Worship of the Mother Goddess is a purely Vietnamese folk belief. It has a long history and has adapted to social changes.
“The Mother Goddess is a spiritual mother who protects us in our lives. Whenever I wish for something, I go to a temple to ask for the support of Mother Goddess’s to make my business more favorable.”
Nguyen Thi Lan Anh
Who is Mother Goddess?
People believe that the Mother Goddess is the supreme deity who has been reincarnated as the four Mother Goddesses – Heaven, Earth, Water, and Mountains and Forests – who look after all things. The Mother Goddess is worshipped in spacious palaces and temples and on small household altars in different configurations together with local deities. Mother Goddess worshippers consider her to be the mother of everyone who always protects and supports them, giving them good luck, strength, and faith to overcome natural calamities, misfortune, and ailments, as well as, giving them a peaceful and prosperous life.
Mother Goddess Altar
The Mother Goddesses reside on the altar where followers come to ask the mother for blessings. The altar is always kept clean and carefully arranged. Spirit mediums perform hau dong, the central ritual of mother goddess worship, on a platform in front of the altar. In anticipation of a ritual, the altar is beautifully prepared with many trays full of offerings, votive paper, and enormous vases of flowers.
The replica of a Mother Goddess altar at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum
“A rich follower can offer a bundle of things; a humble follower can offer a stick of incense”. Those who have the means can make a fine ritual offering. But in the countryside, poor rural villagers, with purity of heart, prepare offerings from what is available.”
Mai Thuy Vinh
A pure heart is the core value of the Mother Goddess Worship. The Mother teaches people to strive toward goodness in their thoughts and deeds, to worship their forefathers, and to be grateful to those who have rendered great services to the country and people.
Believing that the Mother Goddess always protects and brings good health and good fortune to them, worshippers show their respect, from the bottom of their hearts, by giving offerings to her. Service providers demonstrate their pure hearts through honest and reliable business practices.
“I think hau dong ritual is beautiful. Its beauty is shown in solemn manners and exquisite etiquette. The ritual is also a performing art, telling the stories of deities in their incarnations. The content is not illusive or removed from human experience.”
Nguyen Thi Thuy
The art of performance
When spirit mediums incarnate a god, the music, the spectators’ encouragement, and the ritual atmosphere inspire them, enabling them to beautifully dance and mime the god’s characteristic gestures and personality. Also essential is the coordinated effort of skilled assistants who prepare and change the costumes and props and dress and groom the medium.
Costumes are important signs identifying different deities in their incarnations. Wearing a beautiful costume while dancing encourages the spirit medium to be in a more ecstatic state, thus making spectators more excited as well.
“I often attend hau dong ritual. I feel relaxed and gain peace of mind, don’t feel tired, but healthier. After each ritual, I feel very happy, spiritually refreshed, and have a sense of pleasure which cannot be described in words”
Nguyen Thi Thoa
The interaction between the medium, spectators and musicians in the ritual space generates an accelerating sense of joy until the ecstatic participants are able to forget all the sorrow of their daily life. This sense of joy grows when spectators receive distributions of the gods’ spiritual and material fortune in the belief that a fragment of the gods’ fortune is equal to a load of earthly fortune.
Hat Van is a form of ritual music played by musicians called “cung van” as an offering to the gods and goddesses. The songs and musical accompaniment call the gods and goddesses to the ritual and create a lively atmosphere. During the 4 to 8 hour ritual, the cung van takes turns singing and playing instruments
For worshippers, the term loc – divine favor or blessing – is understood in many ways: health, well-being, good fortune, business opportunities, and prosperity. Offerings accepted by deities and distributed to worshippers are also called loc. People who receive this material loc believe it is blessed with the deities’ fortune and will bring good fortune to themselves and their families. They try to bring as much loc home as possible.