High spirits as Vietnamese mediumship wins UNESCO recognition

Friday, 2016-12-02 15:35:12
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A hau dong ritual performed at the 2016 Hanoi International Film Festival
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NDO - Vietnamese religious practices, notably the hau dong or mediumship ritual, in honour of Mother Goddesses, have been inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritages of humanity.

The new addition was announced on December 1 at a meeting of the cultural body in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

The Vietnamese worship of Mother Goddesses was one of more than 30 cultural practices recognised at this session, including float festivals in Japan, beer culture in Belgium and the Egyptian stick game of tahteeb.

Worshipping Mother Goddesses is a form of folk religion evolving from the primitive reverence of female gods.

Since the 16th century, this practice has been widely performed by communities throughout the country and has exerted a profound influence in the religious life of the Vietnamese people from all walks of life.

The pantheon of this religion includes the Mother Goddesses in the realms, or phu, of heaven, mountain, earth and water, legendary great mandarins, dames, princes, damsels, boy attendants and even animal spirits.

The veneration of Mother Goddesses is a fusion of a local religion with elements of Taoism and Buddhism.

In addition, the spirits of the pantheon have their origins traced back to a diversity of ethnic groups, representing the equal and intimate relationship between different ethnic groups in Vietnam.

The most important ritual is len dong, also known by other names as hau dong, hau bong, dong bong, a form of shamanism in which a medium is alternately possessed by different spirits and go on to become their incarnations.

The ritual is characterised by invocation songs praising the merits of the spirits and dances impersonating their appearances and gestures in an either solemn or joyful atmosphere depending on who manifests into the medium.

With beautiful hymns, lively dances and colourful costumes, the hau dong ritual is truly a living museum of Vietnamese history and culture.

In honouring the compassion and grace of Mother Goddesses, the practices provide a basis for social relations connecting members of participating communities, UNESCO says on its website.

The UN’s cultural body adds that the worship of the Mother Goddesses also contributes to the appreciation of women and their roles in society.

The hau dong ritual, usually performed to wish for good health, economic wealth and success, was once subdued due to its perceived association with superstition but has been revived since the early 1990s.

The practice is performed widely across Vietnam from north to south but its holy land is found in the northern province of Nam Dinh where there are an estimated 400 shrines and temples dedicated to the Mother Goddesses and other deities.

Below are some photos of the hau dong ritual in real life.