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…