The Origin Myth of Sun and Moon in the Andean and Korean Traditions*

Writer : Park Ho-Jin, Rodolfo Sánchez Garrafa
Year : 2022

This essay begins with the interesting fact that Korea and Peru have in common the rope motif in their cultural traditions of the sun and moon creation. The origin myths of the sun and the moon all over the world have caught on steadily in folklore studies. But it is not easy to find any previous comparison between Korean origin myths and Peruvian ones, with all their peculiar comparable elements. Based on Lévi-Strauss’s theory of mythemes, we seek to analyse the Korean story ‘The Brother and Sister who Became Sun and Moon’ and the Andean ‘Wakon and the Willkas’ in terms of five mythemic aspects: the revelation of a primordial time; the single mother and her journey; the twins or siblings; the trickster, predator or victimiser; and the cosmic rope and the transit between upper and lower worlds. In both traditions we find a common mythological structure in spite of their apparent differences. When the myths employ the rope in a similar way, it hardly seems cross cultural but uniquely culture specific. When it comes to this similarity, however, their relationship or influence will need explicating in further comprehensive studies.

origin myths, the sun and the moon, the rope motif, ‘The Brother and Sister who Became Sun and Moon’ (or ‘Brother Sun and Sister Moon’), ‘Wakon and the Willkas’ (or ‘Pachamama and Her Willkas’)


Origin stories, particularly related to the sun and the moon, are conspicuous all over the world. They are considered basic in the ethnography of universal world views. You can also find various versions of their creation in Korea and Peru. In Korean and Peruvian stories, surprisingly enough, are some common features. However, there are also diverse and peculiar significations that concern each specific context. In accordance with the comparative approach in ethnology, we propose to examine the etiological cycle of the sun and the moon in the two Andean and Korean traditions in order to explore their similarities and differences as well. We expect this procedure to provide some insight into the way the world views are configured and have worked in their traditional societies. For the convenience of comparison, however, our reference is expressly restricted to the materials relevant to the folk tale of ‘The Brother and Sister Who Became Sun and Moon’ (also well known as ‘The Brother Sun and the Sister Moon’) in Korea and to the myth of ‘Wakon and the Willkas’ (or ‘Pachamama and Her Willkas’) in Peru.

To begin with, both South Korea and Peru consider themselves as commanding a similarly long cultural history. The legendary origin of the Korean nation dates back more than five thousand years, when its founder Dangun was born from the union of the Heaven God’s son and the bear woman. In legend, the Korean ancestral grandmother was a woman into whom a bear had come to transfigure herself with great patience and then gave birth to Dangun, the ‘grandfather’ of all Koreans. In the Andean region of Peru today, on the other hand, archaeologists have discovered the ancient city of Caral, whose antiquity was found to have dated to 3000 BC. There were urban settlements there five thousand years ago. Now, we understand that, between these two cultures, there are notable differences, in territorial, ethnic and evolutionary terms. But we also find contrasting parameters in their lives and ideas valid enough to understand how these two peoples thought and responded to their immediate natural environments as shown in the two stories we are analysing.

The Andean story has strong mythical nuances, while the Korean one is widely known in the Korea society as a folk tale. However, the Korean story is undoubtedly of a mythological origin. So, we find it interesting to compare the typical versions of these two well-known stories in their respective regions, although we can hardly say that they necessarily epitomise the mentalities of culture and nature in which they have been originated and preserved.

This essay, if not strictly opting for a structural approach, attempts to analyse the symbolism in both texts, employing ‘mythemes’ as proposed by Claude Lévi-Strauss, to identify common motifs. However, it is not intended to trace semantic, semiotic or phonetic traits on the grounds of, say, the scheme of Johansson Keraudren (1994). Through our methodology, a primal dualistic vision is confirmed in the conception of the cosmos, in which the ‘rope’ motif of our primary concern carries out a visible connecting function between upper and lower worlds in both stories. In the anthropocentric visions, besides, the sun and the moon are thought worldwide to have been created by human agency or at least come into being by human intervention – similar to what happens in the stories we are analysing. This essay, we hope, can pave the way for, and excite, further studies with more substantial evidence.


The story of Wakon and the Willkas employs basic motifs as follows: time and the primordial world, the pregnancy and birth of the heroic twins, the pilgrim widow, the Wakon of caverns, the ordeals of the twin Willkas, the vicissitudes of the Willkas’ journey, the warning of the bird Waychaw, the grandmother fox, the rope and the twins’ ascent to heaven, and the transformation of the twins into the sun and the moon. This concept of time and the primordial world, in contrast, if hinted at in the story of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, has been lost. In the cycle of this Korean story, some versions almost turn a blind eye to time and the primordial world, and focus only on their protagonists as often seen in folk tales. Neither is the pregnancy and birth of the siblings narrated. Likewise, there were no animals to assist the brother and sister in the Korean story. The mythical universes in our two stories only share such external motifs as the pilgrim widow, the trickster, the rope and the children’s ascent to heaven, and their transfiguration into the sun and the moon. Out of these concise but complex plot elements, we contrast a basic common structure in the light of the Korean and Andean traditions.

The revelation of a primordial time

What stands out more than anything else is the reference that the myths of our concern make towards a primordial time that memory barely reaches. The Peruvian story of Wakon and the Willkas refers to Pachakamaq, the god of the night sky, husband of the earth goddess Pachamama. He fathered twin children, male and female, called Willkas (which literally means ‘ancestors’ and ‘descendants’ at the same time). The story also alludes to a time that leads to the other side of darkness, that is, to the articulation of time in which opposites alternate, with darkness followed by light. This time was when Pachamama’s children were enlightened or empowered by their father Pachakamaq. This kind of story was understood with this sense of time in its original archaic society. There is, in the Andean case, a direct correspondence with the so-called ‘myths of Huarochirí’, ordered to be collected by the Catholic priest Francisco de Ávila, an extirpator of idolatries, in the seventeenth century (Taylor 1987). For this reason, the Peruvian narrative that serves as our primary text was added to the exemplary records, clothed in sacredness. It has underlain the world view elaborated in the Andes.

The story implies that a succession of humanities appeared on earth. At least one humanity existed in times of total darkness, and another followed with the appearance of the sun and the moon. Pachakamaq and Pachamama were powerful deities in a primal cosmos. The Willkas in turn inaugurated the time of our humanity. According to this narrative, there must have been more than two solar ages.

Likewise, all the Korean versions of the story might not begin even with the magic words ‘once upon a time’, but what is implicit is that it was a time before, and quite different from ours. In those days, the light came from the celestial bodies that were neither the sun nor the moon. The story begins out of nowhere to attract the listener’s attention. In the course of the story, however, it is clarified why the brother and sister did what they did in terms of the origin of the sun and the moon. At first, the elder brother became the sun, and the sister the moon. But the younger girl felt scared as the moon became enshrouded in darkness. Now, on her behalf, they changed their roles: she travelled as the sun in the broad daylight, and he shone as the moonlight in the dark night sky. This narrative, peculiarly enough, substitutes the siblings’ love for the notable androcentric tendency mirroring heliocentrism, which has been prevalent throughout the world for all ages. So the story amounts to more than a cosmogonic and etiological myth.

In the Andean world and in Korean as well, anyway, the birth of the sun and the moon is the starting point of our world. It is the source of yin and yang in East Asia, including in Korean culture. In Peru, likewise, their births echo the complementary duality or yanantin as the highest principle of the world. Interestingly enough, yanantin is similar to the concept of yin and yang. In the Andean world more than any other, they have conceived everyday life in terms of complementary opposites, as illustrated in man and woman, sun and moon, sky and earth, etc.

The single mother and her journeys

In the Andean story, the life of the twins’ mother is narrated in detail. In a sense, this story is divided into two parts: the first can be an independent story that narrates how Wakon killed her husband and her father Pachakamaq in the fight. The other part begins with the long journey the mother Pachamama set off on with her twins. It is a painful process for food and shelter.

In contrast to the Andean story, the Korean counterpart does not provide any details about the siblings’ mother. She is a widow in some versions, but other, perhaps older, accounts do not specify. The fact is, she is for herself and on her own. She is not under male protection, which typically leads them to poverty-stricken, everyday lives. She has to work hard for other households to secure her own sustenance and her children’s welfare. In a sense, she might be a mother to anyone, but not particularly to these two children in those days. She can be, in some respect, the listener’s mother in this folk tale.

The Andean twins and the Korean siblings

Pachamama, the powerful being of the underworld, conceives two children. These fraternal twins reissue a primal complementary duality in illo tempore. The twins are wakas (holy beings or holy places), which means that they participate in the sacredness of Pachakamaq, the fertilising waka. Born in our world, the Willkas emerge into a liminal space, that is, the land we inhabit. The Willkas endorse the liminal character of the earthly and intermediate world. The sun attracts the earth and vice versa. It is the earth that helps to sustain a primordial link between day and night. When Pachakamaq drowned in the sea of Lurín, it was an event on a cosmic scale. It is symbolically updated every time the sun sets on the western horizon. The Old Sun is to be replaced and a heroic adventure begins for its offspring. The transit of the twins is not an easy process but rather full of pain and dangers. They suffer persecution, which Wakon, a powerful, violent and cannibalistic being, inflicts with prominent eyes without bones. He is identified as having a feline face or masked in that appearance (López de Gomara 1941). The tension in which the opposites encounter is thus evidenced for the universe.

Both in the Korean and Andean mythical conceptions, the family home serves as a kind of secure centre, an ordering axis of reality. If it is violated, it is all but to the same effect when the parents are eliminated. The descendant children Willkas play the role of heroes when their flight and subsequent ascent to the overworld reconstitutes the
universe, in observance of unalterable principles.

In some versions of the Korean story, three children turn up, but in many others there are only two, an older brother and a younger sister, as in our text below (in appendices). The story with three children says that the youngest is eaten by the tiger, which means the brother and sister are protagonists of the story, who in turn symbolise yin and yang. They will grow or perfect themselves to be the sun and moon, overcoming difficulties in a similar way to Willkas. Twins frequently appear in Latin American myths, to represent the duality of the universe. In our Korean story, they are brother and sister so that they undoubtedly signify duality.

The trickster, predator or victimiser

In a myth or folk tale, the trickster is also situated at the core of the story. The plot itself is unravelled actually in the antagonism or confrontations between the main heroes and the trickster. In the case of the Andean story, Wakon takes the trickster’s part. He has not been interpreted enough in the corresponding ethnographies, so we need to turn to the new Andean linguistics. Wakon was considered an ancient divinity, who was displaced by Pachakamaq (Gutiérrez de Santa Clara 1905). With the latter’s help, new men and animals arose to replace others who had been exiled to the Antisuyu region (the jungle east of the Andean territory). Wakon could not persuade Pachamama into living with him. That is why he murdered her and intended to do the same with her children, the Willkas. Then and there, the waka was a pilgrimage centre where the capacocha (qhapaq hucha, or the human sacrifice mainly of children and pubescents) was executed. The capacocha are also pronounced as cachawako and cachawi (Molina 1989, 128; Albornoz 1989, 196–197). It is, then, not only pertinent but feasible, from many angles, to suppose that Wakon was a sacrificer of the capacocha in the waka of Lurín, in a time prior to the establishment of the new cult of Pachakamaq. When the Willkas fled from the waka of Lurín, it amounts to a denial of sacrificial offerings to him, now a defenestrated deity.

In Korean folk tales, in contrast, a nameless tiger takes on the trickster’s role. Tigers are familiar in the Korean imagination. They appear frequently – more than any other animal in Korean traditional folklore. Koreans are ambivalent towards the tiger. It is respected and feared at the same time. Koreans have made various psychological attempts to soften their fear of the tiger by personifying it with its bravery and nobility in their imagination. Tigers are sometimes replaced with wolves in other cultures. Korean tigers, personified, now smoke like humans and now climb up the tree or rope, as in our story. Moreover, Koreans traditionally worshipped the tiger as associate of the mountain god. As the ruler of the mountain, sometimes the tiger himself takes the role of the mountain god ‘Sangun’.

But the tiger in our story is generally stupid and greedy. It is a story in which a fearful animal of prey was made a fool of and at last fell to death. The young listener may get vicarious satisfaction, in the mechanism of this kind, surrounded by strong tiger-like, sometimes sexually assaultable, male adults. For the proverb has it that there is always a way out if you keep your head on straight among tigers.

The tiger ate up the children’s mother, just like Wakon. In the Andean story, Wakon fails to seduce her and gets to eat her. In the Korean version, the tiger asks her first for a rice cake, then another cake and another again, until she has none left. Then he asks for a piece of clothing, then another piece, until she is completely undressed. We can interpret that the tiger, when eating the rice cakes, is symbolically seizing offerings that do not belong to him. In the end, the tiger asks for a part of the body, then another, until her entire body is eaten. In this way, the listener’s fear increases to the fullest. This is evidently a metaphor for human sacrifice, also with a sexual implication, offered to the mountains or to any other powerful deities. In both versions of our story, sexuality is confusingly replaced with appetite, perhaps considering young listeners are mainly targeted.

After having eaten the mother, Wakon and the tiger try to deceive the children into becoming their prey too. The children, in both stories, also face powerful enemies who have a good command of tricks. Tricksters or perpetrators pretend to be the mother. In the Andean myth, the children can eliminate the antagonist with their collaborators’ help. In the Korean one, the sky, which the Andeans would call Pachakamaq, kills the enemy, leaving proof of this heavenly punishment on the red sorghum with the bloodstain of the tiger rushing down from the sky.

The cosmic rope and the transit between worlds

The monster Wakon failed only to seduce the widow Pachamama but devoured parts of her body. The Willkas could no longer find their mother, who Wakon said went far away but would soon return. The heartbroken children had Waychaw visit themselves. Waychaw was an ominous bird that announces both the sunrise and somebody’s imminent death. It informed the Willkas that their mother had died and that they, in similar danger, must flee. They did as instructed, not without first tying the monster by its hair to a huge wanka (‘stone’ or ‘rock’).

The Willkas were thoughtful children. Later, unexpectedly, they had a rope, or waska, lowered from the sky. The grandmother Añas (‘fox’ or ‘skunk’) advised them to climb up the rope. Both the twin brother and sister reached the empyrean heaven, where the great god Koniraya Wiraqocha (‘the dispeller of darkness’) was waiting for them. Huarochirí myths position the Pachakamaq area in a peripheral realm and the ‘Koniraya Wiraqocha’ and ‘Pariaqaqa’ wakas in the centre of the empyrean heaven.

Pachakamaq, then, would be the personification of Urin, the region below, and Wiraqocha (assimilated to the sun) that of Hanan, the region above. The children of Pachakamaq found a way to climb up to the overworld and became the sun and the moon, two powerful existences that would establish mutually complementary dominion in the cycles of nature. Even with the pronounced hierarchies, when the male Willka becomes the sun and the female the moon, the twins travel strictly in their allotted time. This very conception is endorsed when we observe the sky day and night. The sun is the star with the greatest brightness in our planetary system, while the moon is the closest celestial body to us as the only natural satellite of the earth. The sun is four hundred times bigger than the moon, but it is also four hundred times farther away. This is why both celestial bodies span approximately the same solid angle for an observer on earth, competing in size.

Also in the Korean story, the two children first climb the tree (in a sense, this tree works as the axis mundi). But when the tiger climbs the tree after them, the children on the treetop pray to heaven to lower a rope, by which they climb to heaven. The tiger, again after them, prays to heaven without hiding his cunning intention. The sky, analogously in the role of the Andean Pachakamaq or Wiraqocha, lowers a rope again but a rotten one this time. Now the tiger falls down to earth while climbing up.

What attracts our attention here is that, in both stories, the protagonists ascend to heaven with the help of the heavenly rope as a variant of the deus ex machina motif. In mythology, the cosmic tree is frequently used as a connector between heaven and earth, similar to the sky rope in Nuer or Tibetan myth. Of course, in the Korean and Andean stories, the rope is employed to connect the two worlds, but the twins or two siblings climb up the rope to become the sun and the moon.

The rope is lowered from heaven with three hidden implications: the connector, insecurity and verticality. First, the heavenly rope serves as a connector between heaven and earth. The most important part about this cosmic view is the way they envisaged the link between the earth and the sky in primordial times. In Andean folk tales, foxes take this role sometimes instead of humans.

In later times, when this link was lost, people were forced to resort to other resources such as shamanic intervention to restore it occasionally. Second, if you take the rope, it always involves danger – according to your intentions or life up to now. Third, the rope, lowered from the sky, also draws our attention to verticality, that is, a hierarchy that orders stratified dimensions in superimposed worlds.

Among other peoples, Koreans and Andeans revered their ancestors. The Korean society is vertically hierarchical. Also, since ancient times, Andeans have divided their society into Hanan (above) and Urin (below), with the prevalence of the solar or male half in the hierarchical society. In both societies the ancestors, above in heaven, were believed to pull the rope for their posterity.


In the Andean myths, the sun and moon twins were characters linked to anthropomorphised gods. The myth itself seems to have archaic antecedents, traceable from the pre-ceramic period onwards. Wakon, the ceremonial sacrificer, can be seen as a lineal descendant of the characters represented in the zeolites such as Lanzón Tello and Stela Raimondi. The central character from the Kuntur Wasi ruins (Cajamarca, 1100 BC) has two infants on his knees in an act of ‘presentation’. Penetrating to a historical depth of three thousand years or more (Onuki 2008), we perceive in both the Korean and Andean narratives that the archaic world visions are echoed in the typically shamanic conceptions and observance of the natural order, based on duality and cyclicality.

In our two cross-cultural stories, the definitive configuration of reality passes through the mediation. Our two Andean protagonists, born as children of the underground world (Pachamama or the feminine part of the earth), come to be transcendental in the end, ascending to the overworld, through the principles of complementary duality and balance between the two in the cosmos. The substantive opposites are the overworld and the underworld, and the rope works as the cosmic bridge. In addition, the two male and female children in the Korean story suggest the possibility of a mythological incest, which can be a way of symbolically solving the problem of the generation of primordial human offspring. In the Andean version, contrariwise, the twins are just collaborating as brother and sister. Their bond is limited to a symbolic connection, when they left the same paqarina (‘the place of origin’), belonging to the same half in a social organisation and declaring themselves merely to be ritualistic brother and sister. The issue of incest hardly has any relevance in this case. It might be noted that the incest in the Tawantinsuyu of the Incas (14th to 16th centuries AD) was not only allowed but also prescribed for the ruling class in order to preserve the royal lineage (Children of the Sun or Intiq Churinkuna).

Mythical accounts, particularly concerning the creation of the universe and humanity, explicitly justify sacrifices and offerings. The structural associations, in the analysis of myths, clarify the modalities of certain ritual practices. According to the evidence, the human sacrifice primarily affected children who were destined to be buried alive and sometimes dismembered, although the Korean tale mitigates the sacrifice by turning it into a process of initiation.

In the original Andean ideas of the cyclical alternation between day and night, light and darkness circulate each other just like threads wrap and unfold in a skein. But only from the sustained Christian evangelisation in the 16th century did they come to understand it as a triumph of good over evil. Similarly, Confucian thinkers in Korea elaborated on the Chinese philosophical ideas of encouraging good and renouncing evil, but the conception of duality and cosmic balance had been in Koreans’ thought long before Confucianism was introduced in the Korean peninsula.