Door guardian deities

Door Gods

The door gods (Chinese: 門神 – pinyin: mén shén) are worshipped by the Chinese as spiritual guardians of the entrance.

Door gods are supposed to keep evil spirits from entering. The door gods usually face each other in pairs; it is considered bad luck to place the figures back-to-back.

The custom [is commonly thought to have] originated during the Tang Dynasty (618- 907 AD) when the Emperor honoured two loyal generals by having their portrait painted on the door, due to their bravery in fighting intruders and evil spirits.

There are two types of door gods: martial door gods and literary door gods.
Martial door gods are usually generals depicted in life-size proportions, wearing full battle armour and wielding weapons, loyal men, great fighters. Commonly seen door gods of this type include “Shen Tu and Yu Lu,” “Qin Qiong and Weichi Gong,””Zhong Kui”, “Guan U” and “Guan Sheng”, the latter a grandfather-grandson team who appear respectively in the novels “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” and “Outlaws of the Marsh”.
The painted door god’s picture will face the visitor when entering.
Whoever the door gods may be, the common denominator of all front gate door gods is their trustworthiness, strength and loyalty, bolstered by a fierce martial countenance and impressive weaponry.

The literary door gods, inner door gods or civil door gods as they were named as well, are of a civil nature, based on scholar-official figures or historical scholars.
The door god’s picture will be painted on the doors inside the courtyard, hence going with the visitor when entering. Literary door gods can also be found on inside room doors.
Civil door god simply provided balance to the cultural configuration of the house, and encouraged the visitor to feel at peace in ones surroundings.
Popular characters of this genre are the “Fu, Lu, and Shou” or the historical scholar “Dou Yujun”, whose five sons passed the civil service examinations to become great officials.

Shen Tu and Yu Lei
Once upon a time, as the legend begins, there were two brothers named Shen

Order this Door Gods poster from here:

“In China, the Door God is said to be able to protect a family if his portrait is pasted on the gate or door to the family’s home. It’s believed that the earliest images of the Door God were of brave brothers, Shen Tu and Yu Lei, who were capable of subduing spirits and exorcising ghosts. From the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, images of certain famous military officers in Chinese history or in Chinese literary works appeared on doors. Tang Dynasty generals Qin Qiong and Wei Chigong became popular figures in New Year paintings along with Song Dynasty military leaders Yang Zongbao and Mu Guiying, etc. …The pictures are not only pasted on doors, but also in other places in Chinese homes. More, pictures are usually painted on to colorful paper, usually red which is seen by the Chinese as an auspicious color. And Portraits of the Door God always appear in couples pasted on both door leaves. This poster is titled “Auspicious Tiger Generals”

Shen Tu and Yu Lei with special powers for catching ghosts. The two lived at a time when evil spirits roamed the earth harassing the people and disrupting their lives, and thus, determined to rid the earth of this scourge, they caught and bound these mischievous ghosts and fed them to tigers. This story has been passed down to the present, and today people in Taiwan paste images of Shen Tu, Yu Lei and the tiger on their front doors to ward off evil.


[Shentu and Yu Lei may have emerged earlier than thought.]

Shentu always appears with Yulü in myths and beliefs; both are the original Gate Gods. The earliest record about Shentu and Yulü can be found in an early text from Shanhaijing, which cannot be found in today’s edition of Shanhaijing, and was cited by Lunheng.

It describes Shentu and Yulü’s power and how they be-come Gate Gods. Among the great seas, there was Dushuo Mountain. On the top of that mountain, a huge peach tree grew. Its branches reached 3,000 li
(about 1,000 miles). To the northeast of its branches there was the gate of ghosts where all ghosts went in and out. Two deities, Shentu and Yulü, stayed above the gate. They had the responsibility of supervising all of the ghosts. Evil or harmful ghosts would be bound with reed rope and fed to tigers. Being inspiredby that, the great mythological emperor Huang Di started and promoted a ritual that was held regularly. He taught people to paint the figures of Shentu, Yulü, and a tiger on door frames, place a statue made from peach wood beside the gate, and hang a reed rope on its top. By doing this at a specific time, all evils might be driven away from people inside the house. From then on the belief in Door Gods (Shentu and Yulü) spread. Similar descriptions can also be seen in Fengsu Tongyi (Popular Customs and Traditions, second century CE ) and several other documents compiled in and after the Han dynasty. Many of these documents also mention that the time for doing this custom is the end of each year. These records suggest that at least in the Han dynasty, belief in the Gate Gods and the custom of painting Shentu and Yulü’s pictures on door frames before the Chinese New Year had become very popular. In later times this custom was simplified. People only painted the two deities’ pictures on paper and pasted them on door frames before the Chinese New Year. The pictures would not be replaced until the next New Year. Today, in rural areas and in some urban settings, this custom is still common. However, its function has become diverse. Rather than serving to guard the house and protect the family, Gate Gods pictures are used to express happiness and celebration, to decorate, or to entertain.

After the Tang dynasty, several other mythical or legendary figures werealso identified as Gate Gods. Besides the version about Shentu and Yulü, anotherextremely popular version is that the roles of Gate Gods were assumed by QinQiong and Yuchi Gong, two fierce generals in the Tang dynasty. Nowadays ver-sions about deities who assume the role of Gate Gods are numerous. However,Shentu and Yulü continue to appear as the early Gate Gods in Chinese New Year pictures in many areas.
See also Huang Di
References and Further Reading
Li, Jianyong. “An Exploration of the Origin of Gate Gods” (in Chinese).
GuizhouWenshi Congkan
2 (2002): 55–57.Yang, Lin. “The Worship of Gate Gods and Its Evolvement” (in Chinese).
2 (2000): 112–118.Yuan, Ke, and Zhou Ming, comps.
A Source Book of Chinese Myth Texts
(inChinese). Chengdu: Sichuansheng Shehui Kexueyuan Chubanshe, 1985,105–106.
– Source: Handbook of Chinese Mythology pp 200-201

Deities in charge of guarding doors, originating in ancient Chinese mythical legend. The earliest recorded Door Gods were Shentu (神荼) and Yulei (鬱壘), while after the arrival of Buddhism in central China, the Door Gods diversified so that Buddhist temples, apart from the usual four heavenly kings or vajra warriors would also use the Dharmpalas Skanda (Veda) and Sangharama for protection, or the two Heng Ha Er Jiang (哼哈二將) guardians (the Kongo-rikishi). In Taiwanese temples, Qin Shubao (秦叔寶) and Weichi Gong (尉遲恭) are most commonly seen, with the two depicted as imposing warrior generals, wielding a battle axe and mace to ward off marauding evil demons and devils – thus they are popularly known as the “axe and mace Door Gods.” Mazu temples (媽祖廟) tend to use palace maids for the role, while Daoist temples employ Celestial generals. The Chaotian Temple (朝天宮) at Beigang (北港) has Door Gods for the twenty four solar terms, but they are relatively rare; while upper class family homes and government officials also had the habit of hanging pictures of door gods.

Source: Door Gods

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