The Kim dynasty claims spiritual descent from this shaman king. It is taught in schools that Kim Jong-il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-un, was born on Mount Paektu, the mystical birthplace of Tangun.

Tangun as a national unifying emblem is the most enduring project of Cheondogyo. The persistent theme running through all its spinoffs, including Juche, is the promotion of the Korean nation as the gift of heaven to the world.

The grandson of Kim Il-sung may be pursuing the messianic mantle, the reclamation of the lordship of Tangun, with an even higher calling – and nuclear weapons – but the original Cheondogyo message was one of spiritual peace and harmony. To understand how that was transformed into a violent revolutionary force is to begin to answer the key questions about Kim Jong-un.