Skip to content

The Goryeo Ghost: Haunting Tales from Korea’s Medieval Past


Imagine a world cloaked in mist, where the whispers of the past echo through ancient forests and crumbling temples. This is the world of Goryeo, a medieval Korean dynasty steeped in tradition and infused with a rich tapestry of folklore. Beyond the grand palaces and bustling marketplaces of this era, whispers of a different kind resonated – the chilling tales of the Goryeo Ghost. These weren’t mere bedtime stories; they were potent reflections of the beliefs, anxieties, and moral complexities of a bygone era. This blog post delves into the haunting world of Goryeo ghosts, exploring their origins, revealing the stories that captivated a nation, and uncovering their lasting legacy in modern Korean culture.

Table of Contents

Exploring the Origins of Goryeo Ghostlore

The Goryeo Dynasty (918 – 1392 AD) was a period of immense cultural and societal transformation in Korea. It was during this time that the rich tapestry of Goryeo ghostlore began to weave itself into the fabric of Korean life. The origins of these ghostly tales can be traced to a complex interplay of historical, religious, and social factors.

Buddhism’s Influence: Goryeo witnessed the flourishing of Buddhism, which profoundly shaped the society’s understanding of death and the afterlife. Buddhist beliefs about reincarnation, karma, and the ethereal nature of the soul provided fertile ground for ghost stories. Ghosts were often perceived as tormented spirits, seeking justice or redemption for wrongs committed in their earthly lives.

Confucianism’s Impact: Alongside Buddhism, Confucianism also held sway during the Goryeo period. Confucian values, particularly filial piety and adherence to societal norms, heavily influenced ghost stories. Tales often depicted the consequences of disobeying family obligations or transgressing social codes, often with ghosts serving as a harsh reminder of societal expectations.

Folklore’s Role: Traditional Korean folklore, passed down through generations, played a significant role in shaping the Goryeo ghost mythology. Tales of mischievous spirits, vengeful entities, and other supernatural beings, already ingrained in Korean culture, were further amplified and integrated into the Goryeo narrative.

Types of Goryeo Ghosts: The Goryeo ghostlore is not confined to a single type of spirit; it encompasses a diverse array of supernatural entities. Some of the most prominent types include:

  • Gwisin (귀신): This is the general term for ghosts, often depicted as vengeful spirits driven by a desire for retribution. They are frequently associated with betrayal, injustice, or unfulfilled desires.
  • Dokkaebi (도깨비): These are trickster spirits with mischievous and often malevolent intentions. They are known for their unpredictable nature and tendency to play pranks on unsuspecting humans, often with consequences.
  • Kumiho (구미호): These are nine-tailed fox spirits known for their seductive nature and cunning. They can transform into beautiful women and lure unsuspecting men to their doom. The Kumiho stories often explore themes of temptation, deceit, and the dangers of succumbing to one’s desires.

Beyond these common types, Goryeo ghostlore also includes other supernatural beings like the ch’ongnyeo (청녀), ethereal spirits often associated with beauty and danger. The variety of these supernatural beings, each with its unique characteristics and motivations, reflects the complexity of Goryeo ghostlore and its intricate relationship with human desires, fears, and societal anxieties.

Notable Goryeo Ghost Stories

The Goryeo era saw the emergence of numerous ghost stories that captivated the imagination of the populace. These tales, passed down through generations, provided insights into the moral and social landscape of the period. Here are some notable stories that exemplify the essence of Goryeo ghostlore:

Story 1: The Tale of the Vengeful Gwisin

This classic Goryeo tale tells the story of a wronged woman who returns as a gwisin to seek justice for her death. The story revolves around a young woman named Seo-hwa, who was unjustly accused of adultery and executed by her jealous husband. Consumed by rage and injustice, Seo-hwa’s spirit returns as a vengeful gwisin, haunting her husband and tormenting him until he confesses his guilt and faces punishment.

This story reflects the societal anxieties of the Goryeo period, highlighting the fear of unjust punishment and the enduring belief in the power of gwisin to right wrongs. The story serves as a stark reminder that even in death, justice can be sought.

Story 2: The Mischievous Dokkaebi of the Mountain

This story features a dokkaebi, a trickster spirit, who lives in a remote mountain region. The story revolves around a woodcutter who stumbles upon the dokkaebi’s hidden dwelling. The dokkaebi, known for its mischievous nature, tries to trick the woodcutter into a deal, promising him riches in exchange for his soul. The woodcutter, however, manages to outwit the dokkaebi and escape unharmed.

This story highlights the traditional Korean belief in the power of wit and cunning in dealing with supernatural entities. The dokkaebi represents the unpredictable nature of the supernatural, while the woodcutter’s resilience embodies the human spirit’s ability to overcome adversity.

Story 3: The Gumiho and the Seduced Scholar

This story involves a kumiho, a nine-tailed fox spirit, who takes on the form of a beautiful woman and lures a young scholar into a forbidden love affair. The scholar, captivated by the kumiho’s beauty, succumbs to her charms but eventually realizes his folly. He seeks the help of a wise monk who helps him break free from the kumiho’s control.

This story explores themes of temptation, deceit, and the fragility of human judgment. The kumiho represents the seductive power of the supernatural, while the scholar’s downfall serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of succumbing to one’s desires.

Goryeo Ghostlore’s Legacy

The Goryeo ghost stories, although rooted in a bygone era, have a lasting legacy in modern Korean culture. These tales have evolved over time, incorporating influences from later periods and reflecting changing societal norms.

Continuity and Change

While the specific forms of Goryeo ghosts may have evolved, the core themes of vengeance, justice, family, and societal norms remain relevant. Later periods, such as the Joseon dynasty, continued to draw upon and adapt the Goryeo ghostlore, incorporating new elements and themes into the existing narrative.

Modern Representation

Goryeo ghostlore continues to resonate in contemporary Korean culture, finding expression in various forms of art and media.

  • Literature: Modern Korean authors often draw upon Goryeo ghost elements in their works. For instance, the kumiho continues to be a popular figure in contemporary Korean literature, often appearing as a symbol of temptation, seduction, and the darker aspects of human nature.

  • Film and Television: Korean cinema and television have embraced Goryeo ghostlore, creating a rich array of horror, fantasy, and supernatural dramas. These adaptations often reimagine the classic ghost stories, exploring contemporary themes of social anxieties, moral dilemmas, and the complexities of human relationships.

  • Folklore and Tradition: Despite modernization, Goryeo ghostlore remains an integral part of Korean folklore and tradition. The stories continue to be told, recounted in hushed tones around campfires or during festivals, preserving the cultural legacy of the Goryeo period.


What were some common methods used to appease or dispel ghosts in Goryeo?

Goryeo people employed a range of methods to appease or dispel ghosts, drawing upon their religious beliefs and traditional practices. Some common methods included:

  • Offerings: People would leave offerings of food, drink, or other items at gravesites or in haunted places to appease the restless spirits.
  • Rituals: Various rituals were performed to appease ghosts, including chanting prayers, burning incense, and performing traditional dances.
  • Religious Practices: Buddhist monks and priests were often sought after to perform rituals to pacify ghosts or help them find peace.

Are there any historical accounts or records of Goryeo ghost sightings?

While specific historical accounts of Goryeo ghost sightings may be scarce, historical chronicles and folk tales provide valuable insights into the prevailing beliefs and anxieties surrounding the supernatural. For instance, the Samguk Sagi, a historical record of the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC – 668 AD), includes accounts of ghost sightings and supernatural phenomena, offering a glimpse into the Korean belief in the unseen world.

How do Goryeo ghost stories differ from those of other periods in Korean history?

While ghostlore has evolved throughout Korean history, Goryeo ghost stories have certain distinct characteristics. Compared to Joseon ghostlore, which often focused on social hierarchy and Confucian moral codes, Goryeo ghostlore placed greater emphasis on the themes of vengeance, justice, and the consequences of wrongdoing.

Are Goryeo ghost stories still relevant in contemporary Korea?

Despite the passage of time, Goryeo ghost stories remain relevant in contemporary Korea, reflecting the enduring human fascination with the supernatural and the exploration of moral complexities. Modern adaptations of these tales often explore contemporary anxieties, such as the fear of societal injustice, the pursuit of wealth and status, and the complexities of human relationships, demonstrating the enduring power of Goryeo ghostlore to resonate with audiences across generations.


The Goryeo ghost stories are more than mere tales; they are powerful reflections of a society grappling with its fears, beliefs, and moral dilemmas. They offer a unique window into the cultural and historical landscape of the Goryeo period, revealing the anxieties, aspirations, and values that shaped a nation. From the vengeful gwisin to the mischievous dokkaebi, these supernatural entities continue to captivate imaginations and serve as a reminder of the enduring power of storytelling to connect us to the past and explore the human condition. As we delve into the haunting world of Goryeo ghosts, we discover not only a rich tapestry of folklore but also a powerful reflection of the enduring human fascination with the supernatural and the search for meaning in a world often shrouded in mystery.