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Meet the Dokkaebi, South Korea’s immortal goblin who plays tricks to humans

Por: Alexa Martínez1 de junio de 2022

These lonely goblins inhabit South Korea and can be playful spirits that pay pranks to humans.

When we talk about elves and goblins, the first thing that comes into our minds is probably the image created by Medieval Europeans: a tiny creature, with sharp teeth, maybe some claws, and a mischievous or devilish personality. But the European mythology is not the only one with these types of creatures. In South Korea, for example, they have the Dokkaebi (도깨비).

The Dokkaebi have a strong connection to Korean folklore. The earliest records of these creatures are found in the Silla Kingdom period, specifically in a tale titled ‘Lady Dohwa and Bachelor Bihyeong’ from the book ‘Samguk Yusa’, a compilation of stories, legends, and tales covering the three kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla.

This mythological creature is one of the most important in Korea, so much that they even released a drama starring Kim Go-Eun and Gong Yoo, that’s right, the actor of ‘Squid Game’ and precisely he gives life to a Dokkaebi.

What is a Dokkaebi?

Dokkaebi are beings that have abilities and powers to cast spells and annoy humans; however, they are generally seen as benevolent beings, and with divine powers, to the point that they are considered demigods.

It is said that these spirits are born from discarded household objects such as brooms, baskets, and sieves and can also be with objects stained with human blood. The reason why they are different from ghosts or gwisin (귀신). They usually appear during the night in dark, damp, and spooky environments, however, they can also be seen on cloudy and rainy days.

Dokkaebis have great fun playing pranks on humans, transforming themselves into beautiful women to seduce men. Dancing, singing, and fooling around are also among their hobbies.

The Dokkaebi’s superpowers allow them to do many things, including making fortunes for humans, throwing a party full of food, creating fancy clothes, and filling a pond with water for a night. In ancient times, different rituals were performed in order to know the nature of these beings to help man with their powers.

What is the physical appearance of a Dokkaebi?

According to the Encyclopedia of Korean Folklore and Traditional Culture, the appearance of this being changes depending on the periods of South Korean history. However, the most popular description is that it has horns, bulging eyes, a large mouth with sharp teeth with a hairy body and claws on its hands. Sometimes they can also have human traits.

Dokkaebi in South Korea’s popular culture

There have also been productions with the Dokkaebi as the central theme. The most famous example being the k-drama ‘Goblin: The Lonely and Great God’. During the Goryeo Dynasty, King Wang Yeo is manipulated by his royal advisor, who turns him against General Kim Shin (Gong Yoo), his best warrior. Unfortunately, the king betrays him by allowing himself to be manipulated by his advisor and condemns him to death.

As a punishment from the gods for having killed so many people in his life as a warrior, he is brought back to life and turned into an immortal being, a Dokkaebi. His punishment will be to see all his loved ones die while he is still alive.

The only one who can grant him his awaited and longed-for death is the woman destined to be the ‘Bride of the Dokkaebi’.

It is said that Dokkaebi also likes to chase women and, in fact, in the BTS song ‘Like’ there is a reference to this situation by saying ‘But I wear the dokkaebi’s hat and always stalk you and your everyday life’.

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