SHAMAN, Vol. 4 (1996)





Flower-Soul in Nun

Josiane Cauquelin


Hmon Shaman’s Powers

Jacques Lemoine



pp. 27-44 Josiane Cauquelin : "The Flower-Soul in Nung Shamanism". [Guang-xi Province, China (Nun are a tribe of Z^uan -- Z^uan is the Chinese term for ‘Thai’)]

pp. 30-1 se’ance conducted by a shamaness

p. 30

"sprinkled it with water perfumed with grapefruit leaves.

[fn. 5 : "pomelo leaf water – the standard purifying agent for the Cantonese"] ...


For twenty minutes, [the shamaness] caressed her face with a handkerchief while she informed the spirits that a ritual was going to take place.


Then she ... tied her headband ..., and allowed the veil of silk sewn to the headband to fall over her face.

[fn. 6 : "Farther to the south, in the Philippines, the Palawan officiant veils herself during the Sinsin ritual, cf. MacDonald 1990."]


Having taken up ... the jingles attached to four wreaths of rings in her left, she began ... . Alone, she rode toward the celestial vault, striking the jingles against a metal plate ... . ...

[fn. 7 : "In Taiwan the Puyuma shamans ring a small bell to enter the world of the spirits."]


The shaman[ess] signaled the encounter with the spirits by tapping first her right shoulder, then her left shoulder with her closed fan. ... The host of spirits now assembled rode together ... . ... As each was wont to do, the important spirits perched themselves on the shaman[ess]’s shoulders. and the ancestors took their place on her left, the

p. 31

master of the soil on her right thigh. ...

The first spirit ... announced his departure with a neigh ... .

The cavalcade began anew : this time the master of the soil ... signaled his departure with a neigh. ... .

... then the paq arrived and was greeted noisily by the women in the crowd. [The shamaness] ... lifted her veil ... . When she waved slightly her fan to transmit the benefits of the spirits, the guests put money on it. ...

Three old women surrounded [the shamaness], two of them crouched in front of her and one seated on a stool behind her. Suddenly she fell backward, ... her limbs rigid and her body stretched. After two long minutes, ... she awakened."

p. 32 fates, light-weight & heavy-weight

"A "light fate" is the mark of the spirits. ... People ... show respect toward such a person.

By contrast, people whose fate is "heavy" have no contact with spirits, who fear them."

pp. 32-4 elector-spirit & divine election

p. 32

"One can become a shaman, mei mot, only if one has an electing spirit, the paq, who becomes the principal spirit ally during the rituals. This paq appears as a horse which the officiant rides during the ritual, in order to go [to] the "flower garden", cun hua, where the paq lives with other spirits. The soul of the officiant crosses a bridge to enter this "flower garden" ... . Up there, the houses are majestic, the gardens full of flowers and large trees, and rivers wind through the landscape ... . Each paq has a personal name ... . He never dies, but is liberated when the shaman dies and goes to choose another shaman ... . He may do this either immediately after the shaman’s death, or he may wait several years.


The Nung call this unending chain of the spirit ally mot te:t, "transmigration of the mot, the capacity to enter into contact with the spirits".

[fn. 10 : "Te:t means, literally, the spasms which shake the body before death."]


... When the paq selects a young girl, he gives her all the elements she needs to identify him from the beginning ... . Daily life is full of details which make it easy to identify the deceased shaman[ess].


The "flower garden" where the paq and the other spirits live owes its name to a homology between children’s souls and flower. The soul of every child has its counterpart in a flower in the garden, and

[fn. 11 : "Potter (1974:213) states : "The spirit medium passes through the portals leading to the four Heavenly Flower Gardens, where every living person is represented by a potted flowering plant." Every child has his double in a small flower ..., and at the age of twelve, the flower ... is transplanted".]

pp. 32-3

at adolescence this double becomes a star.

[p. 33, fn. 12 : "This is how the Nung describe the distinction between the soul of a child and that of an adult."]

p. 33

On the spirit altar in the family home an offering bowl is dedicated to the spirit of Grandmother Flower, who watches over children. She does not take care of adults, whose souls are in the charge of other spirits.

The biological soul lives in the heart and is reflected as in a mirror in its double, a star in the heavens. In dreams, illness, or nightmares, the soul flies out of the head, the "mirror effect" is disturbed, and the double becomes dull. That is how the shaman discovers the illness. The temporary absence of the soul from the heart ...; the shaman must recover it and bring it back to the body of the patient. At death, the soul-star "falls".

The bodily soul likes to travel. ... during a ritual, a young girl sends her soul wandering off in the world of the invisible, which she describes upon return. The diagnosis is obvious : this is the sign of the presence of an elector spirit. She then enters the process of specialization. The heavenly horsemen embroidered on the ritual belt symbolize ... the possibility for the souls of other participants in the ritual to accompany her. Pottier (1973:105) mentions a mo then of Thai Khao origin who lives in Vientiane and who sent the souls of spectators into the beyond during rituals. ...


The Nung describe two forms of election, passive and active. ...

"Passive" election reveals itself in the form of ...

climbing cliffs, trees, or rooftops,

the loss of a sense of cold and hot ... .

The first symptoms are followed by others ... :

recitation of ritual words,

spontaneous divination, or ...

the sick person’s soul travelling

p. 34

to the world of spirits during a ritual. ...

The family ... will provide the shaman with the sick person’s ... piece of her clothing, allowing for a definite diagnosis. The officiant performs the sa:iksi ritual, in which she uses the ... personal belongings to confirm the presence of a paq ... .


"Active" election ... refers to the case of ... one who meets a shaman during rituals performed for her. A while after she has been healed,


the child begins a soliloquy, recounting some very precise episodes from "her life", that is : "the life of [a] child in the region, who died at a young age", and of whom she is unlikely to know anything ... . Witnesses identify the child and are convinced that it chose to be reincarnated in the young girl ... .

[fn. 13 : "Potter (1974:226) informs us ; "Deceased children, who mediate between their mother and the supernatural world, are essential to a career at a spirit-medium". According to the author’s terminology, "mediums" are elected by their dead children."]

pp. 35-7 enclosure, followed by apprenticeship

p. 35

"The young girl elected by a paq cannot escape from her destiny as a shaman[ess]. ... Should the parent wish to refuse their child’s vocation temporarily, they will ask a renowned shaman[ess] to "enclose the ‘eight characters’." The officiant "writes" down the girl’s "eight characters" on a sheet of red paper and shuts them in a jar which she seals with a talisman. Then she invites the paq to immerse itself in a bowl of water. The shaman[ess] takes the liquid into her mouth and sprays it over the talisman. The paq loses his sense of direction. ... Next, the shaman[ess] ... sews talismans or amulets into the child’s clothes."

p. 36

"After three to five years, ... the paq becomes impatient, and the time comes to perform the ritual to "liberate the ‘eight characters’ " : otherwise, the young elected girl will be in danger of complications. The master [mistress] with whom she will learn her profession must then be chosen. For the "passive" shaman[ess], this ... elected girl listens to her paq, who upon his first manifestation will guide her to the house in which she will be educated. Some girls can walk for many kilometers before they reach the house. When the young girl arrives ..., ... the officiant accepts her as her disciple."


"For the "active" shaman[ess], both the biological and adoptive family [fn. 15 : "The young girl creates very close ties with the dead infant’s family. The latter becomes her ‘adoptive family"."] decide to confide the girl to a shaman in order to celebrate the welcoming ritual ... . ... All the participants, the young girl, her grandparents, parents, sisters and the parents of the dead child, stand right behind the shaman[ess]. Then she informs the spirits .. .

p. 37

Those present ... have thus given their approval for the young girl to live with the officiant as her disciple. ... . ... the family places a mat in front of the spirits’ altar ... . The shaman[ess] sits ..., wraps her new disciple ... and takes her on her lap. She asks for a bowl of rice soup ..., chews it in her mouth and transfers her mouthful into the postulant’s mouth ... . The shaman[ess] then gets up from the mat, leaving the adolescent to play with her ritual objects : her jingles, small bells, fan and even ... her belt and her veil. The young girl ... has become a disciple."


"Whether the election is "passive" or "active", all disciples live for three months in their mistress’ home. Their curriculum is absolutely identical. On the first and fifteenth day of each month {ides and nones in the Roman system}, the family brings offerings for the spirits and various gifts for the mistress.

At first the novice learns ... to manipulate the fan,

to shake the small bells and jingles;

she memorises the songs and learns all the movements.

At the end of the first month, the young girl’s family visits the shaman[ess]’s house to celebrate the "ceremony of the first month". The girl can from that time on follow her mistress and help her during the rituals."


pp. 143-65 Jacques Lemoine : "The Construction of a Hmong Shaman’s Powers of Healing".

pp. 146-7 the 6 sedentary-and-domestic souls




"The sedentary, vegetative souls controlling the body are :


The "life-demanding" soul (long tzu long lao), incorporating health and wealth in a joint stock of good fortune. ... When it is exhausted, the shaman burns spirit money in order to rebuild it (12).


The "bamboo" soul (nju siong nju ndong) grows in the marrow of the backbone. {The spinal marrow is significant to, e.g., Kun.d.alini yoga.} It holds the body upright. When worms enter it, it may leans over ... . ... (11).


The "sun and moon" soul (ngao nu njau li). This soul never leaves the body even after death. {Hence, in the Kemetic system involving the [barque of the] sun, the soul involved is believed to reside in the mummy.} It stays in the forehead when man is in good health, but moves towards the back of the head when he is weak or ill (10).


The "life-expectancy" soul (krau na khau siong : literally Of the years of rice to eat") is the embodiment of appetite {/nepes^/ is the ‘appetitive soul’ in <ibri^} and of the life span. If the food reserve it symbolizes is exhausted, the shaman must buy a new (symbolic) stock food wherewith to sustain his patient’s life (9). {Could this allude to such person as the rich Roman who committed suicide for dread of starving to death?}


The "source of cucumbers and pumpkins" soul (mang tli mang tau). {Pumpkin-deities (Kusmanda) are known in India and in Indonesia.} It stays in the veins, it is ... a companion of the vital soul ... (8).


The "breath" soul (nju pang fua siue), regulates breath ... . The Hmong call it "the satin thread" {= "silver cord" of astral body?}


When it is torn, the person dies.


The first symptom is difficulty of breathing. The shaman has to send his spirit helpers to help the patient to breathe again (7)."

p. 147 the 6 inside-and-around souls

"In contrast to the above six vegetative souls embedded in the body, the Hmong shamans know a set of six more-or-less unstable souls ... . ...

The "chicken" soul (nju kr> a nju nong) is very much a home bird : even when it goes away for two or three days, it always returns to the body by itself. It leaves the body at death (5)

[p. 162, Fig. 1 : "The "returning" soul" (6) is distinct from "the "chicken" soul" (5).]

The "reindeer" soul (niu tiang niu kau) is also domestic and very sedentary. But sometimes the Door guardian deity or the Fourth Official, another god protector of the house, sell it for money to some wild spirit passing by. ... The shaman’s spirit helpers organize a search party. When the "reindeer" soul is found, the shaman has to redeem it from its abductors (3). {This required redeeming (by promised sacrifice) of a found soul is characteristic of Bon and of various Siberian practices.}

The "cicada" soul (nbau kang kr> or ndzue) should stick to the body as cicadas do to their tree. But it likes to join other cicadas in the forest and sing with them. "Cicada" souls do not follow the vital soul after death, to reincarnate in another body of the same clan as the dead. They flit around until they find the right body to dwell in. It ... settles into ... a foetus. The shaman’s job is to interrupt the reincarnation process, and to bring the cicada soul back to its original body. ... If he succeeds, the mother pregnant with the baby in whom it had settled will miscarry (4).

The "running bull" soul (niu tiang niu plu) is like a buffalo : it is easily frightened, and then bolts headlong down the path to death ... (2).

The "projecting shadow" soul (nju tlua nju hlau) is unstable by definition, moving around the body and disappearing at any moment ... (1)."

pp. 150-1 shaman’s travels in world of souls of the dead, as far as domestic-mammal souls would wend




"The search starts with a (mental) grave where the vital soul ... has taken refuge.


Next to it, in a cavern, the shaman comes to the office of the Jade Emperor, the controller of the book of all destinies, who sends death warrants to those who have exhausted their life span.


Further on, there is the house of Yang Ts>eng and Siong Seng Ts>eng (the "Pure who feeds life" and the "Pure who sends life"), the pair who control birth and reincarnation.


Further on still, the shaman come to the Sour Blossom Field of Nzue Nyong, the "Cruel Raw", the Hmong vernacular god of death and epidemics. He has a corral where he keeps "reindeer" and "running bull" souls before he kills and eats them.


Sometimes, he meets souls that have dodged Nzue Nyong’s corral, and are still grazing young tender grass on the "scorched slope".


Further on, the shaman’s party comes to the Court of the Master of Inferior Heaven,


a place to which the reindeer and bull souls may have been abducted. If they find a soul belonging to their patient, they have to redeem it from the god or recapture it, if the god does not agree to set it free.


Finally, even if the patient’s souls have already been eaten, the shaman can still send his dragon and eagle spirits to search the pile of bones thrown all around the place and gather those belonging to the souls of his patient. If they can assemble them all in the right order, they can spray them with kua mua tshua, a magic drug, and they will mend together, regaining flesh."

p. 151 the shaman’s further travels in world of souls of the dead, beyond where domestic-mammal souls would wend

"This is as far as the "reindeer" or "running bull" souls would wander. If the spirit helpers did not find them by this time, it means ... the vital soul’s continuing its journey to reincarnation.

The search party then crosses the mountains until, in a narrow pass, they come upon a huge slicer which blocks the way. If a soul can show papers from the Jade Emperor’s office proving that its life span is exhausted, it is allowed to cross. If it can provide no such proof, it stays there until the shaman and his spirit helpers come to fetch it.

If it has managed to cross the slicer, the shaman and his spirits, who are determined to follow it, have to find a way either to wedge the blade with iron staffs, or climb over it with ladders.

On the other side, they can rush down to the Kong Tong bridge, which links this World to the land of the dead. No spirit helper can cross this bridge, because they belong to this world, the world of the living. Only a few shamans dare to undertake an action so bold, crossing alone, after having exchanged their spirit horse for a "horse of the dead".

On the other side of the bridge, they will find the missing vital soul b a sweet water pond, the abode of Ngau A, the mother of mankind. If she has already washed the soul, and it has lost all memory {proving this to be the Pythagorean "Pool of Forgetfulness" for souls of the dead} of its past links with family and friends, it is ready for rebirth in a new life : death is irrevocable, and the shaman’s patient is already pronounced dead by the time the shaman returns from his journey."

p. 152 short-cut for shaman’s rescuing the lost soul

"between Nzue Nyong’s corral and the Kong Tong bridge to the land of the dead, there is a short way which leads straight to this bridge : it is to the right of the other, across the highest mountains. Along this path, the search party comes upon the "Jar of tears and cries", those which the family will shed when the patient is pronounced dead. If somebody is about to die, the shaman will find that it is full to the brim. His intervention is to try to empty the jar, or to close it with a big stone, thus preventing its overflowing.

A similar action is undertaken when the search party comes to the Vale of Hemp further on. In folk culture, hemp us used to make the bandage with which the dead is tightly bound to prevent a swollen body from exploding in the course of funerary ceremonies lasting a minimum of three days and three nights. When the shaman and his party arrive at the Vale of Hemp, and find that the hemp is high, they will pull up as much of it as they can."

pp. 152-3 spirit-guides guiding the shaman

p. 152

"The Hmong shaman’s ... voice of his seer-spirit ... is supposed to narrate the action to him. This voice supports and guides his trance, enabling him to carry out a systematic investigation [along his route through the spirit-world]. This seer-spirit, named ‘clear-sighted", is the shaman’s eyes in the unseen where the shaman, like any ordinary human being, cannot see by himself. He listens to his seer-spirit’s narration and simultaneously visualizes the action "as in a dream". ...


What is more, the trance is induced by yet another spirit : the "spirit of the trance".

pp. 152-3

Both spirits remain permanently at the shaman’s side, unlike the other spirit helpers who have to be summoned for each performance."

pp. 153-7 categories of shaman’s spirit-helpers




"a Hmong shaman ... beats his gong two or three times while he bows to the four directions and welcomes his spirit helpers. ... He pulls down his black veil over his face, showing that he is about to enter the unseen, and starts shivering, a signal of the arrival of his spirits. ... His voice half drowned out by the sound of the gong, he starts the roll call of his troops.

The spirit helpers, or neng, constitute a task force divided into two groups : the vernacular spirits and the Chinese spirits, which the shaman


calls separately, using a different idiom for each.

He first calls the Hmong spirits. ... They are briefly described so that they not only arrive on stage in a definite order, but as parts of a strategic system ... . First comes the ancestral master spirit, the group leader. ... The ancestral master spirit is followed by female spirits holding iron and silver brooms with which to clean the altar where most of the other spirits are going to land.

For the rest, a spider spirit stretches a magic thread, while the first-woman and first-man couple, Njua and Nang, assisted by Chinese blacksmiths, throw a "copper and iron" bridge for the numerous Chinese infantry and cavalry to come ... . ... this thread and this bridge also establish a direct connection between the altar and the Nya Yee Cave from where all the spirit helpers come. The Great Yee, or Shee Yee, was the first shaman. The thread and the bridge will also be used as a takeoff runway when the shaman invites the spirits to hunt for his patient’s missing souls.

Next, he summons his flexible springing bench, his "dragon-horse" "of wind and clouds" which he is already riding,

then, his couple of venerable dragons who can "encircle the sky, and surround the earth" in order to stop the volatile "projecting shadow soul". The dragons’ place to the left of the altar is represented by a bowl of water which the shaman calls "the dragon pond". Identified with the rainbow {cf. the rainbow-serpent of African and of South-American Indian mythologies}, the dragon is indeed able to encircle the horizon. ...

Next to the dragon couple come the Chinese Imperial couple "whose strength rises to the heavens and stretches to the extremities of the Earth", they will "hold the chicken soul back and block the projecting shadow soul’s way".


At this point, the shaman’s altar ... consists of a board ... on which are aligned from left to right the bowl


of dragon water,

a basket of maize grain to feed the horses of the cavalry,

an incense burner to please the spirit helpers ..., and

... a bowl of husked rice in which and egg and two joss sticks are stuck.

These are especially intended for the spirit of the trance and

the "clear-sighted" spirit, the seer-spirit who guides and informs the shaman who will remain behind his veil ... .


After the altar is installed, the shamanic accessories must also be introduced. The shaman’s "elder son carries the exorcising sword", and his "elder daughter the gong and cymbals".

"Trance" and "Clear-sighted" spirits will carry his rattle sword. This lance point with a large round handle to which 9 iron disks and 10 twisted rings have been strung becomes a multi-functional symbolic tool ... : it is

the reins of the shaman’s horse,

a magical sword to cut devils in twain,

a cast net to catch the souls,

a magic mirror to distinguish those belonging to this World (Yang) from those of the Otherworld (Yin) ..., and

finally, a telescope to see far away.


The following neng have special functions. There are


the "awesome red-hot eaters and boiling drinkers ... who spread over all the earth, eating the devils of epilepsy, swallowing the mouse-spirits they encounter";


the Dragon-thunder’s daughter, "Miss Black Cloud, who carries a shamanic umbrella to shelter the souls of the neng";


the lady "who cuts the reincarnation process with copper and iron scissors"; and


the "naive lady who carries the scales for weighing souls" upon their return back home. There follow


the Lady and Gentleman who anchor life and energy so that they be "as sturdy as the cliffs, as strong as a stone bar", and


the spirits of the gourd of immortality "who blow their magic medicine while circling around the patient in order to resuscitate the projecting shadow soul". Then there are


the spirits who can call back the chicken soul;


the strong soldiers who roll rocks and trunks to block the patient’s grave ... replacing the image of his laid out body with a sacrificed piglet;


the pair of soldiers who roll stone, copper, or iron to crush wounds and


pains, "who trample the sky in order that thesky be clear, who trample the earth so that the earth be neat".


Coming next, the first couple, the girl Njua and the boy Ong [fn. 8 : "Njua and Ong are the mother and father of Mankind in the Kh> ua Kae, the funerary chant to initiate the dead, while Njua and Nang stand for the same in folk stories of the Flood."], who weave the sky, crossing the weft of the sky over and under

the 9 kinds of illness,

the 8 kinds of pain,

catching in their canvas the 48 evil emanations and purifying them". ...


Then come spirits showing a morphology appropriate to their specific tasks :



sea and land elephant spirits whose strength is used "to draw a stone pillar to help a fainting soul to stand upright" and "to pull rocks and stumps out to block the path to death".


Among the birds,

the vultures and eagles use their large, widespread wings to gather together the flocks of spirit helpers;

the hawks "dart in the black sky towards the yellow clouds" to recapture a soul abducted by an evil spirit;

wild duck spirits will plunge into marshes to rescue souls who have fallen into the mud; and

woodpecker spirits will use their sharp beaks and prehensile tongues to remove caterpillars and worms – symbolizing fevers – from the "growing bamboo soul".


Among beasts,

striped wolves and dogs are set in pursuit of the "running bull souls";

striped tigers "whistle in the forest to attract the little Ntzong tiger-witch and incite men and spirit to part and go back to their respective abodes".


Of insects, there is

the spider spirit’s engineering work; and

the sphex spirits, wasps of a kind, and adept at putting their prey to sleep and taking it back alive to their nest. They are used to recapture the ‘projecting shadow soul", which will, thus, suffer no damage while they carry it back to its body. ...


The register of the Chinese spirit helpers is even more "functional", with battalions of fierce soldiers ... adding up to impressive numbers (90,000 soldiers, 80,000 officers) of anonymous troops. ...


Specific also are his blacksmith masters, and all the tools of the forge which are listed as spirit helpers :

the bellows, the pin at the door of the melting pot, the anvil, the coal shovel, the drill, and the tongs, whose main function is "to silence disputes and quarrels".


Last of all, the shaman installs

the divinatory blocks, the gouge and the punch with which spirit money is cut and carved".