Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Traditional Patterns and Symbols

Korean people traditionally adapted to and found meaning in the order of nature. Wanting to teach the hidden meanings of nature to their children and believing them as law and order in their daily lives, they created beautiful and diverse patterns. These patterns can be found almost everywhere you look in Korea, from the Taegeuk in the national flag to the animal designs on chopsticks in restaurants. Many symbols are similar to the Chinese characters for luck, fortune, longevity, and fertility.

Turtle: Longevity, Fortune-telling Ability
While the dragon was considered the ruler of all animals, the turtle ruled over the insects. Because turtles live longer than other animals, they symbolize longevity. People believed that turtles had the power to predict the future. Fortune tellers used the shape of a turtle's shell to forecast the future. Turtle images often form the base of steles or monuments to famous people, especially Buddhism monks.

Tiger: Commanding Dignity and Sternness, Courage and Fierceness
People looked at tigers with two different perspectives. They were seen as brave, dignified, cruel, and greedy on one hand, yet also respected as a symbol of good luck and protection from disease. Tigers in dreams represented a sign to take a public position. The embroidered breast patches on the court attire of military officials included tigers and leopards, both symbols of valor and courage.

Deer: Friendship, Longevity
People considered the deer as a holy animal due to its beautiful appearance and mild temper. They always travel in herds and whenever they move to a different location, they raise their heads to search for an stragglers that do not follow. When an image of a deer was painted with pine trees, maples, rocks, or herbs, it usually meant longevity.

Monkey: High Position in Government
Monkeys are called 
i-hu in Chinese. Because hu has the same pronunciation as emperor, the meaning of a monkey extends to promotion to a high ranking position in the government.

Cat: Expelling Evil Spirits, Longevity
Cats can see well at night. People believed that if a cat was around, evil spirits could not play bad tricks on people. When a picture of a cat included a butterfly, it symbolized longevity. 

Bat: Good Luck
The Chinese ideogram for bat is pronounced the same as the ideogram for good fortune (pok in Korean). This led to bat images being embroidered on pillow ends and incorporated into furniture designs and fittings as a symbol of good fortune. As bats were supposed to live 1000 years, their image was also used as a symbol of longevity. A design of 5 bats, called Obok (5 blessings), represents the five fortunes: longevity, wealth, health, love of virtue, and natural death

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