Village Guardian Post
Jangseung is a wooden or stone figure carved in human form and erected in the entrance of a village, temple or mountain pass to serve as guardian deity.
Alternate terms include jangsaeng, beoksu and susalmok, but jangseung is the most common. The practice of erecting these guardian posts goes back to ancient times and many villages held rituals to worship them.
While its most important function was to protect the village or temple against diseases, bad fortune, and tiger attacks and to preserve peace and prosperity in the village and the health and safety of travelling villagers, jangseung also served as guideposts that mark distances to major destinations, and in places that were viewed according to geomancy as lacking in energy, as devices of geomantic supplementation (bibo). Jangseung were also erected in the four corners of a village as gods of the four directions, and outside fortress gates as gatekeepers.
A village guardian post comprises three parts: face, body, and the root, which is the part that supports the post underground. The face includes a pair of huge eyes bulging like bells, a prominent nose and a mouth that reveals a full row of teeth, the features generally painted, or in some regions carved, with ears attached on the sides. The face connects without a neck directly with a body that has no arms or legs. These posts are usually tall and linear, although some are curved or stand comically at a slant, depending on the shape of the tree that it is carved from. The most important part of jangseung is its face, unrefined and humorous, its expression frightening and at the same time friendly.
The posts usually come in pairs, comprising a male and a female. Often inscribed vertically on the body are the Chinese characters “天下大將軍, ” meaning, “Great General Serving Under the Heavens, ” in the case of the male post, and “地下女將軍, ” meaning, “Woman General Serving Underground.” The carving of jangseung follows strict formalities: Once a tree has been chosen, villagers pour wine on it and offer bows before felling it with an axe. The village’s sacred poles (sotdae) are also carved during this process, which usually takes place on the fourteenth day of the first lunar month, followed by a ritual for the village guardian posts (jangseungje) held the next evening of Jeongwoldaeboreum (Great Full Moon).