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The Idea of Immortality in Different Mythologies

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Immortality in Chinese Mythology
  3. Immortality in Japanese Mythology
  4. Immortality in Korean Mythology
  5. Immortality in Irish/Celtic Mythology
  6. Comparing and Contrasting Immortality Asian Mythology and Irish Mythology
  7. Personal Reflection
  8. Conclusion


Immortality is a very common theme of mythology around the world. The notion of immortality is a common theme in humanity as well, as it is something humans have been trying to achieve for thousands of years. Humans have often turned to religion as a place where they can achieve this immortality in the afterlife. In this paper, I will be focusing on immortality in Chinese Mythology, Japanese Mythology, Korean mythology, and Celtic/Irish mythology, and then I will be comparing and contrasting Asian and Irish mythology.

Immortality in Chinese Mythology

This theme of Immortality is common in Chinese mythology and is best recognized in the group of the eighth of immortals. Each of the eight immortals haa the power to destroy evil or bestow life. These eight figures are identified as Han C h u n g – (Chung-li of the Han dynasty) , whose full name is Chung-li Ch’üan, Lü Tung-pin, Li Tieh- kuail (Li with the iron crutch), Ts’ao Kuo-chiu (Ts’ao, the brother- in-law of the emperor), Ho Hsien-ku (Ho, the immortal girl), Han Hsiang-tzul, Chang Kuo-lao (Chang Kuo, the man of age) and Lan Ts’ai-ho.

These eight immortals are known to be mostly born in either the Tang or Shang dynasty. These eight immortals are viewed as men of courage to the general population because they have cured them of illness and disease, fought against oppression, and taught them how to get to greater heights spiritually. These eight immortals are said to live on five islands in the Bahai sea, which is located just off the east coast of China. The eight immortals are almost always depicted together and not separate. To this day, the eight immortals are very popular I’m Chinese culture and are a common presence in modern art. Once a year ceremonies are held to perform rituals to the eight immortals to bring good fortune

Peaches are also a common symbol of immortality in Chinese mythology. Peaches are often consumed by immortals because these peaches have the ability to grant longevity to whoever eats them. Peaches of Immortality can be a symbol for the wish of along and healthy life, not necessarily immortality. Peaches were a common sight in ancient Chinese art.

Off the east coast of China, there are said to be these magic islands that are protected by divine spirits. The First Emperor of the Qin dynasty (221–207 b.c.) decided to locate this island when a report reached him to the effect that many people in the remote West had recently died of an unknown epidemic. On this island, there was found to be a magic herb that was gifted to them by the Sea God.

Immortality in Japanese Mythology

In Japanese Mythology, the term Sennin is used to describe immortals. Sennins are best known to live in the mountainous regions in Japan. In Japanese myths, Rennins are capable of different magic tricks that include flying on top of an animal in the sky. There are believed to be an estimated one thousand Sennins known to exist, but there are only a few that are often mentioned and depicted in myths. Sennins usually appear in dreams to humans. Rennins are a very popular character name in Japanese Anime media. There are five Sennins that are popular and known to Japanese people. The first of the five is, Chokaro who traveled the world but realized there was a transportation problem due to how long it took. Choker had a major pumpkin that he blew into, and out came a mule that was down to have been the solution to the transportation problem. Second is Gama, Gama is a benign sage that has extensive knowledge about pills and drugs. Gama is most often seen with a toad.

The third most Sennin is named Seiobo, who is also named “Queen Mother of the West” in Chinese Mythology. The Queen Mother of the West grows a garden of peach trees that only bloom every few thousand years, consuming these peaches will give a person immortality. Next is Tekkai, Tekkai is best depicted as the unlucky immortal in Japanese mythology. This is because he left his body behind when he went to visit his master; Mount Hua, and when he returned, his body had been cremated and buried, which then made him take refuge in another recently deceased body, which turned out to be one of a disgraceful beggar. Tekkai is often depicted in Japanese mythology, walking with a crooked stick. Last is Tobosaku, Tobodsaku is known to be the evil Sennin in Japanese mythology who stole not only one, but three peaches out of Seibo’s garden, so he was able to obtain immortality. Tobosaku is most often portrayed in Japanese myths as an old man with a peach in his hand.

Immortality in Korean Mythology

When talking about the theme of immortality in Korean mythology, the most known are the Dokkaebi which are legendary creatures from Korean Folklore and mythology. The Dokkaebi, which are also known as Korean Goblins, are nature spirits that have remarkable powers and abilities that are used to interact with humans with playing tricks on humans or by helping humans. Dokkaebi have vast supernatural powers as they can sometimes bring good agricultural success and defend against evil spirits. Rituals are held annually throughout Korea to appeal to Dokkaebi to bring good harvests and good fortune to humans. The majority of Korean myths that mentions Dokkaebi, talk about them punishing humans because of their evil deeds. Dokkaebi can change into other living things temporarily to either reward or play tricks onto humans. There are different types of Dokkaebi. For example, there is the “Go” Dokkaebi which is best known to be masters at the art of performing acts of violence with weapons. Next is the Gae Dokkaebi, which are considered to be the darkest/evilest Dokkaebi that do their best to attract evil spirits to bring bad fortune to human beings. There is then the Gaksi Dokkaebi, which are the ones that sometimes play tricks on humans but are most known to interact with humans by attracting them to him.

Immortality in Irish/Celtic Mythology

Many well known myths in Ireland involve Leprechauns and Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick is most notably known for banishing all the snakes from Ireland. Not only is Saint Patrick known to banish snakes but he is also known to banish all venomous things from Ireland.

Like many other mythologies around the world, in Irish mythology achieving immortality was always a goal of humans whether through magical ways or through religion.The hearty drink of hops and malt, a favorite of the ancient Irish, who also fermented honey into mead had a ritual significance as a symbol of immortality. The drinking of this fermented honey is depicted in a famous Irish myth called “Tribe of the Gods” where these Gods obtained immortality by drinking this honey. The tribe of the gods also known as “Tuath(a) De Danann in Gaelic Irish and is thought to represent the main deities of ancient Ireland. The apple was considered a symbol of immortality in Irish myths.

In Irish myths, fairies were considered to be immortal. Fairies were believed to be from an otherworld, or perhaps appear to have been so because of the difference between our world’s time and theirs, Fairyland is described as a place without death or pain, where even fairy battles have no mortal consequences. Fairy battles were a common sight in Irish myths with them being more like sporting events because of their immortality. Fairies are considered to be immortal figures that interacted with their human counterparts. Also, fairies were depicted in myths playing tricks on humans. The concept of the “Otherworld” is a common notion in Celtic/Irish mythology. The “Otherworld” is where the immortal fairies are located and only twice a year the walls between the “Otherworld” and our world breakdown where fairies can interact with humans.

In Celtic/Irish Myths, the dragon is considered to be another theme of immortality. The dragons dragons best known to be of a world that is parallel to the physical world. There are two variations of dragons that are depicted in Celtic myths. There is the standard winged version with four legs that most people are familiar with and there is a sea serpent that is depicted as either a giant wingless serpent or huge serpent with wings, but no legs. The dragon was a gatekeeper to other worlds and guardian to the secrets and treasures of the universe. They were often depicted side by side with the Celtic gods. As creatures that protect the Earth and all living things, Celtic dragons are considered the most powerful of all the Celtic symbols.

Comparing and Contrasting Immortality Asian Mythology and Irish Mythology

A similarity in both Asian mythology and Irish mythology is the ingestion of either food or pills to obtain immortality. This is present in Asian Mythology with the Peaches that I explained before, but is also present in the Chang E myth we read in class. Yi the Archer, Chang E’s husband obtained this pill of immortality from the Emperor as a reward for shooting down 9 out of 10 suns in the sky. Chang E then stole this pill of immortality, consumed it but since it was so much she floated to the moon and never came back. As mentioned prior Peaches were a symbol of immortality, but another symbol of immortality in Asian mythology was the Miaoshan myth. Miaoshan was given a pill of immortality after being saved by the Earth God Tiger after her parents tried to kill her. This way of ingesting something to obtain immortality is very similar to the fermented honey myth in Irish mythology, that I talked about earlier. The method of ingesting something to obtain immortality is commonly depicted in myths throughout various cultures in the world.

Another similarity between Irish myths and Asian myths is the use of mythical animals/creatures to symbolize immortality. This is best shown with the Dokkaebi and the Celtic Dragon. Both with Dokkaebi and Dragons these mythical creatures transpired fear throughout its opponents, these two creatures are both very big and intimidating creatures. Both of these figures show up in modern day art and expression in both their respective cultures.

In Asian mythology, with the Dokkaebi and the Eight Immortals, we see rituals being held usually annually to these mystical figures of immorality. With Celtic/Irish mythology no sort of rituals was performed to appeal to these symbols of immortality. It seems that in Western Culture rituals do not appear to be as common in Eastern cultures like Asian and Muslim.

Another contrast between Asian mythology and Celtic Irish mythology is the common presence of metamorphosis/shapeshifting within symbols of immortality in Japanese Mythology and Korean Mythology. The Sennin named Tekkai was able to transform into another body and the Dokkaebi were known to this when wanting to either reward humans or play tricks on them. This was a common sight to see in the Japanese movie we watched in class with their parents being able to shapeshift into pigs and then come back into humans at the end. Also, we saw that with the boy who was able to turn into a flying serpent/dragon at times. This idea of shapeshifting was also mentioned in a fellow classmates’ presentation when talking about foxes. In his presentation, he mentioned Kumiho and Kitsune which are foxes in Korean and Japanese mythology and these foxes have the ability to shape shift. Within Celtic/Irish myths, there are very few mentions of shapeshifting, except for when Aiofe (an Irish beauty Goddess) turned her step children into swans.

Personal Reflection

The reason why I chose to look at Irish Mythology is because I was born in Northern Ireland. I was born in a border town in Northern Ireland. The border town that I was born in is called Crossmaglen which is located in County Armagh. The part of Northern Ireland I was born in is overwhelmingly catholic, and they take great pride in it. In the last few decades, Irish people have been attempting to reconnect with their culture as much of the Irish Culture including the language was erased with the Anglo-British invasion of Ireland that happened over 800 years ago and is still present to this day in Northern Ireland, with Northern Ireland being part of Great Britain and not Ireland. Due to six counties in Northern Ireland being apart of Great Britain and not the Republic of Ireland, Catholics have felt much of their tradition/culture has been destroyed by the presence of British Soldiers. Now that catholics are not oppressed in Ireland, Irish Republicans/Catholics like my mom have made strides throughout Northern Ireland to bring back this culture. The Irish language Gaelic is also being put back in curriculum in schools as it was destroyed too. Along with Gaelic, Irish culture which includes myths is making its way back into the Irish/Catholic which was formerly British/Protestant. So, due to this attempt to revive Irish culture, Irish myths play a major role in doing so.


In modern society (1500-present day) people have broken off from their past traditions. Armstrong explains modern western society when she says, “Unlike myth, logos must correspond to facts; it is essentially practical. The new hero of Western society was henceforth the scientist or inventor”. This new more secular society, myths will start to fade away and may not be known as much to people. Myths do not play the same role that they did in years past, this has long term consequences with myths not being apart of cultures anymore, especially western culture. With most myths being written down and recorded for the public to see, less and less people will keep passing down myths to younger generations and cultural myths will get less significant as society progresses. The progression if society with new technological and scientific advancements has been overall good for society, but like religion, myths are something that could easily start to fade away. In Philosophy the deterioration of religion and culture (which includes myths) is called the death of God. Many Philosophers like Kant would argue that the death of God has led to a deterioration of not only religious and cultural ideals but also morals.

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