Hanoi holds public seánce; serious on shamanism

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A seánce was publicly held in Hanoi Wednesday under the auspices of the government for the first time during a serious conference on clairvoyance and shamanism which was banned just last year.

The conference was held at Hanoi’s French Cultural Center L’Espace during which one scientist proposed the government lift the ban on shamanism practice.

Controversial conference

An unusual number of officials, guests, experts, and scientists showed up, crowding the small place while waiting anxiously for an event named “Shamanism- a Vietnam’s living museum”, to start.

At 5pm, the door to the already tightly- packed conference hall was locked to deter streams of latecomers still pouring in; many then had to sit on the floor outside watching the program through a live broadcast.

There were Doctor Nguyen Xuan Dien and Director Ngo Duc Thinh from Han Nom and Cultural Research Institute, the two research authorities on shamanism in Hanoi.

The conference concluded that shamanism was part of Vietnamese age-old culture and contributed to promoting faith and beliefs in a better world and should be viewed in a positive light.

But as to whether it should only be dismissed as pure superstition or a supernatural phenomenon modern science has yet to explain remains unresolved at the conference.

A shaman sticked a sharp metal rod into his cheek while performing

Are the Vietnamese superstitious?

In recent years, shamanism has become a profit-making business as more and more turn to faith and religions to escape the harsh realities of every day life in a modern Vietnam.

The recent madness at the Tran Temple festival in Nam Dinh northern province can serve as an example when dozens fainted while hundreds of charm seekers elbowed each other for lucky talismans being sold there.

The chaos was just short of a stampede.

The belief that handsome money offerings can evoke more divine blessings has helped many who claimed themselves as shamans preying on pilgrims at temples during traditional festivals.

Not surprisingly, the government took its stance last year when deeming shamanism a credulous superstition and making it illegal in Decision 75.

Cloaked in an unsolved mystery of its supernatural nature, its image tainted by mercenary motives, its rich cultural value simply ignored, shamanism has been a victim of our society, Director Ngo Duc Thinh spoke boldly.

First seánce held

There was a sudden change in the air among the audience both in and outside the hall when the event reached the second session, a real shamanism ceremony performed on-stage at L’espace.

The first of its kind ever held in open public, it featured a complete spiritual journey, accompanied with traditional music, dance, special garments and offerings.

Laid bare in front of the audience’s very eyes, the performance gave a lively illustration of shamanism as a rich cultural and historical heritage of Vietnam.

In Doctor Nguyen Xuan Dieu’s words, shamanism encompasses traditional folk music including hat chau van and its ensemble; features dance routines and special garments taken from many ethnic minorities.

Sophisticated crafting techniques, along with sculpture and painting artistry to make offerings, Buddha statues, paintings as decorative objects are valuable contribution to traditional culture.

Reincarnated historical figures during storytelling gives livelier history lessons; multiculturalism represented by ethnic minorities’ cultural traits are among what make shamanism a deservedly living museum, according to Director Ngo Duc Thinh .

On-stage shamanism ceremony at L'espace (Photo: VietnamNet)

100% cured by shamanism: scientist

On the healing ability of shamanism, Prof. Thinh said his own research revealed a nearly 100 percent of serious patients were cured after attending the ritual.

The surprising figure, he stressed, stemmed from human beings’ instinctive and unshakable belief in the ultimate power of a paranormal force, equivalent to faith healing.

Banning shamanism and its followers from keeping their faith is not a good approach, he concluded.

Professor Ngo Duc Thinh and Nguyen Xuan Dien at the conference (Photo: VietnamNet)

Shamanism is a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world.

Shamans, believed to be intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds, are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul.

They also enter supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community.

In Vietnam, shamanism belongs to the mother worship religion tho mau native to the country long before other foreign religions like Buddhism were imported.

Vietnamese shamans conduct spiritual ceremonies that co-mingle many traditions of the majority King population and other ethnic minorities.

In their rituals, music, dance, special garments and offerings are part of the performance.

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