Kitchen God’s Wife
Although variations do exist, the most popular version of the Kitchen God’s myth suggests that he was once a mortal man married to an exceptionally kind, patient, virtuous woman. The same, unfortunately, could not be said of him. In some versions, he’s a truly dissolute, irresponsible gambler; in others he merely has a roving eye. In all versions, he willfully abandons a good wife:
• He abandons her for a younger, prettier woman
• He sells her to pay off gambling debts or gain more money with which to gamble
• He wagers her during her a game and loses
When he abandoned his wife, good fortune abandoned him. Again there are different versions, but in all of them, his life takes a downward turn: he loses all his money; the girlfriend leaves him; he may or may not go blind but in any case is reduced to begging.
Eventually, years later, he unknowingly ends up at his former wife’s door. He doesn’t recognize her but she knows him instantly, admits him and treats him with great kindness although she does not identify herself. In all versions of the story, her virtue has been rewarded. She ishappy and prosperous. Sometimes she’s happily remarried; in one version, the man who won her gambling fell in love with her and reformed, open to her good influence.
She feeds her ex-husband but it’s his last meal. At some point he recognizes her (sometimes because in her presence, his vision is miraculously restored) and is so humiliated, humbled and ashamed that he knowingly walks into the big, blazing kitchen fire. Little was left of him other than a leg but the Jade Emperor took pity on his soul, maybe because his last emotions were shame and remorse and so he was transformed into the Kitchen God.
Even in death, however, he is not a nice god. He serves as the Jade Emperor’s spy revealing a family’s secrets so that they can be judged. He is open to bribery or is that blackmail? Lack of bribes and propitiation are reflected in his annual report.
The true heroine of the Kitchen God’s myth is the loving, patient, kind woman who Demonstrates the powers of a goddess of healing and wealth; a spirit of generosity and virtue. The Kitchen God’s Wife is never quick to point out flaws or misbehavior and perhaps should really be the one presiding over the home. Amy Tan explores this theme in her 1991 novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife.
No traditional images depicting only the Kitchen God’s nameless wife exist however she often appears together with her husband and may be an ameliorating presence. Kitchen God and wife may once have been joint spirits of the hearth.
Green Jade Mother; Jade Em peror; Kitchen God
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.