The Kitchen Spirit

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Immortals and Immortalism
The Heavenly Lords
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The Heavenly Lord of the Numinous Treasure
The Heavenly Lord of Dao and its Virtue
The Great Jade Emperor
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The Four Heavenly Ministers
The Emperors of the Soil
The Queen Mother of the West
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The Great Perfect Warrior Emperor
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The Stellar Sovereign of the Five Planets and Seven Stars
The Four Numinous Animals and Twenty-Eight Constellations
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The Sixty Daily Spirits of the Celestial Trunks and Earthly Branches
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The Primordial Lady of the Emerald Cloud
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The Father of Thunder and the Mother of Lightning
The Dragon King
The Master of Rain
The Earl of Wind
Spirits of the Soil and Local Protector Spirits
The City God
The Door Spirits
The Earth Spirit
The Kitchen Spirit
Spirits of Wealth and Longevity
The Spirit of Wealth
The Stars of Luck, Wealth and Longevity
Guardians of Hell
The Great Emperor of Fengdu
The Yamas of the Ten Halls
Perfect Men and Immortals
Guanyin (Avalokitesvara)
The Eight Immortals
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Emperor Guan
Patriarch Lü Numinous Official Wang
The Water-Margin Lady
The Three Mao Perfect Sovereign Brothers
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The King of the Three Mountains

Origins of the Kitchen Spirit

The Kitchen Spirit ( 灶神 Zaoshen ), known as the Kitchen Sovereign Who Controls Destinies and Good Fortune ( 東廚司命定福灶君 Dongchu Siming Dingfu Zaojun ), is commonly called the Kitchen Sovereign( 灶君 Zaojun ), the Kitchen King ( 灶王 Zaowang ) or the Kitchen Duke ( 灶王爺 Zaowangye ). The worship of the Kitchen Spirit already existed in ancient China. The section "Sacrificial Rites ( 祭法 Jifa ) " of the Book of Rites ( 禮記 Liji ) says, "the king established seven cults for the people", one of which was the cult of the Kitchen Spirit. But ordinary people could only worship one spirit, either the Door Spirit ( 門神 Menshen ) or the Kitchen Spirit. Fire is made in a kitchen range, so it was said during the two Han dynasties that the Fire Spirit or Yan Di Shengnong was worshiped through the medium of the kitchen after his death; or it was said that Zhurong and Huirong, the former fire officials of the Gaoxins', turned into Fire Spirits after their death and were worshiped through the medium of the kitchen. One should wash pots and basins to worship the Kitchen Spirit, so the section "Ritual Instruments ( 禮器 Liqi ) " of the Book of Rites says that the worship of the Kitchen Spirit was "the worship of the Old Woman ( 老婦之祭 Laofu Zhi Ji ) ", which requires "only to fill basins with food and fill bottles with wine, so it is a lowly worship. But though lowly, it is necessary, for the Kitchen Spirit benefits food and drink, and thus should be repaid". The Kitchen Spirit began to have a name after the Wei and Jin dynasties. The Treasury of the Jade Candle ( 王燭寶典 Yuzhu Baodian ) by Du Taiqing of the Sui dynasty quoted the Book of the Kitchen ( 灶書 Zaoshu ), saying, "the Kitchen Spirit has the family name Su and the given name Jili, and its woman's name is Bojia". Li Xian of the Tang dynasty annotated and quoted the Miscellaneous Book of the Five Agents ( 雜五行書 Za Wuzing Shu ), saying, "the Kitchen Spirit is named Chan and styled Ziguo, who is dressed in yellow and wears the hair down, and comes from the kitchen range". The Kitchen Spirit was originally a goddess, who, in various versions, was said to be an old woman or a beautiful woman. The Complete Book of Kitchen Spirit Worship ( 敬灶全書 Jingzao Quanshu ) written in the Qing dynasty says that the Kitchen Sovereign ( 灶君 Zaojun ) has the family name Zhong, the given name Dan and the style Ziguo. It should be a male Spirit. On papers burned by the people in sacrificial rituals, showing the picture of the Kitchen Sovereign Who Controls Destinies and Good Fortune, there is always a portrait of an elderly couple, namely the Kitchen Sovereign and his wife.


The function of the Kitchen Spirit was formerly to be in charge of cooking in the human world. Before the beginning of the Eastern Jin dynasty, the Kitchen Spirit began to acquire the functions of supervising human evils and dominating a family's life and death, misfortune and happiness. The section "Subtle Guidelines ( 微旨 Weizhi )" of the Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 抱樸子內篇 Baopuzi Neipian ) by Ge Hong of the Eastern Jin dynasty says, "on the night of the last day of the lunar month, the Kitchen Spirit ascends to Heaven to report human crimes. People who have committed great crimes will have a large part of their life span, 300 days, removed, while people who have committed minor crimes will have a short part of their life span, 3 days, removed". The Lantern Rituals for the Kitchen Controller of Destinies ( 東廚司命燈儀 Dongchu Siming Dengyi ), published between the Yuan and Ming dynasties, says that "the Kitchen Spirit bears an important responsibility and governs people's misfortune and happiness in the human world". "As an envoy of the Seven Origins ( 七元 Qiyuan ) of Heaven, it attends to numerous affairs in the Heavenly court every other day", and "governs Yin and Yang alternatively. Although people may either do good or do evil, it meticulously records every good and bad deed". The Complete Book of Kitchen Spirit Worship says that the Kitchen Sovereign protects a family's health and safety when receiving incense and candles from the family. Also, it inspects the family's good and evil deeds and presents its merits and misdoings. On every day of Gengshen, it reports to the Jade Emperor ( 玉帝 Yudi ) and makes a calculation at the end of each month. After three years, Heaven will certainly bring happiness and longevity to people with lots of merits, while disasters and misfortune will be sent to those who have committed many misdeeds.


On the 24th day of the 12th lunar month of every year, the Kitchen Spirit ascends to Heaven to report the merits and misdoings of the human world, and determines people's fortune and misfortune. Therefore people worship and send off the Kitchen Sovereign by burning incense and offering sacrifices on the night of the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month. In the old days, there existed a difference between gentry families, who sent off the Kitchen Spirit on the 23rd day, and the common families who did so on the 24th day. The sacrifices offered to the Kitchen Spirit are always sugar ingots, parched rice, peanut brittle, sesame candies, dumplings made of glutinous rice and the like, for people expect to fill the stomach of the Kitchen Spirit so that he would not report the evils of the human world. People call this "reporting good deeds to Heaven and keeping safety in the world of mortals". When the sacrificial ritual is over, the used paper printed with the pictures of the Kitchen Sovereign which has been worshiped for a year, is taken off the kitchen range and burnt with paper ingots and the like to indicate that the Kitchen Spirit is ascending to Heaven. When the spirit is received on New Year's Eve, the ritual of receiving the Kitchen Spirit is held. New paper printed with pictures of the Kitchen Spirit is pasted on the kitchen range after the offering of sacrifices to the Kitchen Spirit.

Seeing off and Welcoming the Kitchen Spirit ( 送灶 Songzao 辭灶 Cizao )

The Kitchen Spirit ( 灶神 Zaoshen ) was originally one of the objects worshiped by families in China, and old women in charge of cooking took the lead in the cult. But later, this custom evolved into an important family cult and is almost indispensable in the customs of Spring Festival. The Kitchen Spirit was listed in the Daoist spirits' pedigree quite early and was called the Controller of Destinies of the Eastern Kitchen ( 東廚司命 Dongchu Siming ). Then he was promoted to the rank of emperor at an unknown time and was titled Great Emperor and Controller of Destinies of the Eastern Kitchen ( 東廚司命大帝 Dongchu Siming Dadi ). The birthday of the Kitchen Spirit is on the third day of the eighth lunar month (some say it is on the fifteenth day), on which every family light kitchen lamps to worship him. But nowadays Seeing Off the Kitchen Spirit and Welcoming the Kitchen Spirit ( 接灶 Jiezao ) have become customs of Spring Festival. In fact, according to The Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 抱朴子內篇 Baopuzi Neipian ), the Kitchen God is obliged to inspect the people under Heaven. He should report to the Heavenly Court the merits, demerits, and good and evil deeds of the family, while Heaven, according to his report, determines the fortunes and misfortunes of the family in the following year. It is generally held that he ascends to Heaven on the 23rd (or 24th, as some think) day of the last lunar month every year. At that time people should see him off carefully. When he has reported to Heaven and returns on New Year's Eve, people must certainly welcome him. The former custom is called Seeing off the Kitchen Spirit, while the latter is called Welcoming the Kitchen Spirit.

Seeing off the Kitchen Spirit

The Kitchen Spirit is usually pictured on paper, which is called the Hearth Horse ( 灶馬 Zaoma ). "Horse" should be pronounced as Ma, which refers to the sign of spirit. Different kinds of spirits have their different "Ma". The Hearth Horses are posted on the spirit's shrine on the hearth at ordinary times and are torn off and burnt when seeing off the Kitchen Spirit in order for him to ascend to Heaven by smoke. Nevertheless, the people understand that his purpose in ascending to Heaven is to report the merits and demerits of the family, so they play a trick on him. Firstly, before seeing him off, they light lamps in the kitchen and apply some distillers' grains to the hearth. This is called "Inebriating the Controller of Deities" ( 醉司命 Zui Siming ). It means to make him so intoxicated as to forget the demerits of the family. Concurrently, they give him some special offerings, one of which is the indispensable teeth-gluing maltose. Teeth-gluing maltose is a type of maltose that is very sticky in the mouth. Its function is just sticking -- if the sweet maltose sticks to his teeth, he cannot speak when meeting the Jade Emperor ( 玉帝 Yudi ) and is thus surely unable to inform against them. In addition, in some places, people ingeniously make use of homophones in their dialect. For example, in the south of the Yangtze River, people add water caltrops, water chestnuts, taros and the like to their offerings. It is said that before the Jade Emperor, who asks, "Are the family members good persons?" the drunken Kitchen Spirit, thinking of the water chestnuts he has eaten, replies, "Yeah, yeah! (the homophone of water chestnuts in the Wu dialect just means, "yes")" The Jade Emperor asks, "Have they behaved well?" He replies, "Very well, very well! (the homophone of water caltrops in the Wu dialect means, "very well, great")". Or "Yes, yes! (the homophone of taros in the Wu dialect means, "that's right", "yes"). Then this family gives the Jade Emperor a good impression and will certainly be rewarded with good luck next year. Apart from the offerings, people should also provide the Kitchen Spirit with vehicles. This varies in different times and places. Generally, in ancient times, people usually made carriages and horses with paper, grass, and bamboo, and in the Ming and Qing dynasties, since officials usually traveled on sedan-chairs, people made sedan-chairs with paper. In modern times, northerners usually make small horses with grass, while southerners are used to making sedan sticks with chopsticks and sedans with paper. Both the sedans and horses are burnt together with the Hearth Horse for the Kitchen Sovereign ( 灶君 Zaojun ) to ride on them to Heaven.

Welcoming the Kitchen Spirit

After reporting to Heaven, the Kitchen Spirit returns to the shrine prepared by every family on New Year's Eve. Now people must welcome him. They generally give offerings and set off firecrackers, and especially affix the new Hearth Horse. Some of the Hearth Horses are drawn with a single Kitchen Spirit, but some are also drawn with the Kitchen Grandma shoulder to shoulder with him. These two elders are placed in a newly painted shrine, just as they return to their own palace. Hung on the two sides of the palace is usually a couplet which says, "Report good deeds to Heaven, and ensure safety back in the palace."