There are various wealth gods in Chinese culture.
Some are more popular than others. While some seemingly go about unnoticed even though they are just as auspicious as others.
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There is also a cai shen (财神) that come in a group know famously as the 5-direction wealth gods (五路财神) that can match Zhao Gong Ming and Guan Yu in popularity.
This is partly because even though the two are the undisputed primary wealth gods, they come with military connotations. Some people don’t like such associations.
However, the 5 direction wealth gods are primarily associated with money luck and windfalls. Moreover the moniker of “5-directions” makes one perceive that wealth luck would be pouring in from all directions should one be able to welcome them.
Saying that, it must be noted that Zhao is the leader of the 5 gods. It’s just that when they are banded together as a group, they become the Backstreet Boys of wealth luck with little to no militaristic tendencies.
Zhao takes up the center, while the remaining four takes up a cardinal direction each.
The 5 members are:
- Zhao Gong Ming (趙公明) Center
- Xiao Sheng (蕭升) East
- Chen Jiu Gong (陳九公) South
- Cao Bao (曹寶) West
- Yao Shao Si (姚少司) North
Because of the various legends and mythology of the 5-directional gods of wealth, the exact identifies of the 5 members have become blurry with time.
For example, Zhao was well-known as a fierce warrior who was deified due to his courage and valor. He was then given 4 assistants with wealth powers. They then became know as the 5 direction wealth gods.
But this conflicts with the another origins story of how a Master Du became a father of quintuplets on the 5th day of the first month. The children grew up with a righteous and charitable approach to life. One day, they unknowingly freed a Dragon prince and he gave them information of coming events that would enable them to make money. They then used the wealth they accumulated to giveaway foodstuff and necessities to the villagers. They charitable deeds caught the attention of the Jade Emperor who then bestowed upon them the title of the 5 directional wealth gods. They are then prayed to and worshiped by the people on annually on the 5th day of the first month.
As you can see, these are just two stories that don’t match up with each other.
There are actually more folklore of such.
The gist of all these is that the actual identities of the 5 wealth gods of all directions is not as important as the title characters that statues and paintings are meant to represent.
Just like sometimes, you might not be able to recognize which wealth god a character is supposed to be during Chinese New Year. But despite that, it is Cai Shen nevertheless.
On top of that, the 5 directional wealth gods are not often depicted in art work. Instead they are depicted as manifestations of them.
For example, landscape paintings of mountains and rivers often have 5 deers playing the grassy fields. This is a symbolic representation of wu lu cai shen (5 wealth gods) in the artwork.
Flower paintings that consist of flowers in elemental colors of the 5 directions are also a representation of the 5 wealth gods.
Wealth calling rituals are also commonly conducted with these 5 gods in mind.
It’s no coincidence that the 5 directions consist of 5 different elements according to fundamental feng shui:
- Center is earth
- East is wood
- South is fire
- West is metal
- North is water
This represents the full elemental cycle of the 5 elements (五行). As such, calling on wealth luck from all directions is akin to calling on the power of the 5 elements.
In terms of symbolic feng shui, the application of the 5 direction gods tend to be more popular than calling on Cai Shen himself. With the latter being more popular during festivals like CNY.
It must be said there are also wealth gods associated with the 4 ordinal directions. But be mindful that when the 5-direction gods are mentioned, they exclusively refer to the center and 4 cardinal directions unless specifically stated otherwise.