Goddesses of the Underworld
Bari – a story from Korea
King Ogu and his Queen have a string of daughters, but no sons. When their seventh child once again turns out to be a daughter, they abandon her.
Princess Bari is rescued by Birigondeok Grandpa and Birigondeok Granny, who bring her up. Her father, in the meantime, falls critically ill, and he learns that the only cure is to drink the water of the mystical Mount Dongdae. Hearing the news, Bari travels to the mountain – crossing from the world of living to the world of the dead in order to save him. When she returns, she learns that her father is already dead; but she brings him back to life with the healing water and flowers of Dongdae.
Her father asks her what he can do for her, and she replies that she would like to help the deceased; and so she becomes the death goddess, the guide to the underworld. She is seen as the first mudang or shaman. She is celebrated in rituals in which the mudang enact the story of her passing through a portal into the Underworld. She is also a Mother Goddess who embraces fecundity and fertility, creation and destruction, and life and death.
Images from “Community of Parting” (2019), a video installation by Jane Jin Kaisen inspired by the myth of Princess Bari