People in Vietnam worship a peculiar goddess, which they believe is a source of strength, spirituality, and inspiration, particularly among working-class families — Dao Mau, or Mother Goddess Worship.
Through time, the popularity of Dao Mau has decreased. However, its practices came back after its inscription as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO two years ago. Travelers can see and experience this unique religion in the contemporary play entitled Four Palaces.
Director Viet Tu saw a hau dong performance in 2013 that inspired him to do a respectful stage version of the ceremony. People all over the world are awed by the performance of a trance-like hau dong practice held at Cong Nhan Theatre. The portrayal promises to bring back thousands of years of history in an hour.
Head of religious studies at the Vietnam Academy of Social Science Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Mai confirmed to CNN Travel that the worship of mother goddesses is truly popular in the country and that it has been around for a long time already.
Nguyen added that Vietnam is mostly an agricultural country, so the worship of agricultural goddesses is not unusual. Before being added into the UNESCO roster, the audience were mostly businessmen and farmers. Now, the audience includes people from all walks of life, whether it may be high-level officials or civil servants.
About The Religion
Dao Mau is devoted to female deities. It was established in the 16th century as a substitute for Confucianism.
According to Dr. Nguyen, in Confucianism, the role of women is subservient, submissive, or passive. Additionally, people do not give women the respect that they deserve. The females needed a symbol, so "Lieu Hanh" was introduced.
Lieu Hạnh is a leading Mother Goddess figure in Vietnam and is a representation of the intense desire for independence, freedom, and happiness of Vietnamese women. She is also referred to as the Mother of the World, a nymph who came down on Earth, lived as a person, and later on became a Buddhist nun.
About The Worship
In the worship, hau dong roughly means "to go into a trance" or "to mount the medium."
Hau dong was prohibited until 1987 and was considered as a superstitious ceremony during the Communist rule in Vietnam. When the government loosened its restrictions, it came back to Hanoi and other urban communities.
In the religious ceremony, the mediums, traditionally chosen by the goddesses at birth, and their assistants are adorned in a bright garb, make offers to Buddha, perform traditional dances, and ask the goddesses to possess their bodies.
People will know that the spirits have finally entered the chosen medium's body when her personality changes. Then, all words said by the medium and her actions are treated as the goddess'.