Kam people belong to one of minority ethnics in southern China and Vietnam. My college friend, Eric visited Guizhou some time ago and he was one of lucky few that has personally experienced a very special type of magic ritual known as underworld journey popular amongst Kam people.
During Eric’s Guizhou visit, he coincidentally learnt that a local Kam shaman is expert in underworld journey ritual. So as to experience this mysterious underworld journey firsthand and at the same time he too wished to meet with his long deceased grandpa, Eric visited the shaman’s place after making an appointment.
At the Kam shaman’s place, the old shaman first used a piece of cloth to cover Eric’s head while the assistants started to burn incense. The shaman then recited some mantra and burnt some papers. Since Eric couldn’t see, he could only guess but he was sure that the shaman did burn something.
After a round of mantra recitations, the shaman took a few sips of water and blew onto Eric’s body. As recalled by Eric, not long after that he felt dizzy and slowly fell into a trancelike state…
At first Eric felt that it was pitch dark and in a dreamy state, he found himself riding on a galloping horse and after some time of travelling aimlessly, he suddenly saw a light source from a far. Slowly the horse reached a market place full of people; none of them is Eric’s acquaintance. At this time, the shaman asked: “where are you now?”
Eric answered: “I am at a market place.”
On hearing the answer, the old shaman started to chant some mantra and seemed to burn some paper too. After some chanting, the shaman said: “go further!”
So Eric continued with his journey on the back of the horse. The horse travelled across mountain ranges and it would stop at certain locations. When the horse did stop, the shaman would ask the same question: “where are you now?”
The questioning and answering session continued until the horse arrived at a red bridge, and his familiar grandpa was standing by at the other end. At this point, the shaman’s voice was heard again: “where are you now?”
Eric answered: “I am at the bridge. My grandpa is at the other end.”
The shaman said: “Good. Say whatever you want to but don’t cross the bridge.”
After a few minutes, the shaman started to chant mantras again and burnt some papers. At this point, Eric felt that a force was pulling him from his back and the surrounding became dark again until the shaman lifted the cloth covering Eric’s face.
According to Eric, he later had some conversation with the old shaman. The shaman told Eric that during middle of the 7th lunar month, Kam maidens like to ask the shaman to bring them to ‘see flowers’ (看花).
The ‘flower’ in this sense refers to the maiden’s future husbands. Interestingly speaking when the maidens were too engrossed with their handsome partner and refused to return, the shaman would just bend his thumb. At this point, the maidens would yell out that their husbands are humpbacks and returned quickly.
In another case, this underworld journey ritual is also being used by Miao tribe folks to diagnose sicknesses. When someone is ill, the shaman would be invited to visit the sick. Unlike the Kam shaman, a Miao shaman would go underworld himself and the shaman would see lights of various colors; different colors refer to different spirits that disturbed the patient. As to what type of spirits those are, the assistant would need to perform further divinations.
Interestingly speaking, the Taiwanese folks also have similar underworld journey ritual and it is still in practice now days. Eric knew that I like to collect minority ethnic mantras, so he bought me a present. The below is a mantra from Kam shaman to bless water:
(The holy water passing through regions, once, twice, thrice.
It is only effective when I recited this.
The water collected from the well is water of five dragons.
The road brings the water of sandals.
The long flowing water is from river bank.
The water of five ghosts is from the stream.
Spout once, the heavenly gate opens.
Spout twice, the earth cracks.
Sprout thrice, human hurt.
Sprout fourth, ghosts extinct!
I carry out the master’s order hastily!)