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Ungnyeo was a bear that became a woman. She was featured prominently in the creation myth of the Korean nation.


Myth

In the tale, a tiger and a bear (Ungnyeo) lived together in a cave and prayed to the divine king, Hwanung to be made human. Hwanung heard their prayers and gave them 20 cloves of garlic, a bundle of mugwort and ordered them to stay out of the sunlight and eat only this food for 100 days. Due to hunger, the tiger left the cave after roughly 20 days, but the bear remained inside. At the end of the 100 day period, she was transformed into a woman.

Ungnyeo was grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. Her lack of a husband drove her to depression, and she began to pray beneath a sacred betula tree to be blessed with a child. Hwanung heard her prayers and was deeply moved. He took Ungnyeo as his wife and soon after, she gave birth to a son, Dangun, who would go on to found the nation of Korea.