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“LEN DONG” ceremony

The Trance incarnation- The Vietnamese mystery

Trance incarnation is a form of popular belief in Vietnam to honor Deities and communicate with Gods. It is also called ‘ go in to a  trance/ attend a seance/ act as medium.

The person who acts as medium must have natural- trance state according to the ‘ four supernatural Deities’ belief; she/he only may invite Gods to incarnate. According to the popular conception, the universe consists of four elements: sky holy-mother’, land holy- mother, mountain land holy- mother, water holy- mother. Each Goddess , instead of the Creator governs the universe and human beings: the sky holy-mother rules the heaven, the land holy-mother rules the earth, the mountain-land holy- mother rules the forest and the water-land holy mother rules the ocean and rivers. The holy- mother are honored and worshiped everywhere, from urban to rural areas. Therefore, holy- mother belief and worship became unique and rich in cultural and human values in Vietnamese cultures.

The person who owns the natural- trance state has to take an incense burned carried on  her/his head before trancing. Then she/he starts trancing depending on her/his small or large natural trance state. In the trance, sorceress/sorcerer will  need  sponsor to guide her/his spirit. Nevertheless, a person with natural trance state who didn’t want to act as a medium, will  be reproached bitterly and persecuted constantly according to ‘ four Deities’ belief. Some of these sorceress/sorcerers are communist party members or officials, but they usually hidden themselves while attending the trance, even trance at night. There are some male homosexuals, ‘who  live together in groups, call each other sister, talk sluggishly, gesture slowly, dress as women, even wear fake breasts ‘ who also act as a medium.

The elderly often say:’ father assemble in August, mother assemble in March’ this means the natural trance state owner has to trace twice or one time at lea in each of these periods. Then, her/his spirit could be in peace in waiting the miracle to happen.


A trance needs to be well prepared. Therefore, the subject ass to cooperate with temple keeper  look for good day for the ceremony. The trance also needs an orchestra and two ( or four) assistants who are relatives or working subject  washes the body clearly, wearing white monkey- body monkey clothes and does make up. In 36 trance incarnations, the subject will take only some of which are considered her/his main nature but never taking all.

The instrumental orchestra consists of a Vietnamese two- chord guitar, a flute, a big drum, a small drum, a small gong coupe and a castanets. Most of trances don’t always have all these intruments, but at least a Vietnamese two chord guitar, a small drum, a small gong couple and castanets because of domination.

Costumes (ritual dresses) are different according to each God. Therefore, they have to prepare sufficient quantities of clothes corresponding to each of God. They are: a red cloth to cover the face, 5 long dresses of different colour, a white shirt, white trousers, different kinds of towels, coloured belts, mandarin badges, silver necklace, earnings, a string of pearls, paper fan and cosmetic. However, some subject can also celebrate a trance with a squared red cloth only in some cases. The color of dresses must be matching each Deity, nevertheless, some subject like making their ritual, but the main color for each God is always respected.

The offerings consist of cups, chopsticks, plates, crystal, glasses, a mirror covered by a kerchief. All of these are arranged on a centered, rectangular dais. Each of the offering tray for the four-Holly- Deities contain : 9 eggs, a comb, a paper fan, a pair of wooden shoes covered by 9 squared blue-red-white-yellow silk. Besides these, there are also a small, wine drink cup and a small basin. Each incarnation must be followed by an effigy. Similar to ‘four- holy- Deities’, mountain-land holy mother’s offering tray is divided into 13 parts: the big is presented in the middle with the 12 other parts are placed around, a tray of pairs of boat-like shoes, a tray of 100 paper ingot-gold, a 12 rowing dummies phoenix dragon boat, a couple of horses and a couple of elephants with harnesses and bits and many other gimcracks also. These gimcracks will be burnt after ceremony, but occasionally during the ceremony. The offerings my be changed considerable depending on host, times, but still keep the basic of offering capacity.

Many people offer eatable-food trays that are prepared meticulously from processing to arranging. The offered-trays for the’ three holy mothers and four Deities’ from the council consist of great delicacies such as pork, chicken, lean pork paste, roasted cinnamon pork, dried pig skin and squid. The offered tray for the mountain land – holy mother consists of bamboo-tube rice, powdered-grilled-rice-meat, carambola, bamboo sprout, 12 snails steamed with grapefruit leaves, ginger, lemon and chili, all well arranged. Lost of ceremories cost ten to hundreds of millions VND according to the wealth of the subjects. However,  there are still some places where people don’t

spend much on decoration, instrumentalist, offerings but a trance is still carried out with sincerity.

Once the ceremony is ended( or the trance is over), the subject returns to her/his daily life completely tired but expressing satisfaction as she/he finished a great work with sincerity, faith and specially enjoyed fairy land-scenery in complete emotion.

Incarnation ritual

  1. Ritual ceremony dress : the subject has to change her/his dress each time because every God has his own dress in accordance with his title.
  2. incense offering: this is an indispensable rite for any trances. The subject  holds a bunch of burning incense sticks wrapped in a flavor- soaked towel with the left hand while drawing out an incense stick, and the brandishes it over the bunch of burning incense in magical movements to driver evil spirits away.
  3. incarnation: once a god incarnates, the subject drops her/his incense following clasped- hands direction. Then, she/he makes a sign to inform which god is. There are two incarnation forms: holy mothers are with front covering, Great mandarins and the rest are without front covering.
  4. Dance: there is a “music- dance” form to affirm Deties’ incarnation. Different dance movements describe their personalities with influence of “ traditional operetta and popular” dance. While incarnating, the subject brandishes different weapons (such as sword, knife, stick and oar) paper fan and flag…the instruments are all worshiped objects in temples in which there are two dragon swords of mandarin “Tuan Tranh” and mandarin “ Hoang Muoi”
  5. Bestowing godsend and listening to offered music: after dancing, the incarnated God usually takes a seat and listens to instrumentalists sing relate the origin of the incarnating god. Participators get closer to beg God’s command and godsends. The godsends are fruits, cakes, combs and mirrors, money and incense sticks…
  6. God’s heaven back: the subject stays unmoved, holding paper fan in front of the face by both hands, shaking gently. Then, two assistants take a towel to cover her/his face, then music is played to lead the ceremony to an end.
  • Natural trance state can be understood as predetermined fate of a person who has to act as a medium in trance.
  • Opening ceremony is a religious ritual, which makes a person become a child of trance. Actually , some took the ceremony but did not act as a medium and some did not take this ceremony but still attend a seance. There are also some who take an “ end ceremony” to stop their natural trance state.
  • “Dong” letter can be understood in many ways such as a person who is incarnated by a God or a soul. During the time of incarnation, that man is not being him but God.
  • Resource . By Thuy Anh, Go- May 2011
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