Friday, April 17, 2015
Brassica Napus is one type of 'oily vegetables' (油菜).
I was lucky enough to see a rare cultural activity during my last visit to Hmong village in Guangxi, China. According to my tour guide, the ritual is known as the invocation of 7 fairies (七仙女) of Hmong tribe; which is also known as the invocation of ‘vegetable flower spirits’. This ritual is normally done for fun and it is performed during blossoming of Brassica Napus (油菜). I supposed this ritual has something to do with Chinese influence.
This ritual should be held at a large room with ample space. The Hmong shaman would put a bowl of rice in the center of the room and 7 pieces of incense sticks are lit. After that 7 cups of rice wine and 2 bowls of water and a vegetable oil lamp is also lit in the center. A long wooden stool should also be placed at the door brim representing a ‘horse’. During the ritual, incense and lamp should be kept burning.
When everything is ready, a medium should be seated on the wooden stool and his/her face should be covered with a piece of black cloth. After that, the shaman would start recite mantra beside the water bowl and at the same time, some talismans are burnt. After the chanting is through, the shaman would take a sip of water and blow the water onto the body of the medium. At the same time, the shaman would start drawing circles on his/her chest and start another round of chanting.
About 15 minutes or so, the medium’s feet would start to shake and about 10 minutes later, the medium would jump up while panting. This shows that the 7 fairies have possessed the medium. At this point, the 7 fairies would start to walk in the house while singing unnamed songs. He/she would borrow keys from the shaman in order to open up ‘heavenly gate’. The tunes of the songs are called the ‘vegetable tunes’ as they are very different from ordinary Hmong tunes.
The 7 fairies would ‘pass’ through one heavenly gate after another. After the 7 fairies have entered a heavenly gate, the shaman would ask them about the conditions of the place and the 7 fairies would answer accordingly. When the fairies have reached the 12th gate, the shaman would refuse her the access in the fear that the 7 fairies would be trapped there. At this point, the fairies would start to argue until the shaman is convinced and grant them the access.
Once the 7 fairies have entered the 12th heavenly gate, they would either cry or laugh as if mad and crazy. The shaman would at time sing, at time laugh and when he/she has met with his/her dead relatives, the shaman would cry and reveals what he/she would not normally say out openly.
It the ritual is prolonged, then the shaman shall recall the 7 fairies by hook or by crook as it would not be too good for the medium to be possessed by spirits for too long.
My tour guide wanted to try if the 7 fairies are true or it was just a prank. So he crossed his legs purposely… At the same time, the 7 fairies asked for a cane as they said that there is a ‘dog’ blocking their way. Lucky for my pal, the shaman did not honor the request or my pal would suffer for nothing.
When the medium is possessed by the 7 fairies, he/she would feel thirsty. The shaman would then burn a few pieces of joss papers that were dipped into vegetable oil into a bowl of water. Surprisingly speaking, the medium was not harmed. At times the medium would possess certain kind of magical power which is known as ‘ku’ in Hmong. If this happens, then spectators would proceed to ask for divination or blessing from the 7 fairies.
On the surface, the invocation of 7 fairies are quite similar to ‘underworld travel’ (观落阴) but there are differences too. In Taoist ‘underworld travel’, it is the person who travels to the underworld; the 7 fairies however, are invoked into a medium. Since the medium is possessed, he/she would be able to perform many magical tricks such as invulnerability to sharp objects and also dance on fire.
Not only many foreigners are confused with Taoist religious cults, even the Chinese themselves are unclear about what Taoist cults are about. Many people just walked into a temple and thought it is a pure Taoist temple. Little had they aware that many temples in Southeast Asia has nothing to do with any of the Taoist cults as these temples are only run by mediums or otherwise known as “tangki” (童乩).
There are many Taoist cults around and it does not mean when one goes to a Taoist temple in mainland China and become a Taoist that he/she has learnt everything about Taoist magic. What one can learn now a day in a Taoist temple is perhaps ceremonial rituals with a fee of course.
Naturally, Taoist ceremonial rituals are only meant for the worship of standard Taoist deities, the constellations, the mother earth and ceremony of the death. There is no magic element in traditional Taoist practices sorry to say so and this can be a little boring and the more advance Taoist practice would be meditation and breathing exercises.
Perhaps if one ventures away from standard Taoist religion and enters into the realm of folk religions, then can one learnt about various magical rituals. There are many folk religions still prevalent in mainland China but each of these religious sects is set up with its own aims.
For example, lower Mao Shan sect (茅山) deals mainly with ghost magic, if you do not like to deal with ghosts; then you should not touch this magical system. Lupan (鲁班) cult is meant mainly for the artisans (工匠) and half of the teachings is on how to build a house and only half that are relevant to magic rituals. Likewise the Mei Shan (梅山) cult is mainly meant for hunting and gaming purpose. While the Raft cult (排教) that is getting extinct mainly deals with transporting of timber logs through rivers.
Other more popular Taoist cults that have spread overseas are the Liu Ren (六壬), Jin Ying (金英), Yin Shan (阴山) and Lu Shan (闾山). Also over the years some of the cults have merged and forms new cults under different names. This trend is especially obvious in Taiwan as many variants of the above Taoists emerged under different names and according to different regions.
Now that it is a little clear of what a standard Taoist practice and a Taoist cult looks like, perhaps it is clear at this point what your part of Taoism belongs to; or it is still as clear as mud still?
Thursday, April 16, 2015
In Chinese culture, white candles are normally used in memorial service or as offering to the deaths and ghosts. There is one occasion that care must be taken as not to extinguish a burning white candle: that is when a white candle is lit outside of a house to guide a lost soul back home. This soul calling ritual is normally for those people who died of violent causes outside of their houses. A normal situation is an automobile victim who died on the road.
I always wonder: would a ‘gui lou’ (westerner) communicate well with a ‘gui’ (Chinese ghost)? Perhaps the below story would give us a telltale sign…
Elma is a German expatriate working in a MNC in Penang. Though he was only 3 years here, he already had an encounter with a Chinese ghost.
Elma and I met in a few occasions but we weren’t very close. One day he gave me a call and asked if we could meet somewhere. So we fixed the appointment in a local German restaurant:
Elma: “Hey, I feel funny lately… seems that I got a feeling I am being watched and someone is stalking at me…”
Me: “I thought you German are not so superstitious?”
Elma: “No. I don’t believe in that sort of things… but a few times in the middle of the night, my TV in the living was switched on; so was my computer!”
Me: “Have you visited a psychologist to check out?”
Elma: “Yes. But the psychologist said I was too tired and needed rest.”
Me: “Have you done anything spiritual such as attending a séance or visited a funeral parlor or something like that?”
Elma: “Why did you ask that?”
Me: “Well… I am seeing a young ‘man’ covered with blood, with broken limbs and bulging eyes… and he is just standing behind you…”
Elma pondered for a while and finally said:
“Hmm… I don’t know if this related… but a few weeks ago, when I returned from work at night; I saw someone has left a white candle burning outside of his gate. I am very careful about unattended flames, so I sort of extinguish the candle to prevent fire mishap…”
Me: “In case you are not aware, the white candle left outside is meant to guide a lost soul back… since you have extinguished the candle flame, the spirit has nowhere to go but stick with you!”
Elma: “What should I do?”
Me: “Beats me! I thought a ‘gui lou’ can communicate with a gui?”
(Of course, I eventually sent the lost soul back… apparently a ‘gui lou’ cannot communicate with a ‘gui’.)
If I would ask anyone a question:
“Why do we offer candles to spirits?”
Perhaps the answers are many and vary. For old Chinese however, the candles are for ghosts to consume! Not only candles, Chinese spooks also like incense and joss papers too. So if one burns joss papers in his/her house, then spirits would congregate there. What about other food stuffs that we offer to spirits? Well, people believe that foods are good while they are hot and steamy; but when they become cold, the spirits cannot eat them. An alternative source is the incense and candle lights.
So if you have the habit to burn candles during your prayer sessions and that the candle light suddenly turns blue or become elongated, then it is perhaps that a ghost is sucking its energy.
An old retired police know by his nickname Paul told me a story when he was posted to KL in early 70’s:
It was during of the weekends during the Chinese 7th lunar month or better known as ‘ghost month’, Paul and a colleague was patrolling Petaling Street. As they were walking and chatting along the street, suddenly Paul heard a lady shouting:
“Help! Someone has snatched my handbag!”
Paul immediately turned to the direction from where the sound came from and he saw a man was heading towards his direction with a lady’s handbag in his hand. So, Paul’s police instinct sets in and he immediately gave chase. Paul’s partner was a little slow to react but as Paul gave chase to the suspect, he too followed behind Paul.
After some chase, the suspect ran into an abandon building and Paul was close behind him. After Paul entered the building, the suspect was nowhere in sight and finally Paul nail down a toilet as there was some chewing sound coming out from within. So Paul shouted: “Come out! Police!”
After some rounds of charge, the toilet door remains shut still. Without hesitation, Paul kicked at the toilet door and it gave way with a bang. And… Paul saw a grey figure squatting beside toilet bowl eating a piece of white candle! He was stunned and when the grey figure saw Paul, it too passed the half eaten candle to Paul…
Paul was nearly passed out due to fright, but before Paul really fainted; someone tapped his shoulder. Paul turned his head and there he saw his partner panting at his back and said:
“I don’t know why you suddenly ran away madly down in the street… I had to follow you and …”
Before his partner officer could finish his sentence, Paul asked:
“Didn’t you hear a lady shouting?”
“What lady? The only lady I could see was a lady manikin burnt as offering to the hungry ghosts!” His partner answered with surprised.
This is one secret that Paul and his partner kept until they retired. Now days Paul would stay away from ghost month street offerings for the fear that history would repeat.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Many people think that they are cursed by other unscrupulous people because people are jealous about them. But these people do not aware that many times they themselves are at fault and they will become agitated when I pointed out no one but they are to be blamed.
A lady in KL came to me complaining that she had been the victim of ‘Kong Tau’ (Thai black magic) for 20 years or so because her neighbour is jealous about her. So I dropped in her house curious about her claims as it is virtually impossible for someone to be hit by black magic and survive for 20 years!
One Sunday afternoon, I found myself standing in front of the lady’s house and to my surprised, there were many protective talismans hanging above the main door: there is a trident, a ‘bagua’ (八卦), a big Taoist talisman and another plate inscribed with ‘om mani padme hum’. Just a few steps in front of her main door were a ‘datuk’ shrine and opposite the shrine is another shrine for worshipping Phra Phrom.
To say it honestly, I already had severe migraine before I even venture into the house. As I was a little dumbfounded in front of the house, the lady came out to greet me and we went into the house for further investigation.
The scene in the house is even more interesting: there is an altar with ancestor tablet and not less than 6 Taoist deities sitting on the altar. Just on a wall next to the Taoist altar was another altar for worshipping Hindu and Thai deities.
After a round of walking, we finally returned to the living room and as I was about to draw some conclusion of my findings; the lady suddenly pulled out a stack of Mao Shan (茅山) Taoist talismans from her bra！
Before I start to suspect that this lady is a wacko, she suddenly started to behave as if a kid… Her mother said that it was a kid spirit that has possessed her. So I asked for a cup of icy cold water and splashed the water at her face. The lady regained consciousness and we begun to chat again. After 10 minutes or so, this lady switched into another character again and said that she is the green ‘datuk’ spirit sitting outside. So, I asked for another cup of cold water and splashed onto her face, and she was okay again.
At this point, I decided to take a hike as this lady in front of me wasn’t really being cursed! Her problems can only be solved when she throw all her unwanted statues away! So I tell the lady and her mother straight and then flee the scene. Well, I can catch a vengeful ghost but I cannot treat a wacko!
The above is but one case amongst many that I have come across in Singapore and Malaysia. If you have many statues of various religious beliefs stored in your house, your luck shall not be better than the lady in the story above. Chances are that you have a house full of ghosts! No kidding.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Unlike us the modern folks, it is not easy for a hill tribe shaman to survive without proper magical training and knowledge. Shamans in Indochina mountain ranges need to defend their honors and that they are constantly engaging in magical duels to fight for influence. The more masters a shaman defeats, the better his/her social status is; hence the power and money.
I was lucky enough to see a magic duel between two Hmong shamans in Northern Thailand. You know that I have a hobby to collect magical items from old shamans, so this is just one of the visits to a Hmong lady whose parents were shamans. As we were discussing about the price, suddenly the Hmong lady stood up and said: “Someone is looking for me!”
After that, she proceeded to her altar and then prayed in silence for a while and then turned her face towards me said: “There is another shaman of this village who wanted to have a magic duel with me, whoever wins shall take over the rituals business in this area. I have agreed. If you want to watch the show, then come at night.”
So I agreed and returned to her place after night.
The Hmong lady has changed into her full traditional costume bare footed. In front of her altar was a piece of black cloth, a cock, a Hmong knife, a bowl of water, a plate of rice, a piece of weed, a piece of stone and one piece of iron. She first lighted the incense and candles and then she offered rice wine and meat to her patron gods and goddesses. After that the lady shaman kneeled in front of her altar and started to recite mantra slow at first but the tone turned fast and fierce.
A few minutes later, the lady shivered, jumped up and then pulled out the ritual knife and started to slash towards all four corners. I could only stand at far fearing for my safety… The assistant told me that it was the ‘ghost of war’ that has possessed the lady shaman.
As such after quite a while, the Hmong shaman uses a scissors to cut the black cloth into the shape of a person; and then she lifted the cock and drew some blood from its crown. Later she anointed the blood onto the head, neck, shoulders, heart, stomach, hands and legs of the cloth manikin. When this is done, the manikin is folded and then it is tugged into her hair bun. It was revealed by the lady that that was her method of protection.
Now the lady shaman kneeled before the plate of rice and covered it with a piece of cloth. After some rounds of chanting, she lifted the cloth and there were some kind of patterns on the rice. She said that this is to predict what types of ghosts her opponent sent and what direction the spirits would come from.
Common ghost employed by Hmong shaman are no other than the grass ghost, wind ghost, fire ghost, water ghost, earth ghost, metal ghost etc. When the type of ghost is determined, an appropriate countermeasure can be prescribed. For example if it is predicted a fire ghost is sent then a shaman would light a candle. If the candle flame crackles, then it would be 100% sure that it is a fire ghost. If it is a water ghost, then a bowl of water would turn milky.
In this case the lady’s opponent sent a fire ghost, so she put a cup of water under the candle and then starts to dance and dance vigorously. I could see clearly the candle flame flickers while the environment is filled with still air. At this point, the lady shaman started to start a bon fire and then she kneeled down in front of the fire and she used her ritual knife to point at the fire while started another round of cursing.
It was after quite a while and the fire started to crackle and slowly died down. On seeing the situation, the lady shaman jumped into the fire and started to dance. And finally she stabbed her knife into the ash and collapsed onto the floor.
I was later told by the Hmong lady that her opponent has died a few days later when I returned to collect my items. The lady also said that when two Hmong shamans engage in magic duel, one of the parties shall die. Luckily, we don’t see this type of fatal magic duel these days…
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Gods or goddesses of hunter are worshipped across the world by hunters of the old. In Malaysia, he is known as ‘hantu pemburu’ or ‘ghost hunter’. It is believe that this spirits is in the hopeless search of a pregnant buck until it sent his dogs to the heavens to get one. As this poor ghost hunter keeps its watch over his dogs in the sky until its head permanently fixed in upward facing position. Gradually trees grow in its mouth and gradually formed a forest. People believe that this ghost hunter still hunts in Malaysian forest.
In Mei Shan religion sect, people would worship Mei Shan goddess (梅山神) before they start hunting. Perhaps this is same as the Greece goddess Diana as both of them are from very old folk cultures.
The belief of Mei Shan goddess has many variants, some tribes think that Mei Shan goddess refers to three sister spirits; while others think that they are in fact spirits of 7 sisters. Any yet some tribes think Mei Shan goddess is actually male hunting god.
Whatever case this may be, people worship Mei Shan goddess not because they revere her. The motive behind calling upon Mei Shan goddess prior to hunting is to secure their animals so that no other hunters can get these animals.
Of course, the hunting of animals can be converted to the hunting of human in another ways as hunting people physically is against the law now and before. So some Mei Shan magicians would call upon Mei Shan goddess to do their biddings…
When a Mei Shan magician wanted to curse a person, he/she would first go to a river bank far away from human habitation with some offerings such as five types of beans, a bowl of bean soups, some grass, and 7 pieces of joss sticks, some joss papers and an egg.
At the location and when all of the items are set up. The magician would call upon the 7 sisters for help and then he/she would light the 7 pieces of incense sticks and use them to draw ‘井’ with the egg in the centre.
After the magician is done with cursing and swearing, the egg is crushed with a stone hence indicating the head of the target is smashed. It is believed that by doing so, the target will die in due time.
Another method to secure a game or a person in the forest is to call upon the Mei Shan goddess and then plug a weed. The hunter only needs to tie a knot near the tip of the weed while calling the name and after that a piece of rock is put onto the weed before the hunter enters the forest.