Haeseonam Hermitage – 해선암 (Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do)
Hermitage History and Myths
Haeseonam Hermitage is located in southeastern Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do in a deep valley fold north-east of Mt. Cheontaesan (631 m). Unlike all the other hermitages on this website, Haeseonam Hermitage is not Buddhist. Instead, it’s a shaman hermitage, which is made plain by the lack of shrine halls dedicated to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and the ample shrines and shrine halls dedicated to a wide assortment of shaman deities.
According to the local mudang (female shamans), Haeseonam Hermitage was once a prayer site for hundreds of years where Buddhist monks studied. Haeseonam Hermitage was a place where locals and fortunetellers came and prayed, as well. Specifically, Haeseonam Hermitage was a place where women who had difficulty getting pregnant came to pray. The hermitage was also a place where parents came to pray for the health of their sick child. They would bring their ailing children and lay them on the hermitage’s rocks and pray for their health. One of the interesting shaman figures that people would pray to, in part, was a local shaman deity known as Mago Halmoni, or 마고할머니. They would pray to this local shaman deity for the previously mentioned problems dealing with pregnancy and childhood ailments. Also, and according to local mudang, Mago Halmoni was a helper for Buddhist monks that were studying at the hermitage.
You first make your way up to Haeseonam Hermitage up a side-winding country road and past a uniquely designed pagoda. The natural rock pagoda appears as though it was roughly put together and similar to some of the pagodas found at Tapsa Temple in Jinan, Jeollabuk-do. Continuing up the country road, you’ll next come to a tree with shaman prayer flags hanging from it. The rainbow of colours that make up the shaman prayer flags are wound tightly around the trunk of the tree with streams of that fabric flowing down towards the ground on the north side of the tree.
To the left of this decorated tree is a rock wall with a shrine hall in the centre of it. The green entry doors to this compact shrine hall have “마고 할매당 – Mago Halmae-dang” written on them in Korean in navy blue lettering. Stepping inside this shaman shrine hall, you’ll find a beautiful painting hanging on the main altar. In this painting, you’ll find the image of Mago Halmoni on it. She is holding a beautiful golden fan in her right hand, and she’s joined by a dongja (assistant) that is offering her a bowl of peaches. The painting of Mago Halmoni might easily be confused with a female Sanshin (Mountain Spirit); but one thing in the painting distinguishes Mago Halmoni from Sanshin, there’s no tiger joining Mago Halmoni. While the background and the twisted red pine are the same, there’s no tiger. Also of interest is the stick-like instrument that she holds in her left hand. This three-topped brass bell looks almost like a ritual instrument a mudang would use in their ceremonies.
Past a traditional house that seems to be the abode of a hermitage security guard, you’ll find a set of stone stairs and an artificial cave that acts as the hermitage’s Yongwang-dang Hall. Housed inside this shallow artificial cave are a collection of three stone statues. The first, and the most important, is the Yongwang (Dragon King) statue that sits to the far left atop a turtle. This is joined to the far right by a smaller sized guardian statue that has both hands on the hilt of his sword. And between these two larger statues is a dongja (attendant).
Up the uneven set of stone stairs that lies between the Yongwang-dang Hall and the traditional house at Haeseonam Hermitage, you’ll find a pair of stone statues in a gravel clearing. The first stone statue to the right is an image of Doggaebi. In appearance, this statue looks like a combination between a Geumgang-yeoksa (Vajra Warrior) and Fred Flinstone (especially with the leopard-like garment). In the Doggaebi’s right hand, he holds a club. The Doggaebi sports a menacing look with its eyes rolled back in their sockets and a solitary-looking horn protruding out from near the crown of its head. So what exactly is a Doggaebi? A Doggaebi does mischievous things like pranks by using its extraordinary power. At the same time, a Doggaebi sometimes helps people, as well. Doggaebi can be worshiped by townspeople as a guardian. These people believe that Doggaebi control good and bad luck for the town. Others, on the other hand, believe that Doggaebi are bad spirits that create diseases for humans. As for the household worship of Doggaebi, Doggaebi are believed to be spirits that are worshiped for wealth, big fish hauls, and as a family guardian. To the left of the Doggaebi statue is a beautiful seated statue of the aforementioned Mago Halmoni. She serenely looks out towards the valley with the towering Mt. Cheontaesan at her back.
To the left of the Yongwang-dang Hall, and up a narrow, but even, pathway, you’ll find a pair of shaman shrine halls. The first of the two is a compact shrine hall dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Housed inside this Chilseong-gak Hall is a simple all-red mural dedicated to the Seven Stars inside. Also housed inside this shaman shrine hall is another all-red mural; this time, however, it’s a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
To the right of the Chilseong-gak Hall is the elevated Sanshin-gak Hall. You’ll need to pass under a beam, and up the stone stairway, that twistingly makes its way towards the Sanshin-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall is a solitary painting dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). In the mural, you’ll find a simplistic image of Sanshin who is joined by a pair of tigers. And resting on the branch of the twisted red pine tree in the background is a white crane. There’s also an image of a dongja (assistant) preparing a kettle of hot water. In front of the Sanshin-gak Hall are a collection of buildings for visitors.
How To Get There:
The easiest way to get to Haeseonam Hermitage is from the Samrangjin Train Station and by taking a taxi. The taxi ride should take about twenty-three minutes, and it’ll cost you around 12,000 won. However, a taxi driver might not know Haeseonam Hermitage because it’s a pretty obscure and a relatively unknown place.
Another way to get to Haeseonam Hermitage is also from the Samrangjin Train Station. From the Samrangjin bus stop out in front of the train station, you’ll need to take the bus that says “Arirang bus 5-1.” The bus ride should take about twenty-four minutes, or eight stops. You’ll need to get off at the “Sungchon – 숭촌.” After this, you’ll need to walk 1.9 km, or thirty minutes, to get to Haeseonam Hermitage. There won’t be many signs, so you’ll probably have to use the GPS on Google Map on your phone to help guide you the rest of the way. With all that being said, Haeseonam Hermitage is a very difficult place to find because of its remote location, so be warned.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Haeseonam Hermitage is a bit of a tough one to rate simply because I’ve never rated a shamanic temple or hermitage before. With that being said, I’ll take a stab at it. While smaller in size, Haeseonam Hermitage doesn’t lack in originality. The hermitage houses two images of a previously unknown shamanic figure in the form of Mago Halmoni as a beautiful painting and statue, as well as a stone image of Doggaebi. These two figures are definitely firsts for me. Adding to this original shamanic iconography is the more traditional, yet equally beautiful, iconography dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Yongwang (The Dragon King). With all that being said, Haeseonam Hermitage is rather remote and difficult to get to, but it’s well worth the effort.