What are the Haetae (해태)? Korean Mythology

The haetae is a horned mythological beast that is prevalent in East Asian mythology. In this article, we will learn exactly what it is, why it is important, and references to the haetae in popular culture.

Read to find out more about the Haetae in Korean Mythology.

What are Haetae?

Haetae - mythological goat-lion beast
Haetae – mythological goat-lion beast

In Korean folklore, the haetae is a scaled goat-like creature that was believed to know right from wrong, and helped pass judgement on guilty and innocent parties. It may sometimes be known as haitai or haechi.  

It was often depicted as a muscular beast with a likeness to a lion, goat, and unicorn. Indeed, in English language references to the haetae, it is sometimes known as a “unicorn lion”. 

The haetae is not only prevalent in Korean mythology, but also has a place in Chinese and Japanese folklore. It is called kaichi (獬豸) in Japanese mythology. In Chinese myths, though, it is known as Xiezhi and is believed to have been an aid to the ancient Minister of Law, Gao Yao. Xiezhi would punish those who were guilty of crimes by attacking them with its horn. 

Haetae and Korean Culture

Haetae in Gyeongbokgung, South Korea
Haetae in Gyeongbokgung, South Korea

It’s common to encounter haetae statues throughout the whole of South Korea, especially in the capital city of Seoul. 

In addition to passing judgement on guilt and innocence, the haetae is also known as a guardian against fires and other natural disasters, and is often used architecturally to signify this belief. 

Such is the significance of the haetae in Korean folklore, there are food companies, sports teams, and theme parks all known named in honor of the mythological beast. 

Related: What are the Dokkaebi?

Haetae and Seoul

Haetae depitcted on ancient Korean charm
Haetae depitcted on an ancient Korean charm

The haetae is the official symbol of Seoul, and has been since 2009 when it replaced the tiger Wangbomi. 

Because of this, the haetae can be found all over the city in subway stations, museums, palaces, and parks. It is also often used as a lantern in Korean festivals. 

As Korean folklore goes, the haetae are among the most widely represented and highly revered amongst all of the mythological beasts, and they are a common feature in popular culture. 

Haetae Goh

In popular culture, the haetae lends its name to the popular South Korean cartoon The God of High School, in which there is a Charyeok (a contract with higher beings) called haetae. This Charyeok, comes in the form of a blue beast that resembles a dog with large fangs. 

In the cartoon, haetae has powerful abilities such as hydrokinesis, nitikinesis, and healing powers. 

Get in Touch

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the Korean mythological beast, the haetae. If there are any other aspects of Korean folklore that you want to know more about, let us know in the comment section below. 

You may also like reading about other mythologies around the world. Here is an article about the nine worlds in Norse mythology to get you started.

For any enquiries, contact me at basil@mythologyplanet.com

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