Bari-ed Alive


Picture source: Jack Lee’s Art
Seeing as how it’s Easter weekend, I thought it might be appropriate to write about a deity who dies and is reborn, as Jesus was said to have done nearly 2000 years ago. It’s been proposed that Jesus was part of a slew of such gods, but while there are plenty of cases of deities returning from death, the particulars were usually quite different. Dionysus is regarded as having experienced his death and resurrection before actually being born the first time. Osiris was reassembled and brought back to life, but he was unable to leave the underworld after this. Others went to the world of the dead and back, but can’t really be said to have died themselves. It’s to this latter category that the Korean Princess Bari belongs.


Bari was the last of seven daughters of King Ogu, who really wanted a son, and threw out the girl in a fit of rage. In a similarity to the story of Moses, whose holiday is also currently going on, she was placed in a box and adopted. It was sort of the reverse, though, as Bari was a princess raised by commoners. Her full name, Baridegi, simply meant “abandoned child.” That’s a pretty horrible name to be saddled with, but she didn’t seem to hold any grudges. Indeed, when she was about fifteen, her biological father fell ill, and could only be cured if his daughter brought him some healing water from Mount Dongdae in the far west. Ogu’s wife located Bari, and far from telling the king to lie in the bed he made himself, she went on the arduous journey to recover the magic water. Along the way, she performed work for several gods, who showed her the correct path. Her quest brought her through the underworld, where she managed to free many imprisoned spirits. When she finally reached the spring at Mount Dongdae, its guardian made her work for him for nine years, after which he married her and bore her seven sons. When she finally was able to bring the water back to her parents, they had already died, but that didn’t stop the water from bringing them back. Some versions of the myth claim that her husband Dongsuja abandoned her, but this isn’t always the case. Regardless, she would become a psychopomp, guiding the spirits of the dead to the afterlife. She is also revered as the founder of Korean shamanism. Her sense of forgiveness and willingness to intercede for the fallen strengthen the connections to Moses and Jesus, but for the most part she belongs to a totally different sort of tradition.

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