The Fireplace King Spirit – Jowang-shin (조왕신)

Anjeokam2 - Jowangshin

A faded portrait of Jowangshin found at Anjeokam Hermitage in the mountains of Cheonseongsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In the next few articles, I thought I would explore some of the lesser seen or known sites at Korean temples or hermitages. These are rare finds that you might encounter during your travels and simply don’t know what they’re supposed to represent or even depict.

In this article, I thought I would talk about Jowangshin. Traditionally, Jowangshin (조왕신) was thought of as the shaman deity of the fire and hearth. They were customarily found inside a Korean house, but in the past several decades, they have disappeared. One place you can still find them, however, is inside a Buddhist temple’s kitchen.

Jowangshin was worshipped in Korea for over a millennium, since the Three Kingdoms Period in Korean history (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.).

Anjeokam1 - Jowangshin

Jowangshin inside the kitchen at Anjeokam Hermitage.

Traditionally, the way in which Jowangshin was embodied was in a bowl of water held on a clay altar above the hearth. The housewife would awake early in the morning and pour fresh water from a nearby well into the bowl. After doing this, she would kneel in front of the bowl and pray for good luck. Also, during important festivals, Jowangshin would be honoured with rice cakes and fruit.

There were five rules that a housewife would have to follow to ensure a happy and prosperous household. They were:

1. Do not curse while in the hearth.

2. Do not sit on the hearth.

3. Do not place your feet on the hearth.

4. Maintain a clean kitchen.

5. You can worship other deities in the kitchen.

Daewonam - Jowangshin

Jowangshin as seen inside the kitchen at Daewonam Hermitage.

Jowangshin would broadcast the happenings inside the house towards the heavens. If the rules were followed, Jowangshin would be a benevolent deity. However, if these rules weren’t followed, Jowangshin could be a vengeful deity.

In Korean Buddhism, Jowangshin is a shamanic tutelary deity. Inside the Buddhist temple, you’ll occasionally find this deity housed inside the kitchen. Jowangshin has a special altar inside the kitchen called a Jowang-dan. And you’ll often find a portrait on the wall above the altar depicting Jowangshin.

The kitchen was seen as being the symbol of prosperity for a home. A good fire signified a prosperous house, while a house without a fire represented poverty because traditionally all meals came from a fire. This also translated to a temple or hermitage.

As a shaman deity, he is considered a dharma protecting deity. But in the pantheon of shaman deities, Jowangshin is a minor folk-Buddhist deity below the likes of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Recluse), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Yongwang (The Dragon King). Uniquely, there is a Jowangshin scripture that praises him in the Jowang-gyeong sutra (The Kitchen God Sutra).

Wonhyoam - Jowangshin

Jowangshin hanging inside the eating area at Wonhyoam Hermitage.

What does Jowangshin look like just in case you run across him? Jowangshin is middle aged, and he sports a long black beard. He holds it with his one hand, while either holding a fan or a wooden tablet in the other. He is dressed in royal-looking clothes, and he sits on a throne. Behind his throne are banners with Chinese text written on them. Of note, Jowangshin’s feet don’t touch the ground.

Examples of Jowangshin can be found at a few temples. There are beautiful paintings of him at Anjeokam Hermitage and Wonhyoam Hermitage on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. Another example can be found at a hermitage at Pyochungsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do called Daewonam Hermitage.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, and you decide to have a meal there, have a look around the kitchen because you might just be able to see this lesser seen and known shaman deity.