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").[1] The religion is also called Hmongism by a Hmong American church established in 2012 to organise it among Hmong people in the United States.[2]

It has a pantheist theology,[3] centered on worship of deities and progenitors of the Miao peoples. Throughout its history it has incorporated theoretical and ritual elements from Taoism,[4] 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.[4]

Most Hmong continue to practice the traditional religion, although many Hmong in Asia have converted to Buddhism or have mixed it with Buddhism,[4] and many Hmong Americans and Hmong Australians have adopted Christianity or Buddhism.[5]

Hmongism, yeeb and yaj
Yeeb and yaj symbol used by a Hmong American folk religious institution.


Deities and world

The highest god of Hmong traditional religion is called Saub or Yawm Saub,[6] who endows the shamans with their abilities. The Saub god may be called in times of need and he can manifest in points of crisis throughout the course of history.[6] The first shaman was Siv Yis:[7] Hmong shamans refer to themselves as "Siv Yis" when they are in ecstasy. The gods of cosmic nature are simply called dab, while dab neeb or qhua neeb are shamanic spirits that float through the worlds and work with the shamans operating within a specific sphere which is their domain.[8] The shamanic spirits include wild spirits of untamed nature and the tamed and friendly spirits of the house.[9] Ancestral spirits (Xwm Kab) who reside in the world of the dead form another category,[8] though also involved in shamanic practice.[9]

The frog god Nplooj Lwg is considered the creator of humans. Ntxwj Nyug and Nyuj Vaj Tuam Teem are the lords of the otherworld, determining life, death and reincarnation or rest in heaven. While Ntxwj Nyug is an indigenous deity, Nyuj Vaj Tuam Teem is thought to derive from the Jade Lord of Taoism.[6] Every house has an altar for the Dab Xwm Kab (god of good fortune).[1][5] Dab Pog is the goddess of babies.[5] Zaj Laug is the "Old Dragon" or "Dragon King".[9] Poj Ntxoog is a fearful female spirit associated with the tiger.[10] Yaj Yuam is an ancestral hero, the "Heavenly Archer", corresponding to the Chinese Houyi.[9] Other gods are of nature, such as Xob, the god of thunder and lightning, and Nkauj Hnub and Nraug Hlis, "Lady Sun" and "Lord Moon".[9] Chiyou (or Txiv Yawg) is worshipped as an ancestral god of the Hmong nation.[11]

The Hmong house is a reflection of the cosmos. It is constructed around a central post (ncej tas) representing the world tree, axis of the spirits, which god is Dab Ncej Tas.[5][12] The roofs represent the heaven (the spiritual world) and the floor symbolises nature (the world of men). The axis of the building represents the male head of the household and his ancestral spirit, the ancestral unity.[12] Man is in the between of heaven and earth. The Hmong believe in various household spirits called dab nyeg, meaning "tamed spirits", such as Dab Qhovcub (the god of the main hearth), Dab Qhovtxos (the god of the ritual hearth), Dab Nthab (the god of the loft), Dab Roog (the god of the framework of the front door).[12] The Dab Txhiaj Meej is the god of wealth and richness.[12] Spirits of nature are called dab qus, "wild spirits".

Yeeb and Yaj

"Yeeb and Yaj"[8] is the Hmong equivalent of the yin and yang found in Chinese traditional religion and Taoism. Differently from the context of Chinese thought, the Hmong "yeeb and yaj" is not represented by symbols such as the taijitu. The concept represents the world of the living and the world of the gods: yeeb ceeb is the spiritual world, while yaj ceeb is the world of material nature.[3][8] The Hmong also practice looj mem, the Chinese feng shui.[5]

Structure and practices

The shaman

Shaman practice is called ua neeb (ua: "to heal through the, neeb: the spirit world", the dab neeb being specifically shamanic gods),[1] while the shaman is called txiv neeb, meaning "father of the neeb".

The position of a shaman is not inherited as shamans are chosen by the neeb class of gods, manifesting through trails experienced by those chosen. Chosen people are guided by elder shamans until they are able to perform the healing rituals themselves. A shaman has control on his spirits helpers.

In the spirit journey, the shaman calls on his helpers who are spirits to guide or assist him in the spirit world. He moves and sing on a spiritual horse (nees) represented in the living world by a shaman's bench (rooj neeb).[8] He also calls on the forces of the cosmos to help him, such as the highest god Saub, the First Couple, Pog Ntxoog, Lady Sun and Lord Moon, the seven stars of the Pleiades, and many animal spirits.[13] Divination horns (kwam) is one form or means of communication with the gods, and they are used in many rituals.[8]

The shamans perform two sessions of healing rituals: the diagnostic rituals (ua neeb saib) and subsequently the healing rituals (ua neeb kho), only if the patient shows no signs of recovery after the first ritual.[14]

House altar

The Hmong household altar is dedicated primarily to the Dab Xwm Kab (god of good fortune).[1] It is placed on the wall of the main room of the house.[1] On the altar people make offerings of rice, chicken, soup and rice served in bamboo, with incense and joss paper.[1] Txi dab is the general term for the sacrifice to the gods,[15] while laib dab is the ritual of sacrifice to the ancestors.[1] On the last day of the Old Year rice is offered to the ancestors, with a sacrificed chicken, and a soul-calling (hu plig) ritual is held.[1]

The shaman's altar is a special hanging or standing altar, with two or three tiers depending on the status of the shaman.[16] It is believed to represent Siv Yis' grotto near the top of the holy mountain, above a pool near of which grows the flower of immortality.[16] This pool is represented by a bowl of water placed upon the altar.[16] From the altar depart several cotton threads resulting attached to the central housepost, and it is along these threads that the neeb travel when they visit the altar.[16]

A third type of Hmong altar is devoted to a special category of gods known as the dab tshuaj, or gods of medicine, which are generally worshipped by women, since in Hmong culture they specialise in the knowledge of herbalism.[16]

Joss papers are a central element of Hmong altars. There are both joss paper used as offerings and decorative joss papers. The second ones are used as symbols connecting with the gods, and they are usually composed of large white sheets, with smaller yellow or silver sheets, and sometimes little red squares.

Rituals and psychology

Miao religious rituals involving the worship of gods and ancestors are performed by the patriarch of each family or the spiritual leader of a clan or a cluster of male relatives.[5] More difficult ceremonies such as soul-calling (hu plig) are performed by ritual experts the shaman (txiv neeb) for spiritual healing, and various experts in funeral rites like the reed pipe player (txiv qeej), the soul chanter (nkauj plig) and the blessing singers (txiv xaiv).[5] The soul is believed to reincarnate.[5] The body (cev) is a microcosm believed to be constructed by a number of souls (plig or ntsuj) that mirror the macrocosm.[14]

Hmong religion includes specific rituals for the milestones of the life cycle: there are rituals for birth and baby naming, marriage, rename after marriage, trauma and sickness, extending the mandate of life for sick elderly, death and funeral.[5] There are also festivals with corresponding ceremonies: the New Year (Lwm Qaib or Ntoo Xeeb, or also Noj Peb Caug) in mid-November, Nyuj Dab (Ox Festival), Dab Roog (Door Festival) and Npua Tai (Pig Festival).[5]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 36
  2. ^ Bylaws of the Temple of Hmongism. Hmongism.org: published March 3, 2013
  3. ^ a b Tapp, 1989. p. 59
  4. ^ a b c Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 38
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lee, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 31
  7. ^ Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 29
  8. ^ a b c d e f Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 26
  9. ^ a b c d e Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 30
  10. ^ Tapp, 1989. p. 64
  11. ^ Chinese Odyssey: Summer Program Offers Students Rare Opportunity to Learn Hmong History in China. Hmongism.org, 2013
  12. ^ a b c d Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 37
  13. ^ Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 25
  14. ^ a b Lee, Tapp, 2010. p. 27
  15. ^ Tapp, 1989. p. 70
  16. ^ a b c d e Tapp, 1989. p. 63


  • Nusit Chindarsi. 1976. The Religion of the Hmong Njua. Bangkok: Siam Society.
  • Her, Vincent K. 2005. Hmong Cosmology: Proposed Model, Preliminary Insights, Hmong Studies Journal, Vol 6, 2005.
  • Symonds, Patricia V. 2004. Calling in the Soul: Gender and the Cycle of Life in a Hmong Village. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Gary Y. Lee, Ph.D., D. Lett. Hmong Religious Practice in Australia. In: From Laos to Fairfield: With Faiths and Cultures, Lao Community Advancement Cooperative, Cabramatta, 2010.
  • Gary Y. Lee, Nicholas Tapp. Culture and Customs of the Hmong. Greenwood, 2010. ISBN 0313345260
  • Nicholas Tapp, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Hmong Religion in Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 48, 1989: 59-94.
  • Hao Huang, Bussakorn Sumrongthong. The Hmong "Ntoo Xeeb" New Year Ceremony in Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 63, 2004: 31–55.

External links


Baojuan (宝卷 bǎojuǎn), literally precious scrolls, are a genre of prosimetric texts (texts written in an alternation of prose and verse) of a religious or mystical nature, produced within the context of Chinese folk religion and individual Chinese folk religious sects. They are often written in vernacular Chinese and recount the mythology surrounding a deity or a hero, or constitute the theological and philosophical scriptures of organised folk sects.

Chinese spirit possession

Chinese spirit possession is a practice performed by specialists called jitong (a type of shamans) in Chinese folk religion, involving the channelling of Chinese deities who take control of the specialist's body, resulting in noticeable changes in body functions and behaviour. The most famous Chinese spirit possession practitioners took part in the Boxer Rebellion in the 1900s, when boxers claimed to be invulnerable to the cut of a sharp knife, gunshots, and even cannon fire.

De teaching

The De teaching (Chinese: 德教 Dejiao, "teaching of virtue", the concept of De), whose corporate name is the Church of Virtue (德教会 Déjiàohuì), is a sect rooted in Taoism, that was founded in 1945 in Chaozhou, Guangdong. It is popular both in China and amongst expatriate Chinese populations.


Fenxiang (分香), literally the incense division, is a term that defines both hierarchical networks of temples dedicated to a god in Chinese folk religion, and the ritual process by which these networks form.


Huangjidao (皇极道 "Way of the Imperial Pole" or "Imperial Ultimate") or Huangjiism (皇极教 Huáng jí jiào) is a Chinese folk religious sect that as of the 1980s was a proscribed religion in China as testified by the arrest of various leaders and members in those years.


Huazhaidao (华斋道 "Way of Flowers and Fasting") is a Chinese folk religious sect of Henan that as of the 1980s was a proscribed religion in China as testified by the arrest of various Communist Party members who joined the sect in those years.


Jiugongdao (九宫道 "Way of the Nine Palaces") is a Chinese folk religious sect centered in the Wutai County of the province of Shanxi. The name of the sect is based on the jiugong diagram of esoteric cosmology.

Flourishing in the Qing dynasty, but rooted in earlier times, the Jiugongdao developed greatly on Mount Wutai thanks to the efforts of Li Xiangshan, also known as Puji, his name as a Buddhist monk who was close to the Manchu court. With his contribution, Jiugongdao took over more than twenty run down former Buddhist monasteries on Mount Wutai and rebuilt them thanks to the donations of its strong following, especially concentrated in northeast China. The monasteries were reformed into Chinese temples dedicated to indigenous deities and the cosmological Lords of the Five Peaks. The sect also gathered a following among Khorchin Mongols.The Jiugongdao declined on Mount Wutai in the 1940s, as a Han Chinese-acquired tradition of Tibetan Buddhism took power. With the campaigns against religion in the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution, Jiugongdao and other folk religious sects focused on Mount Wutai, Huanxiangdao and Houtiandao, were persecuted and went underground. They have revived since the 1980s.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

Maitreya teachings

The Maitreya teachings or Maitreyanism (Chinese: 弥勒教; pinyin: Mílèjiào; literally: 'Maitreya teachings'), also called Mile teachings, refers to the beliefs related to Maitreya (彌勒 Mílè in Chinese) that penetrated China together with Buddhism and Manichaeism, and were developed in different ways both in the Chinese Buddhist schools and in the sect salvationist traditions of the Chinese folk religion.

Maitreya was the central deity worshipped by the first folk salvation religions, but in later developments of the sects he was gradually replaced by the Limitless Ancient Mother (無生老母 Wúshēng Lǎomǔ), although Maitreyan eschatology continued to have a place in their doctrines.

Folk Buddhist movements that worshipped and awaited Maitreya are recorded at least back to the years between 509 and 515 (6th century). A notorious event was the rebellion led by monk Faqing from Jizhou City, then Northern Wei, in the name of a "new Buddha". Later, Maitreyan beliefs developed conspicuously outside the boundaries of Buddhism. By 715, as testified by an edict, wearing white clothes, that was originally a practice common to lay Buddhist congregations, had become a distinctive feature of Maitreyan sects.


Miaohui (庙会), literally temple gatherings or translated as temple fairs, also called yíngshén sàihuì (迎神赛会 "collective rituals to greet the gods"), are Chinese religious gatherings held by folk temples for the worship of the Chinese gods and immortals. Large-scale miaohui are usually held around the time of the Chinese New Year, or in specific temples at the birthday of the god enshrined in the temple itself. Activities usually include rituals celebrated in the temple, opera on a stage facing the temple, processions of the gods' images on carts throughout villages and cities, performance of musical and ritual troupes (of Taoists, sects and Confucian ritualists), blessing of offerings brought to the temple by families, and various economic activities.Geography and local customs lead to great differences in the nature of festivals dedicated to the gods. In northern China miaohui are usually week-long, with ceremonies held in large temples, and attended by tens of thousands of people; while in southern China they are a much more local practice, organised by village temples or clusters of temples of different villages.

Ming yun

Ming yun (Chinese: 命運; pinyin: mìng yùn) is a concept of the personal life and destiny in the Chinese folk religion. Ming is "life" or "right", the given status of life, and yùn defines "circumstance" and "individual choice"; mìng is given and influenced by the transcendent force Tiān (天), that is the same as the "divine right" (tiān mìng) of ancient rulers as identified by Mencius. Personal destiny (mìng yùn) is thus perceived as both fixed (the status of life) and flexible, open-ended (the individual choice in matters of bào yìng).

Taigu school

The Taigu school (太谷学派 Tàigǔ xuépài), also Great Perfection (大成教 Dàchéng jiào) or Yellow Cliff teaching (黄崖教 Huángyá jiào), is a mystical folk religious sect of Confucianism spread especially in Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong. It was founded by Zhou Xingyuan, a man with shamanic skills entitled Taigu (太谷 "Great Valley") by followers.The purpose of the school is to help those who practice it to develop a clear and enlightened state of mind, in which man apprehends his true nature and recovers original simplicity.


Tianguangdao (天光道 "Way of the Heavenly Light") is a Chinese folk religious sect that as of the 1980s was a proscribed religion in China. Particularly active in Heilongjiang and Anhui, there are records of detentions of leaders and members easpecially from the former province.

Tianxian miaodao

The Tianxian miaodao (天仙庙道 "Way of the Temple of the Heavenly Immortals"), incorporated as the Church of the Way of the Temple of the Heavenly Immortals (天仙庙道会 Tiānxiān miàodào huì) is a Chinese salvationist religious sect centered in Henan. It was founded in the mid-19th century and flourished in the early republic and was known for its rebellious aptitude towards the state. Despite systematic efforts of the later communist republic to suppress it in the 1950s and 1960s, it has persisted to the present day.

Wu (awareness)

Wu (Chinese: 悟) is a concept of awareness, consciousness, or spiritual enlightenment in the Chinese folk religion. According to scholarly studies, many practitioners recently "reverted" to the Chinese traditional religion speak of a "new awareness" (kāi wù 開悟 or jué wù 覺悟) of the interconnectedness of reality in terms of the cosmic-moral harmony—mìng yùn, bào yìng, yuán fèn. This spiritual awareness works as an engine that moves these themes from being mere ideas to be motivating forces in one's life: awareness of mìng yùn ignites responsibility towards life; awareness of yuan fen stirs to respond to events rather than resigning. Awareness is a dynamic factor and appears in two guises: a realisation that arrives as a gift, often unbidden; then it evolves into a practice that the person intentionally follows.In Latin alphabetical transliteration of the Chinese, it's a homograph of the wu-shaman.


The xiezhi (Chinese: 獬豸) or haetae (Korean: 해태, often spelled haitai or haechi) is a legendary creature in Chinese and Korean mythology.

Xuanyuan teaching

Xuanyuandao (軒轅道 "Way of Xuanyuan"), also known as Xuanyuanism (軒轅教) or Huangdiism (黄帝教), is a Confucian folk religion of China which was founded in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1952. The founder was Wang Hansheng (王寒生) (1899–1989), a legislator. The Church of Xuanyuan aims to restore the "national religion" of archaic (pre-Han dynasty) China, with Huangdi as the universal God.

Yellow Dragon

The Yellow Dragon (traditional Chinese: 黃龍; simplified Chinese: 黄龙; pinyin: Huánglóng; Cantonese Yale: Wong4 Lung4 Japanese: Kōryū or Ōryū Korean: Hwang-Ryong Vietnamese: Hoàng Long) is the zoomorphic incarnation of the Yellow Emperor of the centre of the universe in Chinese religion and mythology.The Yellow Emperor or Yellow Deity was conceived by a virgin mother, Fubao, who became pregnant after seeing a yellow ray of light turning around the Northern Dipper (in Chinese theology the principal symbol of God). Twenty four months later the Yellow Emperor was born and was associated to the colour yellow because it is the colour of the Earth (Dì 地), the material substance, in which he incarnated.


Zhongyongdao (中庸道 "Way of the Golden Mean") is a Chinese folk religious sect that as of the 1980s was a proscribed religion in China as testified by the arrest of one of its leaders, Tang Tianxu, in Sichuan in 1981.

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