The house gods on Jeju Island are accompanied by a number of serpent deities who also reside in the home. These serpent deities, whose origins are theorized to come out of persisting traditions in Southeast Asia, mirror the house gods in some ways. The serpent deities are likewise typically located in specific areas around the house and garden. (In some regions of Jeju, they are located around the village, as well) Whereas the house deities are charged with protecting and blessing the members of a household, the serpent house deities—the chilseong gods—are involved with securing wealth and the preservation of wealth. Wealth in the context of a traditional lifestyle seems to be fairly humble, that is to secure a good harvest of grain and to protect that grain from both corrupting forces and neglect. The idea of wealth has expanded, of course, to include other material concerns in the modern era. The most famous of the chilseong gods are An-chilseong and Pat-chilseong, the indoor serpent deity and the outdoor serpent deity. Altars are constructed to these gods in the garden and in the grain cupboard, or in modern times, beside the refrigerator or even the kimchi refrigerator.
The presence of the household snake deities is a very special aspect of Jeju shamanism. Local people have a great reverence for these deities. If you are a visitor or foreign resident to Jeju Island, you should never kill a snake, but notify the local town hall if you want to remove one from your home or garden. Snakes are very important in Jeju culture. They are seen as holy animals and disturbing them is believed to result in harm, not just to oneself, but to the greater community.
Joey Rositano is a writer and visual artist currently based in South Korea. He has produced a documentary on the shamanism of Jeju Island which is available now, below for more details.
Help support the project!
Spirits the documentary is now available on gumroad for download for $5. Follow the link below and you will arrive.
There are a limited number of Spirits: The Story of Jeju Island’s Shamanic Shrines photo books left! Also available on gumroad.