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As you can imagine, in this essay, I will focus on the main lead, Jae Shin. On the other hand, people might be wondering why I described the dashing and confident seme as mysterious. His identity seems to be clear. He is introduced as Yeomra’s son (chapter 8).
1. Jae Shin and his father Yeoram
Yeomra is the god of the underworld.
Yeomra (also known as Yeomra-Daewang) was the Korean god of the dead. He was the fifth of the ten Kings of the Underworld (called Shi-wang) and was believed to be the supreme ruler of the Underworld. Yeomra’s role was to judge the sins of the dead and decide where they would spend the afterlife. Quoted from https://study.com/learn/lesson/korean-mythology-gods-folklore-what-is-korean-mythology.html
This means that his father acts as the judge of human souls. He is presented as a fair and impartial judge. Yet, in the manhwa, the king gives a different impression: (Chapter 1). He appears as more brutal and partial, for his kingdom is called the hell of tongue ripping. It was, as if he was not allowing protest or disobedience, and there would only exist one sentence: tongue ripping. Secondly, he banished his own son to the mortal world, because the protagonist had played a trick on the book of names. (chapter 1) Jae Shin had acted like a god, for he had interfered in humans’ life by switching the name of the deceased for the time of death. As you can see, the main lead’s father appeared as a cold and strict father who would show no mercy towards his own child. He would even side with the mortals, for he put the whole blame on the main lead. The accused defended his position by saying that Park Chi-Kyung (chapter 1), had been asking this favor from him while tricking him. However, Yeomra wouldn’t listen to his defense so that at the end, Jae Shin was turned into a puppy. (chapter 1) However, according to the quote, the king of the underworld’s function is to judge mortals and to send them to hell if necessary. So we could say that he usurped his authority, as he sentenced an immortal.
2. Who is Jae Shin exactly?
What caught my attention is that till chapter 16, people keep asking about Jae Shin’s identity. Who is he (chapter 8) or (chapter 14) what is he? A dream, a ghost, a human? And this leads me to the following observation: Jae Shin might be Yeomra’s son, but he has three appearances: the puppy, the nobleman and the ghost. This divulges that he has more than just one identity. In this picture, the author outlined the two sides from the main lead. (chapter 7) This is no coincidence. If you pay attention how the main figure was called by Yeom, HALF-BREED (chapter 8), you will realize that his insult is alluding to a mixture of two parts. People in the afterlife keeps calling him half-breed. (chapter 7) (chapter 15) Even Yeom who didn’t recognize him immediately, as she had never met him before, (chapter 8) still knew about his rumor. This indicates that Jae-Shin is different. One might say that it is related to his dependence on yin energy (“preying on humans to survive”). Hence he portrayed himself as defective. (chapter 15) This shows that he wished to be different, to resemble his hyungs and other “ghosts”. However, in my eyes, this is not the true origin for his reputation as half-breed. If the beholders look carefully at this image, (chapter 15) they will detect two elements that outline this divergence. First, he is always seen wearing a red hanbok contrary to his brothers and messengers and warden from the afterlife. (chapter 1) (chapter 15) So why is he the only one wearing such a bright red hanbok? (chapter 1) The color is exposing his special status. Secondly, in this image, we could see the young version of Jae-Shin (chapter 15), while the two hyungs have the same appearance. They are both two adults, whereas the main character is a child. The brothers even revealed that they saw him growing up. (chapter 15) In other words, he had the same evolution than a human! The only difference is that he doesn’t age and die like humans. He is already a few centuries old. (chapter 3) Thus I came to the conclusion that Jae Shin is actually the result of an union between Yeomra and a human. Hence he resembles a lot to a vampire with his teeth and long nails, as the vampire is considered as a living corpse. Moreover, the Korean version of a vampire, the gangsi is supposed to absorb Qi, life force. Nevertheless, Jae Shin is not a gangsi, for he can move freely and his body contains blood. My point is that Jae Shin became immortal thanks to his father, but since he was born from a human, he was first a baby before becoming an adult. This explains why Jae Shin’s main color is red, the symbol for life, combined with black, a reference to his father, as this color symbolizes the underworld! Under this new approach, it becomes comprehensible why Jae Shin is forced to go to the mortal world to replenish in yin energy, which is not a necessity for his hyungs. The older brothers don’t often visit the mortal world. (chapter 15) As you can sense, for me chapter 15 was very eye-opening! And once you accept this theory, you can comprehend why the father turned him into a puppy. (chapter 1) Since he looked down on humans, he was not allowed to be one. It was to force him to acknowledge his human nature which he has been denying all this time. He felt superior to humans, for the latter are mortal, and as such weak. (chapter 1) In his eyes, they have no real value. Moreover, he resents them for their hypocrisy (chapter 1) and their treacherous nature . (chapter 1) However, he is not different from them, because he knows that one part of him is human. He is not entirely honest to himself. And now, you comprehend why the god Jin-Gwang said that sending him to a cauldron would have never been a punishment. (chapter 3) He prefers the afterlife world to the mortal one. And because he was different from the others, he got spoiled by his father, brothers and other gods. (chapter 3) Since he is the result of an union between a god and a human, he needs human energy (yin). Therefore he bleeds like a human (chapter 15), when he gets stabbed, but because he is an immortal, he can heal. (chapter 16) Striking is that he called himself a ghost, but Lee Nok didn’t accept this, for he is visible to humans. (chapter 16) This is important, because by identifying himself as a ghost, he is actually denying his “human nature”. However, he is not realizing that “ghosts” were all once humans which is not the case to Yeomra, Jin-Gwang, Cho-Gang and probably to his brothers. They are “gods”. In other words, the moment he calls himself a ghost, he indirectly admits his “human origins”.
Hence you comprehend why the father had to sentence him in the end. His son was playing god by switching the names, he had usurped his power. Besides, he was totally prejudiced about humans. He would make no distinction among them. (chapter 1) He was full of prejudices about mortals: deceitful, weak, ruthless and foolish. However, since Yeomra has to sentence each soul, his son’s biased view about the mortals could only represent a huge affront to the god of the afterlife. As you can see, it was to teach him an important lesson about death and life as well. He should learn to treasure humans, and his mother was a mortal, even more so. Naturally, once I had this idea in my mind, I wondered who could be his mother. While researching about Korean gods and goddesses, I discovered Parigeti or called Bari Gongju [which means literally abandoned Princess]
In the archives of Korean shamanism, the tale of Princess Bari is the tale of the Abandoned Princess. She is the seventh and last child of the king, a monarch who has no sons. This shamanic goddess, Princess Bari, was abandoned at birth because she was female. She travels to the underworld to seek the elixir of life, and is reborn into a new world. She has been transformed into a goddess who, like the boatman Charon across the River Styx, carries souls into the netherworld. Quoted from https://www.korea.net/NewsFocus/Culture/view?articleId=140971 If you want a more detailed version of the story, here is the link: https://folkency.nfm.go.kr/en/topic/detail/5353
So she could be his mother, yet since Jae Shin was raised by his father, brothers and “uncles”, I doubt that she was his mother, for Parigeti was turned into a goddess. But one thing is sure. This “goddess” could play a role in this story, for a flower, connected to the river of the afterlife, caught my attention.
3. Jae Shin and the red flower
Jae Shin is symbolized by a plant, the lycoris, known under the name red spider lily or magic lily. The association is already presented in the title, as it is part of the “ghost”. Besides, the manhwalovers can detect its presence in three occasions. Jae Shin is wearing an earring in the form of the lycoris. Then the red spider lily (chapter 9), was present, when he changed his appearance and dressed as a noble. (chapter 9) But what is the meaning of this flower then?
Red Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata) – Red spider lilies are strongly associated with death, last goodbyes, and sad memories. They are thought of as the flowers of the heavens. […] In Buddhism, it is a common practice to mark the arrival of autumn and offer a tribute by placing bouquets of red spider lilies at their ancestors’ graves. The Lotus Sutra describes red spider lilies as flowers that grow in hell. As a result, certain Chinese and Japanese Buddhist traditions believe that these flowers help lead spirits through the afterlife and into reincarnation. [….] More legends (from Japan) say when a person crosses paths with someone whom they will never meet again, that red spider lilies bloom along the path. In addition to their association with death and the afterlife, these legends are also partly responsible for the flower’s association with final goodbyes. Quoted from https://www.petalrepublic.com/red-spider-lily-meaning/
And look what happened after he had used his power to turn into a noble in front of the lycoris (chapter 9). He met the servant, his former lover, in the gibang for the last time. The latter chose to cut ties with him. (chapter 9) This was their final goodbye. It takes courage to love someone so different, to love an immortal. That’s the reason why the father sentenced his son to win a human’s heart. He was teaching him a lesson, he should learn how his father fell in love with a human.
And the more I thought about this theory, Jae Shin’s mother was a human, the more it became understandable why the main lead rejects love and why he became a seme in order to replenishing his yin energy. Because of this “love”, he was born, hence he was different. He was not mortal, not totally immortal. He is the result of a forbidden love, the symbol of lycoris.
This curious growth habit was explained in a Chinese myth. The sun goddess Amaterasu assigned two elves (or fairies) to guard the flowers and leaves independently. Mañju guarded the petals while Saka guarded the leaves, always knowing about the existence of one another, but forbidden to meet. Curiosity drove them to defy Amaterasu and once they finally met they fell in love. Amaterasu punished them with a curse to never meet again and so now Saka’s leaves only come out once Mañju’s petals have died. They live in eternal separation. Another name for the flower is ‘Mañjusaka’ in Chinese and ‘Manju-syage’ in Japanese.” Quoted from https://www.metrofieldguide.com/folklore-nature-the-death-flower/
And if my theory is correct, the red spider lily, as the symbol of the love between Yeomra and Jae Shin’s mother, became the symbol for the son. Then this signifies that Yeomra actually interfered in the human world, and as such violated his own rules. The harmony between the mortal and afterlife world was interrupted. Therefore the readers can grasp why Yeomra spoke about fate. (chapter 3) Yeomra can only judge human souls, he can never control the destiny of gods or humans. This means that Jae Shin’s “journey” is to turn into a human, to discover the existence of his heart. Striking is that when the father was drinking his tea, he was looking at the pink-purple lotus, The purple lotus flower symbolizes spiritual enlightenment as well as faithfulness and innocence. The purple flower indicates harmony and balance between different parts of ourselves. [For more read the essay: The lotus and the snake] But since the pavilion and pond were facing the palace where Jae Shin was staying, the presence of the lotus is announcing the future purification of that place full of evil spirits and ghosts.
4. Jae Shin’s power
Interesting is that when Jae Shin was asking his brothers for their help, he didn’t notice the presence of Lee Nok in the adjutant room. Hence he never detected that his strong aura could destroy a ghost (chapter 14) This shows that his body’s energy works like a huge talisman. But in order to become effective, he needs human energy. Hence I couldn’t help myself making the following connection, when I read Yeom’s comment about Queen Han: (chapter 13) She attributed the queen’s protection to a strong amulet, as she believed that the woman was a human. However, the moment you admit that Jae Shin is the fruit of a love between the god of the underworld and a human, you can imagine that Queen Han could have the same nature. Her aura could be so strong that she can push away powerful ghosts like Yeom. Yeom thought that the young girl was attracting ghosts like Lee Nok (chapter 8), thus the shaman advised to the father: (chapter 8) She encouraged him to have his daughter accumulated good karma. She was indirectly trying to change the girl’s personality and as such destiny. (chapter 8) From my point of view, the young girl was discovering her second nature, she could see and talk to ghosts. Thus she smiled. As you can see, I came to develop the following idea: Queen Han is a half-breed like Jae Shin, but contrary to him, she prefers the human world. Why? Because of her powers, she can control people and gain power. This explicates why she chose to get rid of the shaman whom she viewed as a threat. At the same time, thanks to the intervention of the “spirits”, she discovered how powerful she was. Thus she smiled… (chapter 8) like a flower (chapter 8) These words reminded me of the lycoris, the flower of death and funeral. We have many possibilities for her lineage. Either she is a new version of Gongju Bari, or she could be the product of another god, like for example this one: Seokga.
“Seokga is the trickster god in the Korean Pantheon. He is known as a trickster god due to his love for playing tricks and deceiving humans. He is also known for creating the world alongside Mireuk. However, Seokga wanted to be the lone ruler of the human world. And so, he challenged Mireuk to a competition. They remained in a meditative state, and whoever grew the most flowers would win the human race. While Mireuk was asleep, Seokga stole his flowers and won. Then, Mireuk vanished. The unjust methods Seokga used to win over the earth resulted in the karmic manifestation of sin and suffering. The first death occurred and the earth was trapped in a cycle of death, rebirth, and eternal suffering. Quoted from https://koreabyme.com/the-pantheon-korean-gods-and-goddesses/
As you can see, Seokga is connected to death either. Moreover, he embodies sin and deception, finally he was portrayed as lusting after power. So he would fit the profile. But there is another reason why I suspect that Queen Han is also connected to the afterlife. I observed that all the ghosts persecuting Lee Nok are not mentioned in the book of names. One of them is supposed to have died in a fire while dressed as a bride (chapter 13), yet the brother had not heard about such a death. (chapter 15) From my point of view, someone is playing tricks with fate and death. But this was not discovered so far. And with Jae Shin’s intervention, the tricks used in the past can no longer be effective. On the other hand, in order to become more powerful and defeat the Queen, Jae Shin has to discover the existence of his heart. Don’t forget that the queen has a child (chapter 8) who she would like to become the Crown prince. He is the source of her strength and motivation. From my perspective, Jae Shin has to learn what love is. (chapter 9) So far, he views it as something irrelevant, only for fools. He has not recognized its beauty and its power. Thanks to love, a human can accumulate good karma and be reincarnated. This means that “humans” are not truly mortal. (chapter 15) Like I mentioned above, with his banishment, the young protagonist is forced to question the true nature of humans. Are they really weak and foolish, like he thinks? No, Yeomra might be the king of the afterlife, yet his existence is attached to the judgement of human souls. As you can see, Yeomra is in truth serving humans. That’s how valuable mortals are. The gods and humans are depending on each other. Jae Shin is in truth the ignorant one, for he is not understanding how humans think and feel. (chapter 13) Though Yeom might have become an evil spirit, she has not lost her humanity. She has never forgotten her origins and family. (chapter 8) Exactly Jae Shin, she is living between two worlds, her body might have died, but she is by clear conscious. (chapter 13) Her fate indicates that there exist different kind of spirits. And now, you comprehend why I am more than ever convinced that Jae Shin’s identity is hiding a mystery. I sense the presence of a duality. Lee Nok’s role is to push Jae Shin to discover his second nature, his heart. Hence Lee Nok is connected to the opposite colors and values, day, green, yellow and blue, (chapter 9) (chapter 1) while Jae Shin is associated to black, red and night! Yes, we have once again the allusion to yin and yang. Hence Lee Nok’s presence was able to appease Jae Shin’s anger after getting rejected by the servant in the gibang. (chapter 9)
To conclude, for me, Jae Shin is not just an arrogant “ghost prince”, but also a “man” who has been denying his own origins. Hence I do think that the father sentenced his son to the mortal world for his own good. He did it, because he loved him. Moreover, I view The Ghost’s Nocturne as a song about the “impossible” love between humans and immortals. Hence this can only happen during the night, when people are asleep.
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