Popular Religion and Shamanism, Part II : "Shamanism"


11. (pp. 423-84) Song Zhaolin : "Daba Beliefs and Written Script".






The Mosuo



Biz^a & Daba



World of Ghosts & Spirits



Patterns of Belief



0 (p. 423) the Mosuo

"the Mosuo ... people ... reside in the Lake Lugu ... area on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces".

"the Mosuo had a written language."


1. (pp. 425-428) "Biz^and Daba".

1. (pp. 425-6) biz^a & daba




"The Mosuo have two kinds of sorcerers : bizha ... and daba.

The literal meaning of bizha is "commanded by ghosts and spirits." They are mainly in charge of conducting funerals, exorcizing ghosts ..., and so on. Their special ability involves spirit-possession. ... However, they do have their own spiritual hierarchy, including the sky spirits, earth spirits, water spirits, fire spirits, wind spirits, female spirits ... . When the bizha offers ... to the ancestors, they will first chant "our ancestral mother, Hongzejijimi ...," followed by the ancestors of other clans".


"The founder of the Daba beliefs was Muluabadu ..., which is abbreviated as Du Spirit ... . ... Da is from the Mosuo language, originally meaning


"chopping wood" or "carving inscriptions on metal and stone."

{This may be why the very litterary-minded C^>an/So,n/Zen authors laud "chopping wood".}


Ba means "marks left after chopping" ... . There are two interpretations of the term daba – one is that it means using a knife or ax to eradicate the catastrophes of the world, which is the goal of being a daba. The other interpretation is that daba refers to ... the use of knives or axes to carve symbols on trees or stones. Even now, when Mosuo people build a house, they still carve certain symbols on the wooden logs."

1. (p. 426) the 3 categories of daba

"ha daba ... – equivalent to a ritual priest.

They can conduct sacrifices to Heaven and Earth."

"bu daba ... – mainly in charge of curing ilnesses ... .

They ... can chant sacred texts."

"pai daba ... – mainly in charge of divination.

They have books for divination and are considered fortune-tellers."

1. (p. 426) ritual vestments of a daba

"The headdress they wear is called zha-ema ..., which is sewn with five pieces of cloth. There is a figure on each piece of cloth." These are, enumerating from the left :-



who is __



"a spirit that lives in heaven."



"a spirit in charge of ghosts in heaven."



"the founder of the Daba religion."



"a daba."



"a lion that lives in the mountains and serves as an assistant for the daba."

"On each side of a daba’s ritual headdress there is a small piece of cloth. When the daba is performing a shamanic trance-dance, they are considered his ears."

1. (pp. 427-8) ritual implements of a daba


ritual implement


"Sun and moon Flag -- ... The flag is triangular with images of sun and moon on it."


"Statues of the Spirits -- ... The founder of the Daba religion, for instance, is a rectangular effigy carved out of wood with a sharp point at the top."


"Plates ... – The plates are square and carved out of wood ... for heaping grain. An effigy of a spirit is set in the center."


"Engraved Wooden Printing Boards -- ... used for printing cloth or paper images of spirits ... . The prints are generally hung on the door lintels."


Drums – A small round drum played by hand is called the dagula ... . ... it is made of wood, and covered with a goat skin on each head. ...

A big drum called dakala ... is also used. Oblate in shape, it also has two heads. The drumstick is called dakaladie".


"Hand Bell – The bronze hand bell, or "ringing bell," is oblong in shape and pierced with a hole. There is a small handle on one end made of yak horn. Mosuo people call it akuala".


"Spirit Stick – Called yizhuma ..., the stick is rectangular in cross-section, with carvings of images ... on the sides. There is a hole on the upper end, through which a cord can be threaded for carrying it."


"Long Sword – The one-edged sword is about a meter long. ... It is a necessary item when a daba is trance-dancing".


"Protective Talisman – This item is sewn with cloth ..., with images of spirits and supernatural beings placed inside. A daba carries it in a bag on his shoulder as a ritual instrument for self-protection."


"A String 0f Boar-Tusk Beads – A string of beads is a must on a daba’s neck. ... The lower part is strung with a pair of boar’s tusks".


"Helmet and Armor -- ... The helmet is made from iron, and chicken feathers can be inserted on the top.

The armor is made from leather and is very long."

p. 428 Helmet and armor are usually used for conducting a funeral.


2. (pp. 428-433) "The World of Ghosts and Spirits".

2.0 (p. 428) enumerations of deities

"There are proverbs saying that

"there are eight hundred spirits and three thousand ghosts" and

"there are thirty-three spirits in the sky and

{This is the usual enumeration in the Veda.}

twenty-eight ghosts on earth.""

{The goddesses in the brain are reckoned as 28 in the Bar-do bTags-grol (transl by Kazi Dawa-Samdup, p. 146).}

2.1 (p. 429) sky-spirits

"ceremonies for dispelling wind and hail".

2.1 (p. 429) colors of the directional elements


its element

its color



white {more like the color of platinum}













{N.B. The elements are assigned to directions all the opposite of the usual Chinese assignment. Cf. the directionally opposite assignments colors between the Astika and Bodish schemes, due to the Astika deities facing outward from the centre while Bodish deities face inward from the periphery.}

2.2 (p. 429) mountain-spirits

" "Worship the mountain spirit when you go hunting ... ."

According to legend there was a big mountain in the place where the sun rises, which was called Mt. Xiongji ... . There were many fairies living there. If a girl visited Mt. Xiongji, she would become as pretty and attractive as a fairy."

2.3 (pp. 429-30) water-spirits

p. 429

"The Mosuo people call the water spirits jiekuagela ... According to a legend ...,

p. 430

human beings and the Dragon Kings originally belonged to the same family and shared everything ... . Later, however, they separated from each other. From then on, livestock belonged to human beings, while the Dragon Kings owned the birds and animals."


"The spirits of water wells are called jigegua".

2.4 (pp. 430-1) animals & plants

p. 430

Yiyige-er ..., the Bird Spirit ... lived in the forest and was protector of hunters. Later, ... Yiyige-er became the protector of shepherds. Much later, ...


Yiyige-er again became the main spirit in charge of rain and thunder".

{cf. Amerindian & African Thundre-birds}


"a type of shrub known as "horse mulberry" (... Coriaria sinica) ... contains many evil spirits. These spirits frequently come to the village and make people sick. Thus, the Mosuo people are sure to worship the horse mulberry when they are sick.

There is also a type of smelly and poisonous tree

p. 431

known locally as ci xiangshu ..., which is said to be haunted by spirits who make people sick. The local daba have a sacred text called Wabu ..., which is used to worship the tree.

Another tree, the pu-erguoduo ..., is known as the "tree of fertility," and is worshiped by those who want to have children."

2.5 (p. 431) ancestors {ancestresses}

"Mt Ganmu is a symbol of the female spirits ... . [2.7 (p. 432) "Mt. Ganmu as a vagina."]

The matrilinear ancestors are worshiped in two places in the home – one is on a wooden table between a big bed and a small bed. A small altar table is put in front, upon which the bowls and chopsticks that the ancestors liked when they were alive are placed."

2.6 (p. 431) housing as abodes of spirits

"the door has a door spirit,

{cf. Roman door-deity Janus}

and large doors are guarded by four spirits.

{At Faleria in Etruria there was worshipped as Quadrifrons "a statue of Janus with four faces." (P, s.v. "Janus")}

The spirit above the door is Jixiha-er ..., which is a mythical bird or "roc."

{Apokalupsis of Ioannes 4:7 :-

"the fourth beast was like a flying eagle."

The spirit on the left side is a yak, while

"the second beast like a calf"

the one on the right is a tiger.

"the third beast ..."

The spirit below the door is a lion."

"the first beast was like a lion"}

P = Pantologia. London, 1819. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=sTsKAQAAMAAJ&pg=PT203&lpg=PT203&dq=Faleria+"Janus+quadrifrons"&source=bl&ots=UDHEZZgbyu&sig=WgkEM_ACqQl7g8tcYaw0IBqzLUs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UFsVT6m-OeLq0gGkvd2LAw&s

2.7 (p. 432) beliefs regarding genitalia

"The mountain creeks and rock caves are viewed as female sexual organs and worshiped as such. ... In the Lazi Cave ... of Wujiao Township in Muli County, ... Xifan ... people (a subgroup of Tibetans) and Mosuo people view ... the vagina of the Goddess and worship it frequently. The worship ceremony follows ...

pine torches ...

{cf. the pine-torch thursos of the Mainades}

required ... young lovers and couples have sex in the forest

{a custom of Bakkhanalia}

and spend the night together praying for a baby."

"Male sexual organs are also worshiped. ... In a mountain cave in Eryaduokawa Village ... in Muli County, ... ceremony includes ... engaging in physical contact, having sex, etc."

2.8 (p. 432) ghosts

"those who die normally ... are categorized as ancestors and viewed as good ghosts.

The others are called wild ghosts, who did not die in a normal way."


3. (pp. 433-441) "Patterns of Belief".

3.1 (pp. 433-5) divination



divination with __



"divination is used to determine the location of ghosts."



clothes : "Mosuo people ... chant the name of the ghost while measuring the length of the garment. They measure it over and over while they chant the names of various ghosts."



split sticks : "the ritualists pick seventeen 12-centimeter-long sticks of wood, then split them in half to make seventeen pairs. The uncut sides symbolize inauspicious omens while the cut sides symbolize lucky omens."



pebbles : "If a family member becomes ill ..., a daba has to be invited to divine with pebbles. ... The area where the most fell indicates the direction of the ghost that was offended."



bones : "a lump of moxa (wormwood) is placed on a bone, and the daba recites the scriptures and lights a fire to heat it. Then, looking at the cracks that appear, he ... makes a divination. Four directions are represented on a bone :

the upper part corresponds to the heavens ... . ...

The left section refers to oneself ... . ... .

... if the cracks in the direction of the heavens and one’s own place are longer, it is considered to be a good omen."



chicken : "People ... believe the Yi to have the best technique for chicken divination, with the Mosuo next in skillfulness. Mosuo call chicken divination awola-er ... . ... .



... the rooster’s tongue bone ... is found where three head bones intersect, with the middle bone being shorter than the other two. This center bone symbolizes the kitchen god, Zhanbala".



chicken-egg : "the position of the yolk with relation to the white. If the border between the two is clearly defined, it is good luck. ... From this, the state of a sic person’s condition can be divined."

3.2 (p. 436) offerings to deities : annual festivals

"on the twenty-fifth day of the seventh lunar month ... Those who are ... infertile must walk ahead, as well as some azhu. [fn. 7 : "Among the matriarchal Mosuo, where "walking marriage" is still practiced, a person’s current lover is called an "azhu" or male lovers or "axia"for female lovers."] On the way ..., "When they come to a river they build a bridge, when they come to a road, they fix the road." People believe that fixing a bridge is a good deed, and that, by accumulating good deeds in secret, one will receive some good thing in return and ... that doing numerous good deeds will bring good luck."

3.3.1 (p. 437) fertility magic

"In order to seek fertility, ... offer sacrifices to Ganshui Mountain ... and walk aroung Lake Lugu. ... in the Zuosuo area ... During this occasion, both male and female azhu walk together ... . ... .

... on the right bank of the Qiansuo River ... two caves constitute Daerwo. Those people who walk to this place, ... childless adults, all do so to ask for children. When they arrive there, they first burn some pine needles as an offering for the female deity, Badinglamu ... .

They, they ... throw small stones into the caves. First, they aim for the larger grotto, and then for the smaller grotto. If they ... throw stones in the caves, it’s seen as ... assuring that they will be able to give birth to children."

{Is the throwing indicative of semen’s being ejaculated, or else is entry by stones into the caves meant to indicate entry of a soul into the woman’s womb for redincarnation? In the Qabbalah, redincarnation is described as a soul’s being hurled (as if by a slingshot) into a body.}

3.3.2 (pp. 437-8) magic for protecting infants

p. 437

"When women are more that eight months pregnant ..., they invite a daba to pick three leaves from a fruit-bearing tree [or else from a nut-bearing tree], and use them for divination. Using hemp stalks, the daba weaves a basket ... . He then hangs the basket on the tree from which he got the

p. 438

leaves. People believe that this tree is the guardian of the child. With its protection, the child can have an easy delivery, as easy as fruits are formed."


"during the latter part of a woman’s pregnancy. The woman holds a sickle in her left hand and a gourd water ladle in her right hand. In the ladle, she puts a human figure made from glutinous rice, which symbolizes the ghost. The woman ... then places it on a board of yellow wood and takes it outside the village, where she leaves it for an eagle to eat. ... . ... the baby’s gender can be foretold from the direction in which the eagle flies away."

3.3.3 (p. 438) magic for exorcising ghosts and thereby cure sicknesses

Throwing stones :"When a person falls ill, a daba is asked to ... conduct a sort of magic called chu-erpa .. . ... . ... with the ill person at the center, he throws the stones in the four directions in an attempt to exorcise the [sickness-]ghosts, yelling, "Get out! Get out!""

Torch magic : "Two people are involved. The one in front raise the torch and walks forward ... . The other follows behind, carrying a saw in hand and sprinkling water on the torch. These actions are said to repel negative forces from the ill person. In the evening, the daba ... takes a certain number of live coals from the fire pit and places them on a yellow wooden board. Then, he places it on the path. This is believed to prevent [sickness-]ghosts from coming to make surprise attacks."

3.3.4 (pp. 438-9) magical curses

p. 438

"rice and dough are often used to form one or more people ... . Then, these are taken out into the wilds and chopped to pieces ... . ...

p. 439

This sort of "psychological warfare" was carried out to curse".

3.3.5 (p. 439) magical oaths

"When two families or two feuding parties make peace, they drill an ox hide ... put on a wooden frame so as to resemble the shape of the original ox. When both parties have become reconciled,

they bore a hole into the ox from beneath".

{Likewise, in the Taurobolion rite, the devotee stood beneath the bull.}

3.4 (p. 440) protecting a house : warding off malevolent spirits

"A kada ... is a type of three-pronged fork that is stuck into the ridgepole of the principal room in a building. The fork’s prongs face up, and it is said that they can prick the ghosts, protecting the house and keeping it safe. ...

Sheep horns, which the Mosuo call chikua ..., are nailed on the lintel with the points facing outwards. It is said that a sheep horn ... can stop ghosts from attempting to enter. ...

A bow and arrow, which the Mosuo call ren-en ..., are placed horizontally on the lintel, with the bow strung and holding an arrow in order to scare the ghosts.

A saw, which the Mosuo call sede ..., is placed on the lintel with its teeth facing outwards. ...

Either one or several hornet’s nests, which the Mosuo refer to as nawuku ..., are strung together on a rope and hung on the lintel. It is said that if hornets are [thought by ghosts to be] living above the door, all types of ghosts will be terrified at the sight."


RELIGIOUS STUDIES IN CONTEMPORARY CHINA COLLECTION, Vol. 1 = Ma Xisha & Meng Huiying (edd.) : Popular Religion and Shamanism. Brill, Leiden, 2011.