with permission from Robert Koehler's photo-blog