Thursday, August 07, 2008

Account of Dong Shamanistic ritual in NG Magazine

The May 2008 issue of the National Geographic magazine has a story about a village of the Dong ethnic minority in Guizhou Province China.  In it is an account of a shaman ceremony in which 11 men got into trance and rode on the "ghost horse" in search for the reasons why a series of unfortunate events occurred in the village.  The full article is found here:
Exerpts relating to the shaman ceremony and a photo is hereby attached.
During Spring Festival, and for the first time since 1979, the village would be cleansed again by the same ceremony, Guo Yin—"Pass into the World of Yin." In the dim light of an assembly hall, 11 blindfolded men sat on black benches. The Chief Feng Shui Master called out incantations from the Book of Shadows. As fragrant rattan burned under the benches, assistants gave the men a rope of twisted straw to hold at both ends. More incantations were murmured, two bells rang, bowls of wine were stirred, and the 11 men slapped their bouncing knees, as if goading a horse to move forward. Soon they were galloping in a frenzy, and the oldest of them, a 73-year-old man, whinnied like a spooked horse, shot up, and leaped backward onto the bench. He had mounted a ghost horse and was racing toward the World of Yin. Assistants kept the frenzied rider from falling. Soon more riders mounted their ghost horses. The Chief Feng Shui Master sprayed water from his mouth to light the way. With more incantations the ghost-horse riders could go to deeper levels. At each level they could see more.
In 1979 the riders had gone to the 19th level, where they saw their dead mothers and fathers. Stay with us, their parents urged. If a Feng Shui Master provided the wrong incantation, the riders would not return. This time, the master would take them no further than the 13th level. It was still possible for them to find the illegal burials. At that level they could also see the backs of maidens, the Seven Sisters, as beautiful as fairies. Chase them, the Chief Feng Shui Master said, to urge them to go farther into the underworld.
That day the riders discovered where the illegal burial lay. After the ceremony they left the hall and walked to a slope that was shaped like the back of a comfortable sofa. At the top of the sofa was a small rice field, and buried several feet into its wall was a large ball with a thick crust. Unlike the Eldest Son of the fire starter, someone had placed the happiness of ancestors above that of the village. It must have been the doings of a greedy family from another village. The Chief Feng Shui Master broke the ball open, removed the ashes, and mixed them with rice wine, pig and human feces, and tung oil. The mess was thrown into the public latrine, and those ancestors who had once occupied the best place were now stuck forever in the worst.

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