Folk religion

In religious studies and folkloristics, folk religion, popular religion, or vernacular religion comprises various forms and expressions of religion that are distinct from the official doctrines and practices of organized religion. The precise definition of folk religion varies among scholars. Sometimes also termed popular belief, it consists of ethnic or regional religious customs under the umbrella of a religion, but outside official doctrine and practices.[1]

The term "folk religion" is generally held to encompass two related but separate subjects. The first is the religious dimension of folk culture, or the folk-cultural dimensions of religion. The second refers to the study of syncretisms between two cultures with different stages of formal expression, such as the melange of African folk beliefs and Roman Catholicism that led to the development of Vodun and Santería, and similar mixtures of formal religions with folk cultures.

Chinese folk religion, folk Christianity, folk Hinduism, and folk Islam are examples of folk religion associated with major religions. The term is also used, especially by the clergy of the faiths involved, to describe the desire of people who otherwise infrequently attend religious worship, do not belong to a church or similar religious society, and who have not made a formal profession of faith in a particular creed, to have religious weddings or funerals, or (among Christians) to have their children baptised.[1]


In The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, John Bowker characterized "folk religion" as either "religion which occurs in small, local communities which does not adhere to the norms of large systems" or "the appropriation of religious beliefs and practices at a popular level."[2]

Don Yoder argued that there were five separate ways of defining folk religion.[3] The first was a perspective rooted in a cultural evolutionary framework which understood folk religion as representing the survivals of older forms of religion; in this, it would constitute "the survivals, in an official religious context, of beliefs and behavior inherited from earlier stages of the culture's development".[3] This definition would view folk religion in Catholic Europe as the survivals of pre-Christian religion and the folk religion in Protestant Europe as the survivals of Medieval Catholicism.[3] The second definition identified by Yoder was the view that folk religion represented the mixture of an official religion with forms of ethnic religion; this was employed to explain the place of folk religion in the syncretic belief systems of the Americas, where Christianity had blended with the religions of indigenous American and African communities.[4]

Yoder's third definition was that often employed within folkloristics, which held that folk religion was "the interaction of belief, ritual, custom, and mythology in traditional societies", representing that which was often pejoratively characterised as superstition.[5] The fourth definition provided by Yoder stated that folk religion represented the "folk interpretation and expression of religion". Noting that this definition would not encompass beliefs that were largely unconnected from organised religion, such as in witchcraft, he therefore altered this definition by including the concept of "folk religiosity", thereby defining folk religion as "the deposit in culture of folk religiosity, the full range of folk attitudes to religion".[6] His fifth and final definition represented a "practical working definition" that combined elements from these various other definitions. Thus, he summarized folk religion as "the totality of all those views and practices of religion that exist among the people apart from and alongside the strictly theological and liturgical forms of the official religion".[7]

Yoder described "folk religion" as existing "in a complex society in relation to and in tension with the organized religion(s) of that society. Its relatively unorganized character differentiates it from organized religion".[8]

Alternately, the sociologist of religion Matthias Zic Varul defined "folk religion" as "the relatively un-reflected aspect of ordinary practices and beliefs that are oriented towards, or productive of, something beyond the immediate here-and-now: everyday transcendence".[9]

Historical development

In Europe the study of "folk religion" emerged from the study of religiöse Volkskund, a German term which was used in reference to "the religious dimension of folk-culture, or the folk-cultural dimension of religion".[10] This term was first employed by a German Lutheran preacher, Paul Drews, in a 1901 article that he published which was titled "Religiöse Volkskunde, eine Aufgabe der praktischen Theologie". This article was designed to be read by young Lutheran preachers leaving the seminary, to equip them for the popular variants of Lutheranism that they would encounter among their congregations and which would differ from the official, doctrinal Lutheranism that they had been accustomed to.[11] Although developing within a religious environment, the term came to be adopted by German academics in the field of folkloristics.[12] During the 1920s and 1930s, theoretical studies of religiöse Volkskund had been produced by the folklorists Josef Weigert, Werner Boette, and Max Rumpf, all of whom had focused on religiosity within German peasant communities.[12] Over the coming decades, Georg Schreiber established an Institut für religiöse Volkskund in Munich while a similar department was established in Salzburg by Hanns Koren.[13] Other prominent academics involved in the study of the phenomenon were Heinrich Schauert and Rudolf Kriss, the latter of whom collected one of the largest collections of folk-religious art and material culture in Europe, later housed in Munich's Bayerisches Nationalmuseum.[13] Throughout the 20th century, many studies were made of folk religion in Europe, paying particular attention to such subjects as pilgrimage and the use of shrines.[12]

In the Americas, the study of folk religion developed among cultural anthropologists studying the syncretistic cultures of the Caribbean and Latin America.[14] The pioneer in this field was Redfield, whose 1930 book Tepoztlán: A Mexican Village contrasted and examined the relationship between "folk religion" and "official religion" in a peasant community.[14] Yoder later noted that although the earliest known usage of the term "folk religion" in the English language was unknown, it probably developed as a translation of the German Volksreligion.[14] One of the earliest prominent usages of the term was in the title of Joshua Trachtenberg's 1939 work Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion.[14] The term also gained increasing usage within the academic field of comparative religion, appearing in the titles of Ichiro Hori's Folk Religion in Japan, Martin Nilsson's Greek Folk Religion, and Charles Leslie's reader, the Anthropology of Folk Religion.[14] Courses on the study of folk religion came to be taught at various universities in the United States, such as John Messenger's at Indiana University and Don Yoder's at the University of Pennsylvania.[14] Although the subject of folk religion fell within the remit of scholars operating in both folkloristics and religious studies, by 1974 Yoder noted that U.S.-based academics in the latter continued to largely ignore it, instead focusing on the study of theology and institutionalised religion; he contrasted this with the situation in Europe, where historians of religion had devoted much time to studying folk religiosity.[15] He also lamented that many U.S.-based folklorists also neglected the subject of religion because it did not fit within the standard genre-based system for cataloguing folklore.[16]

The term "folk religion" came to be increasingly rejected in the 1990s and 2000s by scholars seeking more precise terminology.[17]

Problems and critique

Yoder noted that one problem with the use of the term "folk religion" was that it did not fit into the work of those scholars who used the term "religion" in reference solely to organized religion.[18] He highlighted the example of the prominent sociologist of religion Émile Durkheim, who insisted that "religion" was organized in order to contrast it with "magic".[18] Yoder noted that scholars adopting these perspectives often preferred the term "folk belief" over "folk religion".[18]

A second problem with the use of "folk religion" that Yoder highlighted was that some scholars, particularly those operating in the sociology of religion, used the term as a synonym for ethnic religion (which is alternately known as national religion or tribal religion), meaning a religion closely tied to a particular ethnic or national group and is thus contrasted with a "universal religion" which cuts across ethnic and national boundaries.[19] Among the scholars to have adopted this use of terminology are E. Wilbur Bock.[20]

The folklorist Leonard Norman Primiano argued that the use of "folk religion", as well as related terms like "popular religion" and "unofficial religion", by scholars, does "an extreme disservice" to the forms of religiosity that scholarship is examining, because – in his opinion – such terms are "residualistic, [and] derogatory".[21] He argued that using such terminology implies that there is "a pure element" to religion "which is in some way transformed, even contaminated, by its exposure to human communities".[22] As a corrective, he suggested that scholars use "vernacular religion" as an alternative.[23] Defining this term, Primiano stated that "vernacular religion" is, "by definition, religion as it is lived: as human beings encounter, understand, interpret, and practice it. Since religion inherently involves interpretation, it is impossible for the religion of an individual not to be vernacular".[24]

Kapaló was critical of this approach, deeming it "mistaken" and arguing that switching from "folk religion" to "vernacular religion" results in the scholar "picking up a different selection of things from the world".[25] He cautioned that both terms were "ideological and semantic load[ed]" and warned scholars to pay attention to the associations that each word had.[26]

Chinese folk religion

Chinese folk religion or Shenism[27][28][29] are labels used to describe the collection of ethnic religious traditions which have historically comprised the predominant belief system in China and among Han Chinese ethnic groups up to the present day. Shenism describes Chinese mythology and includes the worship of shen (spirit, god, awareness, consciousness) which can be nature deities, Taizu or clan deities, city gods, national deities, culture heroes and demigods, dragons and ancestors. "Shenism" as a term was first published by AJA Elliot in 1955.[30]

Chinese folk religion is sometimes categorized with Taoism, since over the centuries institutional Taoism has been attempting to assimilate or administrate local religions. More accurately, Taoism can be defined as a branch of Shenism, since it sprang out of folk religion and Chinese philosophy. Chinese folk religion is sometimes seen as a constituent part of Chinese traditional religion, but more often, the two are regarded as synonymous. With around 454 million adherents, or about 6.6% of the world population,[31] Chinese folk religion is one of the major religious traditions in the world. In China more than 30% of the population adheres to Shenism or Taoism.[32]

Despite being heavily suppressed during the last two centuries, from the Taiping Rebellion to the Cultural Revolution, it is currently experiencing a modern revival in both Mainland China and Taiwan.[33][34] Various forms have received support by the Government of the People's Republic of China, such as Mazuism in Southern China (officially about 160 million Chinese are Mazuists),[35] Huangdi worship,[36][37] Black Dragon worship in Shaanxi,[38][39][40] and Cai Shen worship.[41]

Philippine mythology

Philippine mythology is a body of myths, tales, and superstitions held by Filipinos (composed of more than a hundred ethnic peoples in the Philippines), mostly originating from beliefs held during the pre-Hispanic era. Some of these beliefs stem from pre-Christian religions that were specially influenced by Hinduism and were regarded by the Spanish as "myths" and "superstitions" in an effort to de-legitimize legitimate precolonial beliefs by forcefully replacing those native beliefs with colonial Catholic Christian myths and superstitions. Today, some of these precolonial beliefs are still held by Filipinos, especially in the provinces.

Folk Christianity

Botánicas such as this one in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA, sell religious goods such as statues of saints and candles decorated with prayers alongside folk medicine and amulets.

Folk Christianity is defined differently by various scholars. Definitions include "the Christianity practiced by a conquered people",[42] Christianity as most people live it – a term used to "overcome the division of beliefs into Orthodox and unorthodox",[43] Christianity as impacted by superstition as practiced by certain geographical Christian groups,[44] and Christianity defined "in cultural terms without reference to the theologies and histories."[45]

Folk Islam

Folk Islam is an umbrella term used to collectively describe forms of Islam that incorporate native folk beliefs and practices.[46] Folk Islam has been described as the Islam of the "urban poor, country people, and tribes",[47] in contrast to orthodox or "High" Islam (Gellner, 1992).[48] Sufism and Sufi concepts are often integrated into Folk Islam.

Various practices and beliefs have been identified with the concept of "folk Islam". They include the following:

Folk Judaism

In one of the first major academic works on the subject, titled Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion, Joshua Trachtenberg provided a definition of Jewish folk religion as consisting of ideas and practices that whilst not meeting with the approval of religious leaders enjoyed wide popularity such that they must be included in what he termed the field of religion.[55] This included unorthodox beliefs about demons and angels, and magical practices.

Later studies have emphasized the significance of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to the many Jewish folk customs linked to mourning and in particular to the belief in hibbut ha-qever (torture of the grave) a belief that the dead are tortured in their grave for three days after burial by demons until they remember their names. This idea began with early eschatalogical aggadah and was then further developed by the kabbalists.[56]

Raphael Patai has been acknowledged as one of the first to utilize anthropology to study Jewish folk religion.[57] In particular he has drawn attention to the important role of the female divine element,[58] which he sees in the goddess Asherah, the Shekhinah, the Matronit, and Lilith.[59]

Writer Stephen Sharot has stated that Jewish popular religion in common with other forms of folk religion, has a focus on the apotropaic, or thaumaturgical, i.e. it is used to assist in protecting the individual from sickness, and misfortune. He emphasizes that while Rabbinical Judaism dealt with orthodox Jewish ritual, and halakah, magicians claimed to use unorthodox magical rituals to help people in everyday life. He points to the example of a relatively professionalised type of magician being the ba'al shem of Poland, who beginning in the 16th century thrived with the popularity of practical kabbalah in the 18th century. These ba'al shem promised to use their knowledge of the names of god, and the angels, along with exorcism, chiromancy, and herbal medicine to bring harm to enemies, and success in areas of social life such as marriage, and childbirth.[60]

Charles Liebman has written that the essence of the folk religion of American Jews is their social ties to one another, illustrated by the finding that religious practices that would prevent social integration -such as a strict interpretation of dietary laws and the Sabbath- have been abandoned, whilst the practices that are followed -such as the Passover seder, social rites of passage, and the High Holy Days- are ones that strengthen Jewish family and community integration.[61] Liebman described the rituals and beliefs of contemporary Jewish folk religion in his works, The Ambivalent American Jew (1973) and American Jewry: Identity and Affiliation.

In sociology

In sociology, folk religion is often contrasted with elite religion. Folk religion is defined as the beliefs, practices, rituals and symbols originating from sources other than the religion's leadership. Folk religion in many instances is tolerated by the religion's leadership, although they may consider it an error.[62] A similar concept is lived religion, the study of religion as practiced by believers.

See also


  1. ^ a b Bowman, Marion (2004). "Chapter 1: Phenomenology, Fieldwork, and Folk Religion". In Sutcliffe, Steven (ed.). Religion: empirical studies. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0-7546-4158-2.
  2. ^ Bowker 2003.
  3. ^ a b c Yoder 1974, p. 12.
  4. ^ Yoder 1974, pp. 12–13.
  5. ^ Yoder 1974, p. 13.
  6. ^ Yoder 1974, pp. 13–14.
  7. ^ Yoder 1974, p. 14.
  8. ^ Yoder 1974, p. 11.
  9. ^ Varul 2015, p. 449.
  10. ^ Yoder 1974, p. 2.
  11. ^ Yoder 1974, pp. 2–3.
  12. ^ a b c Yoder 1974, p. 3.
  13. ^ a b Yoder 1974, pp. 3–4.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Yoder 1974, p. 5.
  15. ^ Yoder 1974, p. 6.
  16. ^ Yoder 1974, p. 9.
  17. ^ Kapaló 2013, p. 4.
  18. ^ a b c Yoder 1974, p. 10.
  19. ^ Yoder 1974, pp. 10–11.
  20. ^ Bock 1966, p. 204.
  21. ^ Primiano 1995, p. 38.
  22. ^ Primiano 1995, p. 39.
  23. ^ Primiano 1995, pp. 41–42.
  24. ^ Primiano 1995, p. 44.
  25. ^ Kapaló 2013, p. 9.
  26. ^ Kapaló 2013, pp. 15–16.
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  30. ^ High beam, archived from the original on 2012-11-05.
  31. ^ "Religion", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011.
  32. ^ "Chinese Folk Religion Adherents by Country". Charts bin. 2009-09-16. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  33. ^ "Roundtable before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  34. ^ "The Upsurge of Religion in China" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  35. ^ "China's Leaders Harness Folk Religion For Their Aims". 2010-07-23. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  36. ^ "Over 10,000 Chinese Worship Huangdi in Henan". 2006-04-01. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  37. ^ Compatriots across the strait honor their ancestry Archived 2010-07-20 at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ "Return to folk religions brings about renewal in rural China". 2001-09-14. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  39. ^ The Policy of Legitimation and the Revival of Popular Religion in Shaanbei, North-Central China
  40. ^ Chau, Adam Yuet (2008-07-21). Miraculous response: doing popular religion in contemporary China. ISBN 9780804767651. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  41. ^ "苍南金乡玄坛庙成华夏第八财神庙". Retrieved 2011-11-20.
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  45. ^ Corduan, Winfried (1998). Neighboring faiths: a Christian introduction to world religions. InterVarsity Press, ISBN 0-8308-1524-4, p. 37. Last accessed July 2009.
  46. ^ Cook, Chris (2009). Spirituality and Psychiatry. RCPsych Publications. p. 242. ISBN 978-1-904671-71-8.
  47. ^ Ridgeon, Lloyd (2003). Major World Religions: From Their Origins To The Present. Routledge. p. 280. ISBN 978-0-415-29796-7.
  48. ^ Malešević, Siniša; et al. (2007). Ernest Gellner and Contemporary Social Thought. Cambridge University Press. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-521-70941-5.
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  50. ^ Makris, JP (2006). Islam in the Middle East: A Living Tradition. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-4051-1603-9.
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  52. ^ Hinde, Robert (2009). Why Gods Persist: A Scientific Approach to Religion. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-415-49761-9.
  53. ^ Hefner, Robert W; et al. (1997). Islam In an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8248-1957-6.
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  55. ^ Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion, Joshua Trachtenberg, 1939, Forgotten Books, Preface, pg xxvii
  56. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, Edited by Adele Berlin, Oxford University Press, 2011, pg 344,
  57. ^ Fields of Offerings: Studies in Honor of Raphael Patai, by Victor D. Sanua, pg 28
  58. ^ Fields of Offerings: Studies in Honor of Raphael Patai, by Victor D. Sanua, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1983, pg 27
  59. ^ Fields of Offerings: Studies in Honor of Raphael Patai, by Victor D. Sanua, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1983, pg 2
  60. ^ Comparative Perspectives on Judaisms and Jewish Identities, By Stephen Sharot, Wayne State University Press, 2011, pg 58
  61. ^ Comparative Perspectives on Judaisms and Jewish Identities, By Stephen Sharot, Wayne State University Press, 2011, pg 152
  62. ^ Leibman, Charles. "The Religion of the American Jew". The Ambivalent American Jew. Jewish Publication Society. 1975.


Bock, E. Wilbur (1966). "Symbols in Conflict: Official versus Folk Religion". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 5 (2): 204–212. doi:10.2307/1384846. JSTOR 1384846.
Bowker, John (2003) [2000]. "Folk religion". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191727221.
Kapaló, James A. (2013). "Folk Religion in Discourse and Practice". Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics. 1 (1): 3–18.
Primiano, Leonard Norman (1995). "Vernacular Religion and the Search for Method in Religious Folklife". Western Folklore. 54 (1): 37–56. doi:10.2307/1499910. JSTOR 1499910.
Varul, Matthias Zick (2015). "Consumerism as Folk Religion: Transcendence, Probation and Dissatisfaction with Capitalism". Studies in Christian Ethics. 28 (4): 447–460. doi:10.1177/0953946814565984.
Yoder, Don (1974). "Toward a Definition of Folk Religion". Western Folklore. 33 (1): 1–15. doi:10.2307/1498248. JSTOR 1498248.

Further reading

  • Allen, Catherine. The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989; second edition, 2002.
  • Badone, Ellen, ed. Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Bastide, Roger. The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations. Trans. by Helen Sebba. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.
  • Blackburn, Stuart H. Death and Deification: Folk Cults in Hinduism, History of Religions (1985).
  • Brintnal, Douglas. Revolt against the Dead: The Modernization of a Mayan Community in the Highlands of Guatemala. New York: Gordon and Breach, 1979.
  • Christian, William A., Jr. Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • Gellner, David N. Hinduism. None, one or many?, Social Anthropology (2004), 12: 367–371 Cambridge University* Johnson, Paul Christopher. Secrets, Gossip, and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomblé. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Gorshunova, Olga V. (2008). Svjashennye derevja Khodzhi Barora…, ( Sacred Trees of Khodzhi Baror: Phytolatry and the Cult of Female Deity in Central Asia) in Etnoragraficheskoe Obozrenie, № 1, pp. 71–82. ISSN 0869-5415. (in Russian).
  • Kononenko, Natalie "Vernacular religion on the prairies: negotiating a place for the unquiet dead," Canadian Slavonic Papers 60, no. 1-2 (2018)
  • Nepstad, Sharon Erickson (1996). "Popular Religion, Protest, and Revolt: The Emergence of Political Insurgency in the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Churches of the 1960s–80s". In Smith, Christian (ed.). Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social Movement Activism. New York: Routledge. pp. 105–124. ISBN 978-0-415-91405-5.
  • Nash, June (1996). "Religious Rituals of Resistance and Class Consciousness in Bolivian Tin-Mining Communities". In Smith, Christian (ed.). Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social Movement Activism. New York: Routledge. pp. 87–104. ISBN 978-0-415-91405-5.
  • Nutini, Hugo. Ritual Kinship: Ideological and Structural Integration of the Compadrazgo System in Rural Tlaxcala. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
  • Nutini, Hugo. Todos Santos in Rural Tlaxcala: A Syncretic, Expressive, and Symbolic Analysis of the Cult of the Dead. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  • Panchenko, Aleksandr. ‘Popular Orthodoxy’ and identity in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, Soviet and Post-Soviet Identities. Ed. by Mark Bassin and Catriona Kelly. Cambridge, 2012, pp. 321–340
  • Sinha, Vineeta. Problematizing Received Categories: Revisiting ‘Folk Hinduism’ and ‘Sanskritization’, Current Sociology, Vol. 54, No. 1, 98–111 (2006)
  • Sinha, Vineeta. Persistence of ‘Folk Hinduism’ in Malaysia and Singapore, Australian Religion Studies Review Vol. 18 No. 2 (Nov 2005):211–234
  • Stuart H. Blackburn, Inside the Drama-House: Rama Stories and Shadow Puppets in South India, UCP (1996), ch. 3: " Ambivalent Accommodations: Bhakti and Folk Hinduism".
  • Taylor, Lawrence J. Occasions of Faith: An Anthropology of Irish Catholics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
  • Thomas, Keith (1971). Religion and the Decline of Magic. Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-00220-8.

External links


Bon, also spelled Bön (Tibetan: བོན་, Wylie: bon, Lhasa dialect IPA: pʰø̃̀), is a Tibetan religion. According to traditional Bon beliefs and legends, the Bon religion predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet. According to the scholar and Buddhist master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, there is clear manuscript evidence confirming the existence of fully articulated Bon doctrine and practice prior to the forcible annexation of the Bon kingdom of Zhangzhung in the 8th century CE by Tibetan king Trisong Deutsung: "It is very clearly stated in the ancient lineage-manuscripts of Bon, known as Srid-rGyud, during the reign of the Buddhist King Trisong Deutsen, that the tradition of Bon and its founder both first started [centuries earlier] in Zhangzhung." [This is disputed by some subsequent Buddhist commentators, e.g., by Sam van Schaik, "in truth the 'old religion' was a new religion." Its scriptures are derived primarily from termas (hidden teachings) and visions by tertöns (discoverers of hidden teachings) such as Loden Nyingpo..]

Burmese folk religion

Burmese folk religion refers to the animistic and polytheistic religious worship of nats (deities of local and Hindu origin) in Burma (Myanmar). Although the beliefs of nats differ across different regions and villages in Burma, there are a handful of beliefs that are universal in Burmese folk religion.

A nat is a spirit or god who resembles a human in shape that often maintains or guards objects. When people die, they can become nats. Those who become nats often have a gruesome violent death which explains their vengeful nature. Nats also are believed to have the ability to possess animals, such as tigers or alligators. These spirits can also be found in nature in things such as trees and rocks. The majority of these nats are viewed as troublesome and irritable. They require calming, food and offerings.

There is a specific nat called an ouktazaung that is said to guard treasure. Rumor has it that this ouktazaung lures men to them, similar to a siren, in Greek mythology. If the victim is caught by the ouktazaung it takes her place and the ouktazaung can roam free, but only for twenty years, after which she must return to her treasure. A village will traditionally also have a spirit which is the patron of their village; this is called a Bo Bo Gyi.

Chinese folk religion

Chinese folk religion (Chinese popular religion or traditional Chinese religion) or Han folk religion or Shenism is the religious tradition of the Han Chinese, including veneration of forces of nature and ancestors, exorcism of harmful forces, and a belief in the rational order of nature which can be influenced by human beings and their rulers as well as spirits and gods. Worship is devoted to a multiplicity of gods and immortals (神 shén), who can be deities of phenomena, of human behaviour, or progenitors of lineages. Stories regarding some of these gods are collected into the body of Chinese mythology. By the 11th century (Song period), these practices had been blended with Buddhist ideas of karma (one's own doing) and rebirth, and Taoist teachings about hierarchies of gods, to form the popular religious system which has lasted in many ways until the present day.Chinese religions have a variety of sources, local forms, founder backgrounds, and ritual and philosophical traditions. Despite this diversity, there is a common core that can be summarised as four theological, cosmological, and moral concepts: Tian (天), Heaven, the transcendent source of moral meaning; qi (氣), the breath or energy that animates the universe; jingzu (敬祖), the veneration of ancestors; and bao ying (報應), moral reciprocity; together with two traditional concepts of fate and meaning: ming yun (命運), the personal destiny or burgeoning; and yuan fen (緣分), "fateful coincidence", good and bad chances and potential relationships.Yin and yang (陰陽) is the polarity that describes the order of the universe, held in balance by the interaction of principles of growth (shen) and principles of waning (gui), with yang ("act") usually preferred over yin ("receptiveness") in common religion. Ling (靈), "numen" or "sacred", is the "medium" of the two states and the inchoate order of creation.Both the present day government of China and the imperial dynasties of the Ming and Qing tolerated village popular religious cults if they bolstered social stability but suppressed or persecuted those that they feared would undermine it. After the fall of the empire in 1911, governments and elites opposed or attempted to eradicate folk religion in order to promote "modern" values, and many condemned "feudal superstition". These conceptions of folk religion began to change in Taiwan in the late 20th century and in mainland China in the 21st. Many scholars now view folk religion in a positive light. In recent times Chinese folk religions are experiencing a revival in both mainland China and Taiwan. Some forms have received official understanding or recognition as a preservation of traditional Chinese culture, such as Mazuism and the Sanyi teaching in Fujian, Huangdi worship, and other forms of local worship, for example the Longwang, Pangu or Caishen worship.

Chinese ritual mastery traditions

Chinese ritual mastery traditions, also referred to as ritual teachings (Chinese: 法教; pinyin: fǎjiào, sometimes rendered as "Faism"), or Folk Taoism (Chinese: 民间道教; pinyin: Mínjiàn Dàojiào), or also Red Taoism (mostly in east China and Taiwan), constitute a large group of Chinese orders of ritual officers who operate within the Chinese folk religion but outside the institutions of official Taoism. The "masters of rites", the fashi (法師), are also known in east China as hongtou daoshi (紅頭道士), meaning "redhead" or "redhat" daoshi ("masters of the Tao"), contrasting with the wutou daoshi (烏頭道士), "blackhead" or "blackhat" priests, of Zhengyi Taoism who were historically ordained by the Celestial Master.Zhengyi Taoism and Faism are often grouped together under the category of "daoshi and fashi ritual traditions" (道法二門道壇). Although the two types of priests have the same roles in Chinese society—in that they can marry and they perform rituals for communities' temples or private homes—Zhengyi daoshi emphasize their Taoist tradition, distinguished from the vernacular tradition of the fashi.Ritual masters can be practitioners of tongji possession, healing, exorcism and jiao rituals (although historically they were excluded from performing the jiao liturgy). The only ones that are shamans (wu) are the fashi of the Lushan school.

Chinese shamanism

Chinese shamanism, alternatively called Wuism (Chinese: 巫教; pinyin: wū jiào; literally: 'wu religion, shamanism, witchcraft'; alternatively 巫觋宗教 wū xí zōngjiào), refers to the shamanic religious tradition of China. Its features are especially connected to the ancient Neolithic cultures such as the Hongshan culture. Chinese shamanic traditions are intrinsic to Chinese folk religion, an overarching term for all the indigenous religions of China. Wu masters remain important in contemporary Chinese culture.

Various ritual traditions are rooted in original Chinese shamanism: contemporary Chinese ritual masters are sometimes identified as wu by outsiders, though most orders don't self-identify as such. Also Taoism has some of its origins from Chinese shamanism: it developed around the pursuit of long life (shou 壽/寿), or the status of a xian (仙, "mountain man", "holy man").

Chinese temple architecture

Chinese temple architecture refer to a type of structures used as place of worship of Chinese Buddhism, Taoism or Chinese folk religion/Shenism, where people revere ethnic Chinese gods and ancestors. They can be classified as:

miào (庙) or diàn (殿), simply meaning "temple" and mostly enshrining gods of the Chinese pantheon, such as Dragon King, Tudigong or Mazu; or mythical or historical figures, such as Guandi or Shennong.

cí (祠), cítáng (祠堂), zōngcí (宗祠) or zǔmiào (祖庙), referring to ancestral temples, mostly enshrining the ancestral gods of a family or clan.

Taoist temples and monasteries: 觀/观 guàn or 道观 dàoguàn; and

Chinese Buddhist temples and monasteries: 寺 sì or 寺院 sìyuàn

Temple of Confucius which usually functions as both temple and town school: 文廟 wénmiào or 孔廟 kŏngmiào.

Temples of City God, which worships the patron God of a village, town or a city.

Smaller household shrines or votive niche, such as the worship of Zaoshen and Caishen.Gōng (宫), meaning "palace" is a term used for a templar complex of multiple buildings, while yuàn (院) is a generic term meaning "sanctuary" or "shrine".


Comfa is a folk religion in Guyana also known as Spiritualism or Faithism. The word "Comfa" is used by non-practitioners as a generic term for spirit possession in Guyana. However, the word "Comfa" is also a term to define the greater folk religion involving spirit possession originating in Guyana.

Malaysian folk religion

Malaysian folk religion refers to the animistic and polytheistic beliefs and practices that are still held by many in the Islamic-majority country of Malaysia. Malaysian folk faith is practiced either openly or covertly depending on the type of rituals performed.

Some forms of belief are not recognised by the government as a religion for statistical purposes although such practices are not outlawed. There is a deep interaction between the Chinese folk religion of the large Malaysian Chinese population, and the indigenous Malaysian folk religion.

Manchu shamanism

Manchu folk religion is the ethnic religion practiced by most of the Manchu people, the major of the Tungusic peoples, in China. It can also be called Manchu Shamanism by virtue of the word "shaman" being originally from Tungusic šamán ("man of knowledge"), later applied by Western scholars to similar religious practices in other cultures. It is a pantheistic system, believing in a universal God called Apka Enduri ("God of Heaven") which is the omnipotent and omnipresent source of all life and creation. Deities (enduri) enliven every aspect of nature, and the worship of these gods is believed to bring favour, health and prosperity. Many of the deities are original Manchu kins' ancestors, and people with the same surname are generated by the same god.Shamans are persons of unusual ability, strength and sensitivity, capable of perception and prediction of the ways of the gods. They are endowed with the social function to conduct the sacrificial ceremonies and approach the deities asking them intervention or protection. Because of their abilities the shamans are people of great authority and prestige. Usually, every Manchu kin has its own shaman.Manchu folk religious rites were standardised by the Qianlong Emperor (1736-96) in the "Manchu Sacrificial Ritual to the Gods and Heaven" (Manjusai wecere metere kooli bithe), a manual published in Manchu in 1747 and in Chinese (Manzhou jishen jitian dianli) in 1780. With the conquest of imperial power in China (Qing dynasty) the Manchu people gradually adopted Chinese language and assimilated into the Chinese religion, although Manchu folk religion persists with a distinct character within broader Chinese religion.

Mesoamerican religion

Mesoamerican religion is grouping of the indigenous religions of Mesoamerica that were prevalent in pre-Columbian era. Two of the most widely-known examples of Mesoamerican religion are the Aztec religion and the Mayan religion.

Miao folk religion

Miao folk religion or Hmong folk religion is the common ethnic religion of Miao peoples, primarily consisting in the practice of kev dab qhuas (Hmongic: "worship of deities"). The religion is also called Hmongism by a Hmong American church established in 2012 to organise it among Hmong people in the United States.It has a pantheist theology, centered on worship of deities and progenitors of the Miao peoples. Throughout its history it has incorporated theoretical and ritual elements from Taoism, and broader Chinese religion, especially the emphasis on the pattern of the forces of the natural universe and the need of human life to be in accordance with these forces.Most Hmong continue to practice the traditional religion, although many Hmong in Asia have converted to Buddhism or have mixed it with Buddhism, and many Hmong Americans and Hmong Australians have adopted Christianity or Buddhism.

Mo (religion)

Mo or Moism (Chinese: 摩教; pinyin: Mó jiào), occasionally called Zhuang Shigongism (Chinese: 壮族师公教; pinyin: Zhuàngzú shīgōng jiào; literally: 'Zhuang Ancestral Father Religion'), is the religion of most Zhuang people, the largest ethnic minority of China. It has a large presence in Guangxi. While it has a supreme god, the creator Bu Luotuo (布洛陀), numerous other deities are venerated as well. It has a three-element-theory (sky, earth and water). Mo is animistic, teaching that spirits are present in everything.Mo developed from prehistoric beliefs of the Zhuang people; it also has similarities to Chinese folk religion, and has developed similar doctrines to Buddhism and Taoism, in the process of competition with the influence of these religions on Zhuang culture. The Cultural Revolution of China weakened Mo, though the religion has undergone a revival since the 1980s. Moism varies from region to region.

Mongolian shamanism

Mongolian shamanism, more broadly called the Mongolian folk religion, or occasionally Tengerism, refers to the animistic and shamanic ethnic religion that has been practiced in Mongolia and its surrounding areas (including Buryatia and Inner Mongolia) at least since the age of recorded history. The Mongolian endonym is Böö mörgöl (In Mongolian cyrillic: Бөө мөргөл). In the earliest known stages it was intricately tied to all other aspects of social life and to the tribal organization of Mongolian society. Along the way, it has become influenced by and mingled with Buddhism. During the socialist years of the twentieth century it was heavily repressed and has since made a comeback.

Yellow shamanism is the term used to designate the particular version of Mongolian shamanism which adopts the expressive style of Buddhism. "Yellow" indicates Buddhism in Mongolia, since most Buddhists there belong to what is called the Gelug or "Yellow sect" of Tibetan Buddhism, whose members wear yellow hats during services. The term also serves to distinguish it from a form of shamanism not influenced by Buddhism (according to its adherents), called black shamanism.Mongolian shamanism is centered on the worship of the tngri (gods) and the highest Tenger (Heaven, God of Heaven, God) or Qormusta Tengri. In the Mongolian folk religion, Genghis Khan is considered one of the embodiments, if not the main embodiment, of the Tenger. The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos City, in Inner Mongolia, is an important center of this worship tradition.

Nuo folk religion

Nuo folk religion, or extendedly Chinese popular exorcistic religion, is a variant of Chinese folk religion with its own system of temples, rituals, orders of priests and gods, which is interethnic and practiced across central and southern China but is also intimately connected to the Tujia people. It arose as an exorcistic religious movement, which is the original meaning of nuó (simplified Chinese: 傩; traditional Chinese: 儺), and it spread even outside the boundaries of China exporting such practices in Japan and Korea. It has strong influences from Taoism.One of the most distinguishing characters of Nuo folk religion is its iconographic style, which represents the gods as wooden masks or heads. This is related to its own mythology, which traces the origin of Nuo to the two very first humans, who were unjustly killed by beheading and are since then worshipped as responsive divine ancestors. Nuo rituals began as efficacious methods to worship them, Lord Nuo and Lady Nuo. Since the 1980s Nuo folk religion has undergone a revitalisation in China, and today is a folk religion endorsed by the central government. Nuo priests are classified as 巫 wu (shamans) and their historical precursors were the 方相氏 fangxiangshi ("masters who assist the (astral) square").

Qiang folk religion

Qiang folk religion is the indigenous religion of the majority of the Qiang people, an ethnic group of Sichuan (China) tightly related to the Han Chinese and the Tibetans. It is pantheistic, involving the worship of a variety of gods of nature and of human affairs, including Qiang progenitors. White stones are worshipped as it is believed they can be invested with the power of some gods through rituals. They believe in an overarching God, called Mubyasei ("God of Heaven"), which is connected to the Chinese concept of Tian and clearly identified by the Qiang with the Taoist-originated Jade Deity.Religious ceremonies and rituals are directed by priests called duāngōng in Chinese. They are shamans who acquire their position through years of training with a teacher. Duāngōng are the custodians of Qiang theology, history and mythology. They also administer the coming of age ceremony for 18 year-old boys, called the "sitting on top of the mountain", which involves the boy's entire family going to mountain tops to sacrifice a sheep or cow, and to plant three cypress trees.Two of the most important religious holidays are the Qiang New Year, falling on the 24th day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar (though now it is fixed on October 1st), and the Mountain Sacrifice Festival, held between the second and the sixth month of the lunar calendar. The former festival is to give sacrifice to the God of Heaven, while the latter is dedicated to the god of mountains.

Slavic paganism

Slavic paganism or Slavic religion define the religious beliefs, godlores and ritual practices of the Slavs before the formal Christianisation of their ruling elites. The latter occurred at various stages between the 8th and the 13th century: The Southern Slavs living on the Balkan Peninsula in South Eastern Europe, bordering with the Byzantine Empire to the south, came under the sphere of influence of Byzantine Orthodox Christianity, beginning with the creation of the Slavic alphabet (first Glagolic, and then Cyrillic script) in 855 by the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius and the adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria in 863 CE. The East Slavs followed with the official adoption in 988 CE by Vladimir the Great of Kievan Rus'.The West Slavs came under the sphere of influence of the Roman Catholic Church since the 12th century, and Christianisation for them went hand in hand with full or partial Germanisation,.The Christianisation of the Slavic peoples was, however, a slow and—in many cases—superficial phenomenon, especially in what is today Russia. Christianisation was vigorous in western and central parts of what is today Ukraine, as they were closer to the capital Kiev, but even there, popular resistance led by volkhvs, pagan priests or shamans, recurred periodically for centuries. Even though the Byzantine Christianization firstly has slowed down the Eastern Slavic traditions in Rus', it has preserved the Slavic traditions in the long term. While local Slavic figures and myths, such as Baba Roga in Croatia were forgotten, Slavic culture continued to exist and even flourish in the Eastern Slavic countries. In the case of a Christian Latinization of the Eastern Slavic countries, this may not have been the case.

The West Slavs of the Baltic withstood tenaciously against Christianity until it was violently imposed on them through the Northern Crusades. Among Poles and East Slavs, rebellion outbreaks occurred throughout the 11th century. Christian chroniclers reported that the Slavs regularly re-embraced their original religion (relapsi sunt denuo ad paganismus).Many elements of the indigenous Slavic religion were officially incorporated into Slavic Christianity, and, besides this, the worship of Slavic gods has persisted in unofficial folk religion until modern times. The Slavs' resistance to Christianity gave rise to a "whimsical syncretism" which in Old Church Slavonic vocabulary was defined as dvoeverie, "double faith". Since the early 20th century, Slavic folk religion has undergone an organised reinvention and reincorporation in the movement of Slavic Native Faith (Rodnovery).

Tai folk religion

The Tai folk religion, known in Lao and Thai as Satsana Phi (Lao: ສາສະໜາຜີ; Thai: ศาสนาผี, /sàːǎː.pʰǐː/, "religion of spirits"), is a form of animist religious beliefs traditionally and historically practiced by groups of ethnic Tai peoples.

Tai folk animist traditions are practiced by the Lao, Tai Ahom, Lao Isan and Thais of Thailand. These religions are pantheistic and polytheistic and their practice involves classes of shamans.

Among the Lao, the Lao Loum and Lao Lom are predominantly Buddhist, while the Lao Theung and Lao Sung are predominantly folk religious. Tai folk animist traditions have also been incorporated into Laotian Buddhism.

Vietnamese folk religion

Vietnamese folk religion or Vietnamese indigenous religion (Vietnamese: tín ngưỡng dân gian Việt Nam, tôn giáo bản địa Việt Nam), is the ethnic religion of the Vietnamese people. About 45.3% of the population[1] in Vietnam are associated with this religion, making it dominant in Vietnam.

Vietnamese folk religion is not an organized religious system, but a set of local worship traditions devoted to the thần, a term which can be translated as "spirits", "gods" or with the more exhaustive locution "generative powers". These gods can be nature deities or national, community or kinship tutelary deities or ancestral gods and the ancestral gods of a specific family. Ancestral gods are often deified heroic persons. Vietnamese mythology preserves narratives telling of the actions of many of the cosmic gods and cultural heroes.

The Vietnamese indigenous religion is sometimes identified as Confucianism since it carries values that were emphasized by Confucius. Đạo Mẫu is a distinct form of Vietnamese folk religion, giving prominence to some mother goddesses into its pantheon. The government of Vietnam also categorises Cao Đài as a form of Vietnamese indigenous religion, since it brings together the worship of the thần or local spirits with Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, as well as elements of Catholicism, Spiritism and Theosophy.

Yao folk religion

Yao folk religion is the ethnic religion of the Yao people, a non-Sinitic ethnic group who reside in the Guangxi, Hunan and surrounding provinces of China. Their religion is profoundly intermingled with Taoism since the 13th century, so much that it is frequently defined as Yao Taoism (瑶族道教 Yáozú Dàojiào). In the 1980s it was found that the Yao clearly identified with the Chinese-language Taoist theological literature, seen as a prestigious statute of culture (文化 wénhuà).Yao folk religion was described by a Chinese scholar of the half of the 20th century as an example of deep "Taoisation" (道教化 Dàojiàohuà). Yao core theology and cosmology is Taoist; they worship the deities of canonical Taoism (above all the Three Pure Ones) as the principal deities, while lesser gods are those who pertain to their own indigenous pre-Taoisation religion.The reason of this tight identification of Yao religion and identity with Taoism is that in Yao society every male adult is initiated as a Taoist, and Yao Taoism is therefore a communal religion; this is in sharp contrast to Chinese Taoism, which is an order of priests disembedded from the common Chinese folk religion. A shared sense of Yao identity is based additionally on tracing their descent from the mythical ancestor Panhu.

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