Gotoku is described as below:
An abbreviation for 'Gojo no toku' (five eternal virtues), which is one of the concepts in the Confucian Gogyo shiso (Five Element Theory). In Confucianism, 'humanity,' 'justice,' 'courtesy,' 'wisdom,' and 'faith' are considered as five eternal virtues, and they are also referred to as Gojo (five eternals). Please refer to the explanation on the Confucian Doctrine.
Gotoku is an equipment, on which an iron kettle or a cooking pot is placed and fixed inside the fireplace such as hibachi (brazier) or irori (open hearth). It is detailed in the following passage.
By the second half of the Yayoi period, there existed gotoku which was earthenware with extended legs. The metal gotoku, which was three or four legged, as seen today, is known to be produced during the Kamakura period.
Gotoku is a stand made of either iron, brass or copper, and is consisted of a ring and three or four legs attached to it. It is an essential equipment when using the iron kettle. The stands used for the today's gas cookers or electronic ovens are also referred to as gotoku. The ceramic gotoku was often made during the war when there was a shortage of metal.
Although the sound of the word gotoku may suggest a deeper connotation and some interpret it with a labored emphasis on the connection with its homonym gotoku (five virtues), the etymology of the word has no relation to it as it is explained below. Since early times, the people used either jizaikagi (pot hook) or gotoku when they cooked using a pot or a kettle over an irori (open hearth). The early example of gotoku has three legs and it was used with the ring-part up. It was called "kudoko," and has its origin in "kanae," which was a three-legged container of the ancient times. Gotoku is thought to have been invented in the Azuchi-Momoyama period. The tea pot called 'charo' or 'furo,' which was used indoor, came to be in use when the tea ceremony started at that time. It was during this time that kudoko started to be used upside-down with the leg-part up. As such, 'gotoku,' a reverse reading of 'kudoko,' was adopted as the new name for the inverted equipment, and the Chinese characters meaning 'five eternal virtues' were appropriated for the word gotoku. There are various examples of gotoku, such as those with the nail (kaeshi) part (the tips of the legs of gotoku) in the shape of the head of viper or cow, or those with long or square nails, designed and made by Yojiro TSUJI, a caster active during the time of the tea master SEN no Rikyu.
Gotokumon is a family crest which stylized the design of gotoku. The gotokumon-designs include 'maru-gotoku' (circular gotoku), 'mamukai-gotoku' (facing gotoku), 'gotoku-bishi' (diamond gotoku), and 'sue-gotoku' (sitting gotoku).
For adopting the gotokumon as a family crest, the pun for the Confucian gotoku ('humanity,' 'justice,' 'courtesy,' 'wisdom,' and 'faith') was intended, as well as for the other set of five Confucian virtues, 'calmness,' 'sincerity,' 'respect,' 'modesty,' and 'selflessness.'
Hikita clan, Kamata clan, and Hirano clan, which were all hatamoto (direct retainers of the bakufu, which is a form of Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) of the Tokugawa Shogunate, were known to have used the gotokumon.
The cows, specters and magic
There appear the various depictions of what can be called the archetype of Tsukumogami (a kind of specter) in "Tsuchigumo zoshi" (Tales of the Giant Spider) written in the Kamakura period (circa 1185 – 1333), and in it, there is a depiction of a 'monster, who is half-gotoku and half-cow.'
Later during the Heian period and the Edo period, gotoku-specters, or half-gotoku and half-horse specters were often depicted in picture-scrolls and ukiyo-e prints.
Gotoku was a ritual item for a magic carried out in order to put a curse on someone, called 'ushi no koku mairi' (the visit at midnight), which is known to have been practiced as early as the Heian period. It is said that for the ritual, the practitioner wore gotoku with candles attached to it on his/her head, dressed in a white gown, and visited a place where the sacred tree was planted, on the shaft of which he/she drove a nail, in order to break the barrier between this world and the underworld, and conjured cow-like specters.
As mentioned above, gotoku was often compared to the head a cow or its horns, as it is also suggested by the fact the some types of the shapes of the nail (kaeshi) and leg part of the gotoku are referred to as a cow.