Yahoo – AFP, Tran Thi Minh Ha, 13 June 2014
A "Len Dong" dancer performs with candles at a local temple in Hanoi
on March 25, 2014 (AFP Photo/Hoang Dinh Nam)
Hanoi (AFP) - The Vietnamese spirit medium dances in a trance, attacking invisible enemies with a sword as drums beat, musicians chant, and dozens of curious onlookers watch in amazement.
Civil servant by day and practitioner of traditional spiritual possession rituals when the mood takes her, Nguyen Thi Hoa is clad in a richly embroidered red robe as she performs a Len Dong ceremony at a private Hanoi temple.
"I have no idea what I've been doing," Hoa told AFP after the five-hour performance, which involved at least 15 costume changes.
A "Len Dong" dancer performs as attendees
watch at a local temple in Hanoi on March
25, 2014 (AFP Photo/Hoang Dinh Nam)
"Could you tell me what I told you to do?" Hoa, who is not a professional Len Dong shaman and only undertakes the rituals when the spirits move her, asked friends who had watched the entire performance.
Len Dong, which uses musical invocations to lure spirits to possess mediums and communicate with others, has been performed in Vietnam for centuries.
Practitioners and attendees -- people can donate to help cover the costs of a Len Dong performance without having to directly participate -- usually turn to the ancient ritual to ease stress or hoping for help from the spirits with romantic or professional problems.
For decades, Len Dong was restricted by French colonial and Vietnamese communist leaders, but the tradition is enjoying a flurry of popularity since restrictions were relaxed a decade or so ago -- and some say it is a useful vent for stressed citizens.
Old cure for new ills?
Six years ago, Hoa began suffering from insomnia, lack of appetite and tiredness. Conventional doctors could not rid her of her ills.
A "Len Dong" dancer performs as
attendees watch at a local temple in
Hanoi on March 25, 2014 (AFP Photo/
Hoang Dinh Nam)
"To my surprise, my health started improving at once," she said, adding that she started seeing positive changes at work as well.
Len Dong is an ancient Vietnamese custom which involves "calling the spirits of the dead into the bodies of the living to connect past and present," one of the main research books on the topic says.
Musicians play traditional songs to help the shaman enter a trance. Multiple assistants help the shaman to change costumes or prepare offerings -- from chickens to "ChocoPie" snack cakes -- for the altar.
During the ceremony -- an auspicious date for the event is carefully picked in advance by the shaman -- the practitioner will seemingly drift in and out of a trance, singing, chanting and dancing to the minimalist, rhythmic music.
"It's not just the insane dancing of people who have lost their dignity," said cultural researcher Ngo Duc Thinh.
The practise of Len Dong can help people under intense stress or suffering from low-level psychological disorders, Thinh, a renowned professor of Vietnamese culture at a top state research institute, said.
"They practice Len Dong to rid themselves of their problems and return to their normal life," the professor, who has spent more than three decades studying Len Dong, told AFP.
A "Len Dong" dancer performs with
incense sticks at a local temple in
Hanoi on March 25, 2014 (AFP
Photo/Hoang Dinh Nam)
Hoa practices Len Dong at least twice a year.
"I don't dare tell my mother as she would say I was crazy," said the bureaucrat, who spends around 40 million dong (nearly $2,000) to put on each performance.
Her work colleagues, mostly communist party members, are also not aware of her Len Dong practice -- the ritual has at times been considered heresy, and was totally banned until the 1980s by the communists, although rituals continued in secret.
"I received several warnings from police, asking me to stop my practice," said a professional Len Dong practitioner, speaking on condition of anonymity about that period of time.
Even now, practicing Len Dong can carry a government fine of around $250 which aims to prevent private for-profit practitioners rather than genuine Len Dong devotees like Hoa.
"The government tried to ban it, but they in fact have failed. It's impossible to ban Len Dong," researcher Thinh said.
Votive paper horses, used as offerings,
are placed outside a Hanoi temple while a
"Len Dong" dancer performs on March 25,
2014 (AFP Photo/Hoang Dinh Nam)
Len Dong practitioners usually offer their services at temples between Vietnam's lunar new year -- usually around late January -- to the end of the third lunar month in April.
Since restrictions on the practice were lifted, business is booming and some newly wealthy Vietnamese are willing to pay up to $50,000 for a Len Dong service.
The trouble is, it is hard for people to tell the difference between genuine Len Dong practitioners and con artists.
"Several practitioners, who have only some ability, have used that to cheat people for money," one practitioner told AFP.
"That makes people confused -- they can't differentiate between real and fake Len Dong."
|Tai chi practitioners in Yunyang, Chongqing. (File|
Tai chi helps reinvigorate stem cells, researchers find
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“… Spiritual Survival
Let me take you back a bit. How many lifetimes have you slogged through old energy? Slogged through it? You picked yourself up and the old energy of the planet knocked you back. This is a metaphor of the old soul awakening to the realization of divine purpose for itself and the planet, only to be ignored, or worse, to be "found out" and then feared.
Old soul, it seemed that you just get started on a spiritual path and it kills you. You come back again and then you're enlisted in a war and it kills you again. You come back, you awaken; you become even shamanic, and it kills you for being enlightened. How many lifetimes has it been where all you can do is hold your own and try to survive in a world of very old, dark thinking? Survival becomes a word that means something completely different to the old soul. High consciousness in an old energy is like a square peg in a round hole, and this is what the old soul is used to.
Dear ones, this is ending - all of it - and this was the prophecy of the indigenous of the planet for this time. Here you are, ready for it. But the planet is not going to suddenly become higher in consciousness, dear ones. Instead, the systems around you and the energy around you are going to start getting easier, making it far easier to survive for those like you. There will be far less resistance and more openness of many people than ever before. This is the beginning of a very slow shift.
This also means that it's going to be easier for you to balance. We've used this "balance" word over and over. Many times, those in esoteric belief systems go into certain Human life categories because it's pure survival. It's easy for you to be a hermit, speaking even to my partner. If you don't have to show your light, it's easier. In the past if you showed your light, you were hunted! You understand what I'm saying, don't you? For when you open the door and the light spills out, everybody looks at you because you are different. What's wrong with this picture? In the past, it has meant your demise. This is what is changing. But it's hard to forget it. …”