Hau dong – An ancient spirit possession ritual

Published:  09:46 Wednesday - November 07, 2012

Hau dong – An ancient spirit possession ritual

The ritual to worship Mother, or the Mother Goddess Religion, is one of the main religions in Vietnam which originated from the thousand-year-old age of matriarchy. From the 16 th century, based on the ritual to worship the Goddesses, it developed into the worshipping of the Three (or Four) Mother Goddesses with Mother Goddess Lieu Hanh being in the ancestral tablet. Hau dong , a spirit possession ritual of the Mother Goddess religion, is a folk religious performance that holds both spiritual and folk artistic meanings.

Sincerely offering incense sticks before a Hau dong ritual.

A session performed by Hau dong ritual’s spirit medium.

A Hau dong ritual held in Lanh Giang Temple in Duy Tien District, Ha Nam Province.

The female spirit medium is covered with a red scarf to wait for the spirit to incarnate into.

Preparing costumes for the spirit medium.

Preparing costumes for the spirit medium.

People in Moc Nam Commune, Duy Tien District, Ha Nam Province is interested
in participating in a Hau dong ritual held in Lanh Giang Temple.

Hau dong is a combined ritual with various folk artistic values in terms of literature, music, dancing, fine arts, performing art and folk festival. The performers, called spirit mediums, are thought to be able to contact directly with the spirits, while the ceremony attendants (the audience) hope to have contact with the spirits to ask for their blessing.

Hau dong is often held in temples or palaces where there is always a solemn religious space for worshipping and making offerings to the holy beings. The ritual of mother worship is symbolized through the statues, folk paintings, decorations and costumes in five colours representing five basic elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth according to Eastern philosophy). Hau dong is performed on a stage in front of the Mother Goddess' altar, which is called a spiritual stage. The head of a Hau dong ritual can be either male or female and is believed to have a spirit within who performs on the stage covered with a mat and is helped by two assistants in charge of changing the medium's costumes to be appropriate to each session.

A band of musicians sit by the stage playing flutes, drums and a two-stringed zither and are accompanied by two or three singers who sing when the spirit crosses over to the medium. For each Hau dong performance there may be several spirits who, one after another, incarnate into the medium to dance and distribute offerings to the audience. When the medium gets into a trance, a session begins. In general, there are about 36 sessions for one Hau dong, each representing a spirit, a goddess, a mandarin or a sacred object.

The dances in a Hau dong performance comprise various forms of the dancing art. In each session the dances represent the characteristics of the spirit. If he is a general, the dances will be martial arts moves – quick and strong – with military weapons and flags, and if she is a mountainous goddess, normally an ethnic woman, the medium will dance with fans or just bare hands in ethnic musical tunes. The fans are made with leather and in colours of white, green, red or yellow, each suited to the palace decoration of each goddess.

A session for a prince will have dances with a lance, a cudgel or a bow and arrows, while for a princess' session, the dances are very charming when the medium wears beautiful costumes, dancing with fans and flowers, pretending to embroider or row a boat... In imitating dances, the audience will see the medium mimic riding a horse, rowing a boat, or carrying loaded baskets. Dancing props are a sword, fans, oars, scarves,   flags, etc.

A Hau dong stage can be as small as the size of a mat, hence conventional and stylized forms are used in dancing. All body movements are performed in such a skilful way that the audience will feel that the spirit is on the stage in front of them, in the body of the medium. In addition to the body performance, the literary value of the Hau dong is reflected through the songs, dances, tales and verses rich in philosophy, music and humanity.

Source: Vietnam.vnanet.vn 

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