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Jeju Island is a wondrous volcanic island located in the Korea Strait, south of mainland Korea and west of Japan. Adorned with thousands of basalt statues known as “stone grandfathers,” this exceptionally beautiful island is dominated by Halla San, a sacred mountain highly revered by the indigenous Jeju people.

According to Jeju mythology, the creation goddess SeulMuinDae HalMang made Halla San with seven giant spadesful of earth. It is said that one day she made a huge cauldron of soup for her 500 children, but accidentally fell into it and drowned. Her sons ate the soup, and when the youngest explained what had happened, the boys couldn’t stop crying until they turned into stones.

Mount Halla San rises to almost 6,560 feet in the middle of the island, making it the tallest peak in South Korea. A lake has formed in its central crater, where hundreds of spirits are said to live. Lower down the mountain is a Buddhist cave shrine, which is reputed to have special healing powers. But perhaps the most extraordinary feature of Halla San is that a sacred mushroom used to grow abundantly all over its forested slopes. Many people believe that the sacred fungus was fly agaric, a poisonous mushroom that produces psychotropic effects. The vision induced by ingesting the mushroom may explain why Halla San has for so long been attributed with special spiritual powers. The ancient Chinese referred to it as “the island of the blessed,” and their myths claim that the mountain is so powerful that it pulls the Milky Way towards the Earth.

As well as the ubiquitous stone grandfathers, Jeju Island is adorned by many small round towers made from loose stones. Known as Bangsatap, the local people have erected them to ward off evil spirits and to protect against misfortune. The precise location is considered especially important, and sites are chosen where geomancers believe the flow of spiritual energy is blocked.

Jeju Island is also home to the world’s finest lava tubes, with which the volcanic rock is riddled. At Samseonghyeol, three caves enable visitors to enter the underground network, which islanders claim leads to the secret home of the gods.

 


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