A Journey to the Spiritual World

Nga Do
Hau dong - the old ritual of Mother Goddess worship - has found new life as meaningful entertainment for the public when it was held for the first time at Cong Nhan Theatre, No.42 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. The performance seemed to give viewers the feeling of being on a spiritual journey.

A Journey to the Spiritual World
Photo by Hùng Đồng Văn
Hau dong, a spirit possession ritual of the Mother Goddess Religion – one of the main religions in Vietnam, holds both spiritual and folk artistic meanings. Vietnam is now submitting the profile of “The Mother Goddess Religion of the Vietnamese” to UNESCO for recognition of this distinctive belief as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

According to Ngo Duc Thinh, Director of Vietnam Belief Culture Research and Preservation Centre in Hanoi and Vice Chairman of the Asian Folklore Council who is known as a leading expert in the Mother Goddess Religion in Vietnam, the religion has four issues associated with the community. First, it considers nature as mother and worships her. Second, it gives people living in this world three things: happiness, prosperity and longevity. These are the eternal wishes of humankind. Third, it clearly reflects patriotism, which has become the people’s spirit and belief.

This is shown by the fact that almost 50 genies worshipped by the Mother Goddess religion are historical celebrities who have rendered great services to the nation, such as Tran Hung Dao worshipped as Saint Tran. Fourth, the religion is a multi-cultural belief. This is the sole significance because it exists only in Vietnamese beliefs. Of these 50 genies, over ten are from ethnic minorities, showing that from early time the Vietnamese people were aware of cultural integration. The  religion is fair to everybody, regardless of ethnicity, and is willing to open the door to receive multi-cultures. This is the issue of mankind that the whole world is calling for.

The Vietnamese believe that “Tu phu” (Four Palaces) are where spirits of the four places reside, including Thien Phu (Heaven), ruled by Mau Thuong Thien (Mother Goddess of the Upper Sky), Nhac Phu (Forest) ruled by Mau Thuong Ngan (Mother Goddess of the Forest), Thuy Phu (Water) ruled by Mau Thoai (Mother Goddess of Water) and Dia Phu (Earth) ruled by Mau Dia (Mother Goddess of Earth). The Four Palaces are where spirits reside in Vietnamese indigenous religion.

To bring the worship of Mother Goddesses close to the public, to retain the beauty of Vietnam’s cultural heritage and introduce it to a global audience, a series of Hau dong performances have been produced, including the “Tu Phu” performance that has drawn much attention from the public.

In the Hau dong ritual, followers become mediums for 36 various spirits. Sessions involve a number of artistic elements, such as music, singing, dance and the use of costumes. During the “Tu phu” program, three typical sessions were performed. They included “De nhi” representing the beauty and uniqueness of the Vietnamese costumes; “Ong Hoang Muoi” representing the strength, spirit and patriotism of the Vietnamese; and “Co be” representing innocence and love for life.

All sessions of the performance really impressed viewers with its content and the combination of performing art, singing, dancing and music.

Mother Goddess worship and Hau dong have become part of Vietnamese people’s spiritual life. The belief comes from people and lives in people’s hearts.

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