Spirit tablet case
A sacred space or facility where the image of a deity or object symbolizing a supernatural being is stored.
Gamsil is a facility inside a Confucian shrine used to store the spirit tablets of the ancestors. There were, of course, many households that had a gamsil to enshrine the spirit tablets of their ancestors, even though they had no family shrine.
The size of the gamsil varied according to the number of the generations of ancestors for whom memorial rites were regularly held. The most prevalent kind were those with five bays to enshrine the tablets of the four latest generations of ancestors together with the bulcheonwi (Kor. 불천위, Chin. 不遷位, spirit tablets of the ancestors whose achievements were recognized by the state and therefore should be honored in perpetuity), and those with four bays for the spirit tablets of four latest generations of ancestors. There were, of course, single-bay structures made to enshrine only the tablets of the most honorable ancestors and double-bay structures to enshrine those of other ancestors together with those of the distinguished ancestors. The doors of the gamsil are generally latticed and covered with Korean mulberry paper on the inside. When enshrining the ancestral spirit tablets or tablet box in a gamsil, those of the ancestors of earlier generations were placed in the west, while those of younger generations were placed in the east. The practice was a reflection of the traditional belief that in the underworld the west is superior to the east.
Families with no separate shrine could still in stall a gamsil, likewise for families who could not afford an independent shrine or had lost the ancestral tablets along with the cases in which they were stored. Such gamsil tended to take the form of a wall niche in the wooden-floored hall or the room occupied by the master of the house. The gamsil installed in the wall of an ordinary room rather than inside the family shrine is called byeokgam, or wall niche.
Together with the ancestral spirit tablets and family shrine, gamsil played a key role in the establishment of ancestral memorial rites in the Joseon dynasty. The practice of keeping an ancestral spirit tablet in a box, which was then placed in a gamsil, suggests that past Koreans laid great importance on the spirit tablets and believed their ancestral spirits favored a quiet, peaceful space. The appearance, size and form of the gamsil often served as a measure of the socioeconomic status of the family concerned.