Monday, August 13, 2012

Magic & Medicine Of Yao Ethnic

Above is a picture of Yao Taoist ritual setting of food offering to spirits. Rice and rice stem mannikins are extensively used in Yao Taoist ceremonies.

Yao tribe can be subdivided into Lowland Yao and Highland Yao. Their distribution can be found from Hunan and Sichuan in China, to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Traditionally the Yao tribe uses two ways of treating illness:

1.      The Yao traditional medicine:

a.       Diagnosis and treatment methodologies

b.      Herbs preparation and applications

c.       Herbal bath in big wooden barrel

2.      The Yao magic:

     Majority of Yao are animists, they employ a mixture of shamanic, Taoist (Lu Shan sect etc.) and Buddhist rituals to solve day to day issues. However, the Taoist ritual of Yao is quite different from its Chinese counterpart. Below is just a general description of healing process:

a.      Divination

                                                              i.      This is normally done on the 1st and the 15th day of Chinese lunar calendar.

                                                            ii.      Setup: the host must put two bowls of raw rice with joss sticks, five small cups of tea and a bundle of white rice and some money wrapped in white cloth. This is deemed to be the present to the Yao Priest’s master (Si Kong).

                                                          iii.      With this, the Yao Priest will sit on a chair on a table. Now the priest can go into trance to ask the Si Kong to enter his body.

                                                          iv.      During the trance, the priest will jump down from the table and performing star steps. He would then take a handful of raw rice and throw the rice towards the main entrance. The rice is said to invite the ghost armies of the Si Kong to the priest’s service.

                                                            v.      The ghost armies will be treated with an offering of tea and after that, the pries will take another handful of rice and throw it onto the floor; meaning to send out the ghost armies for checking the reason that his client suffers illness.

                                                          vi.      After pausing for a while, the priest will make a hand gesture as if constructing a bridge to fetch all of the ghost armies that were sent out for investigation.

                                                        vii.      Now divination can begin by using two pieces of “C” shape woods three times on the floor while chanting: “If it is a Yang, then the armies must protect, if it is a Ying-Yang, then the armies will ensure the well beings of my client, if it is a Ying; then please take care of my client.”

                                                      viii.      After the divination, the priest will have an idea of the source of the illness and he will come out of his trance.

b.      Soul retrieval

                                                              i.      This ritual utilizes four pieces of 10 feet cloth acted as “bridges” to bring back the lost soul.

                                                            ii.      The process is same as in performing the divination. Except that a manikin or the patient’s shirt is needed for the lost soul to attach to.

                                                          iii.      First the bridges are constructed pointing towards to four corners: East, South, West and North.

                                                          iv.      The priest holds a handful of rice, perform incantation and then throw towards the Eastern direction hence charging the ghost armies to the East to fetch the lost soul. Then the ritual is repeated for the South, West and North directions.

                                                            v.       After a while, the ghost armies are then fetched back through the bridges if everything is alright. Otherwise, the priest will check to see if there are any obstacles by using the divination method. If the result is okay, then the ritual will come to an end. Otherwise more rituals may be entails.

                                                          vi.      Upon successful completion of the ritual, the patient’s shirt or manikin will be given to the patient as a representation that his/her soul is back.

If I were to compare, the Yao rituals can be quite complex and demanding. Often, a few assistants are required to perform the simplest rituals. Other related rituals such as the death ritual, the ritual to pay karmic debts are also being practiced till today. It is actually quite interesting to witness some Taoist death rituals in Malaysia and found some similarities with the Yao Taoist rituals. It may worthwhile to take a deeper look.

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