Talking With the Spirits, 12



Spirit-Mediumship in Singapore and in Taiwan

Fabian Graham


p. 326 soul

""The earthly po soul would remain in the grave so long as the body had been buried with correct ritual, and sacrifices continued to be offered to it. If these conditions were not met, the po soul would ... transform into a malevolent ... ghost (gui) to haunt its descendants. ...

The spiritual (hun) component of the soul would ascend to the spirit world, Heaven (Tian) ..., and, if sacrificed to correctly, there it would remain, ... acting as an intermediary between its descendants and higher deities."

p. 327 lin ('spiritual power')

"Ancestors and deities

are both comprised of spiritual energy,

{more accurately, comprise, contain, control, or activate (but not "are ... comprised of") spiritual power/energy}

and while ancestors may affect the lives of of their descendants, deities can affect ... communities, states or empires."

{The so-called "ancestors" who control spiritual power are actually the guardian angels/spirit-guides of ancestors, not the ancestors themselves (who are not themselves directly communicated withal).}

p. 328 assimilation of deities which "predate" Taoism

"Folk Taoist temples often contain an eclectic mix of deity statues on their altars, and it is not uncommon to find ...

deities that predate religious Taoism, for example Tudi Gong,

{Because Taoism originated in the state of C^>u, and was early transferred to the southwestern states of S^u and Pa, therefore any deities worshipped only in southeastern states (Wu, Yu:eh, etc.) before their assimilation, could be said to prae-date Taoism.}

worshipped alongside Taoist deities in folk Taoist temples."

pp. 328-9 exorcism & spirit-mediumship

p. 328

"linking ... the Wu step of King Yu the Great, and modern exorcism to nuo exorcisms of ancient China, dates the origin of Chinese spirit mediumship back as far as the Xia dynasty ... . "Nuo rituals were processional and always led by a warrior exorcist known as the fang xiang shi ...

p. 329

armed with his lance and shield and dancing wildly ... . ... The exorcisms began to take on a distinctive festive air" ... . Spirit mediumship has flourished over the centuries, especially so in the south-eastern provinces from where the tradition has spread to Chinese communities throughout Southeast Asia. Emigrants would commonly have taken deity statues ... containing the spiritual essence (ling) of a deity in order to establish temples ... . ...

Ling ... in folk Taoism is considered accumulative and diminishing ..., thereby allowing a deity to increase in power ..., or conversely, to lose their power ... . While a deity still retains spiritual efficacy, it may enter the body of a medium ... on a spirit medium's hun soul leaving the body, thus creating a vacuum for the soul of the deity to occupy. Elliott (1955) reports the belief that the medium's own hun soul is taken care of by other spiritual beings, commonly deities or spiritual armies protecting a temple, while the po element of the soul remains in the medium's body. While interviewing deities tranced by contemporary spirit mediums, they maintained that the medium's displaced soul ...

p. 330

remained close in the temple guarded by spirit armies."

Elliott 1955 = Alan John Anthony Elliott : Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults in Singapore. London : Royal Anthropological Institute. (reprinted 2006 London : Berg Publ)

p. 330 involuntary

"Until recent times, mediums were commonly chosen by the possessing deity against their {the media's} own will. "Field researchers again and again stress the ... involuntary character of the process : prospective mediums suffer seizures, hallucinations, or strange ailments that are ... a deity's call to surrender to it" (Clart, 2003, p. 153)"

Clart, 2003 = Philip Clart : "Moral Mediums : Spirit-Writing and ... Chinese Spirit Mediumship". ETHNOLOGIES 25.1:153-89.

p. 330 answers via divination

"After the incense smoke has drawn the attention of a deity, jiao, two crescent shaped divination blocks having one flat and one convex surface are cast to answer questions put to a deity. If two flat or convex sides land facing up, the answer is interpreted as 'no', but one flat and one convex side indicates an affirmative answer."

pp. 331-2 trance-possession

p. 331

"Before going into a trance a medium{'s} ... body may become very cold and even icy to the touch. Drums and gongs start, and the medium makes {his or her} way to

a dragon chair.

[p. 344, n. 8 : "An ornate throne ..., usually painted red with gold decoration. ... The arm rests ... are tipped with dragon heads".]

An evocation is chanted by assistants, and the first noticeable signs of trance, in the form of yawns and stretches, occur. These may develop into combinations of quivering, shaking, swaying or rocking motions. Amid the incense smoke, the drums rise to a crescendo, and as the deity enters, the medium stands ... and allows {his or her} assistants to dress {him or her} in a costume prepared specifically for the possessing deity. These costumes are bespoke, often envisaged by the medium in dreams while in training, and crafted by skilled tailors. After they have {he or she hath} been fully dressed, the medium ... may then write several talismans which are burned over the main censers in the temple to alert Heaven that a deity has manifested in the human

p. 332

realm. Personal consultations then begin, each person {client} having taken a {ticket-}number on arrival at the temple. ... Devotees converse freely with deities during consultations, the most common subjects being related to health, family, relationships and business. The medium may speak in deity language, which is usually unintelligible to the uninitiated, and must be translated by an interpreter. ... When consultations and public duties are finished, the deity announces or signals that they are {he or she is} about to 'return' {to Heaven}, meaning to leave the medium, and then the medium may be propelled into the air as the deity leaves and fall into the arms of {his or her} assistants".

p 334 differences in deity-possession behaviours

"Elliott describes the mannerisms typical of a medium possessed by the monkey deity, 'The Great Sage Equal to Heaven,' Sun Wu Cong. "He ... begins to make scratching motions with his hands behind his ears. His lps quiver ... . Then ..., he jumps forward from the chair ..." (Elliott, 1955, p. 85).

Similarly, when possessed by the child deity Nezha, mediums may suck a pacifier, ... carry a wind-and-fire wheel and often orate with a child's voice and vocabulary."

p. 335 possessing-spirits are real

"interviewing the possessing deity directly through the medium may be preferable to interviewing the medium after the fact. Nils Bubandt, in his study of spirits and possession in {north}eastern Indonesia, makes a credible case for considering the spirits as ... real. He argues that

"spirits, when observed and engaged during possession rituals, are key informants who can be engaged, interviewed and analysed ..." (Bubandt, 2009, p. 299)."

{"as spirits are being conjured up ..., they partake ... they are both instruments and actors. Methodologically, I use these accounts to suggest the need to treat spirits as informants." (A"IA")}

Bubandt, 2009 = Nils Bubandt : "Interview with an Ancestor : Spirits as Informants ... in North Maluku". ETHNOGRAPHY 10:291-316.

A"IA" = abstract for "Interview with an Ancestor".

pp. 335-6 characteristics of trance-possession mediumship

p. 335

"trance state ... Prodromal symptoms ... include dizziness and light-headedness (Comber, 1958 ...), feeling cold (Elliott, 1955 ...), twitching movements of extremities (Comber, 1958 ...; Tong, 1989), and change in body image or perception (Heinze, 1993 ...). ...

p. 336

Also in trance, a small percentage of people are able to speak, or understand, unlearned languages."

"Possession is usually by lower order deities,

[p. 344, n. 12 : "Guan Yin and Guan Gong usually being the highest. The Jade Emperor, {and} Lao Zi ... for example are not thought to possess humans.}

the reason most commonly offered being that a higher deity considers it undignified to possess a human body."

Comber, 1958 = L. Comber : "Chinese Temples in Singapore". In :- Leon F. Comber (ed.) : Through the Bamboo Window : Chinese Life and Culture in ... Malaya & Singapore. Talisman : Singapore Heritage Soc.

Tong, 1989 = Cheu Hock Tong : "Child Diviners ... among the Chinese in Songapore". SOUTHEAST ASIAN ETHNOGRAPHY 8:71-86.

Heinze, 1993 = Ruth-Inge Heinze : "The Dynamics of Chinese Religion : ... Spirit Possession in Singapore". In :- Cheu Hock Tong (ed.) : Chinese Beliefs and Practices in Southeast Asia. Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan (Malaysia) : Pelanduk Publ. pp. 187-97.

p. 336 exorcizing a deity possessing a medium

"In cases of spirit possession where a spirit medium is summoned to perform an exorcism,

{The only circumstance when a veritable deity in possession of a spirit-medium could require being exorcized (being led out of the spirit-medium's body by another deity hosted by another spirit-medium) , would be when the deity cannot find its way out of the mortal's body (which in such a case would appear to be an insoluble labyrinth to the deity requiring to be extricated).}

if the deity possessing the [2nd] medium is higher in the celestial pantheon than the spirit to be exorcised, the higher order deity

will demand that the lower order deity leave."

{more actually, will be authorized to find a way out from the the 1st medium's body for the deity already seeking to depart}

p. 337 vocation of mediumship

"Village mediums of the 1970s {were} ... reluctant individuals who battled against their fate before submitting to the ... inevitability of serving a deity (Diamond, 1969; Jordan, 1972; Ahern, 1973). ... a deal had been struck between a deity and a prospective medium whereby the deity cured them {him or her} of an illness in return for future service."

Diamond, 1969 = Norma Diamond : K>un Shen : a Taiwanese Village. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Jordan, 1972 = David K. Jordan : Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors : the Folk Religion of a Taiwanese Village. Berkeley : Univ of CA Pr.

Ahern, 1973 = Emily M. Ahern : The Cult of the Dead in a Chinese Village. Stanford Univ Pr.

pp. 337-8 lin hun {cf. "the duality of ling-hun in Chinese traditional medicine" ("SC")}

p. 337

"Harrell (1979) relates ... taboos relating to the soul (ling hun) of a foetus during pregnancy {gestation}, in that harming its ling hun will inflict ... injury on the unborn child. There is therefore a taboo around hammering nails into particular walls on specific dates during a pregnancy as this may

p. 338

injure the foetus spirit ... .

In the case of trance possession, as the ling hun of the spirit medium is absent from their {his or her} body to make room for the spirit of the possessing deity, their {his or her} ling hun cannot be harmed". S

"SC" = Ede Frecska; Levente Móró; & Hank Wesselman : "The Soul Cluster : Reconsideration of a Millennia Old Concept".

Harrell 1979 = Stevan Harrell : “The Concept of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion”. J OF ASIAN STUDIES 38.3: 519–28.

pp. 338-9 exorcism-weaponry & spirit-armies

p. 338

"The demonic forces take four basic forms : ghosts (gui), monsters (yao), strange beings (guai) and demons (mo) (Chan, {2015}). Mediums use a selection of weapons, including ... whips and swords for exorcism ... all of which are empowered ...

p. 339

(Chan, {2015}).

[quoted from Chan, 2015 :] "the tang-ki does ... operate ... as a general at the head of spirit armies. The parish of a temple is protected by

the thirty-six celestial armies

{in Hellenistic terminology : the 36 Dekanoi}

under the command of Bei Ji Shang Di, the North Pole Emperor, also known as Xuan Tian Shang Di, Emperor of the Dark Heavens ... ."

Chan, 2015 = Margaret Chan : "Warrior Gods Incarnate : Tang-ki Chinese Spirit Mediums". title changed to :- “Tangki Spirit‐Medium Worship : Living Manuscript of a Chinese Worldview.” Oxford Online Handbook of Religion, forthcoming, 2015. (vide )

p. 340 indications of a need for exorcism

"The Chinese belief system has consistently attributed illness and misfortune to the actions of malevolent spirits. In order to relieve illness and misfortune, this spirits must be ... exorcised ... . Therefore, the tang-ki enters into a ritual trance when there is a need, and in the trance, it is the spirit of the deity and not that of the medium who performs the various ritual acts. The rituals performed by spiritual entities through their mediums are therefore seen ... curing illness, chamging an individual's luck, dispelling misfortune, divining the future and so forth."

pp. 340-1 categories of deities

p. 340

"The first category of deities that possess mediums is that of historic characters that later became deified, for example, ... the twelfth[-]century monk Dao Ji Shan Shi more commonly known as Ji Gong. ...

The second category of deities are {read : /is that of/} manifestations of inanimate objects, for example,

stars and constellations which have been anthropomorphized into human form,

{More accurately, specific planets and stars are regarded as home-bases of powers and/or of retinues of certain major deities.}

examples being Nandou Xingjun and Beidou Xingjun, the Lords of the Southern and Northern Dippers. Chan {2012} argues that anthropomorphized spirits are 'Double-nature beings' ..., and [that] their icons "are sacred portals that permit spirits access into the mortal world" ... .

The inanimate nature

{inanimate (planetary or stellar) abode (site of deity's divine palace), not "inanimate nature"!}

of these deities suggests that ... this can ... be associated ...

p. 341

with the unification of cosmic spirits and the human consciousness.

Perhaps anthropomorphization is necessary before a deity can {read : /will be willing to/} enter a human form, and ... this may be because a human {anthropoid} spirit is more likely to fit into human body than {is} a spirit with a different shape (Paper, 2009, p. 334).

{Naturally, only such deities as habitually anthropomorphize themselves (which is done by themselves quite independently of whatever mortals may think of them), will care care to fit into, or to entre, human-shaped mortal bodies. [written Feb 8 2015]}

... "the anthropomorphic image, as against the aniconic, gives a spirit the body it needs {how can aeternal deities be in need of anything from puny mortals?} for an existence in the human world, but the soul is not tied to the body (Chan, [2012] ...)."

{Just as are own ongoing thoughts are quite irrelevant to the shape of the material body which we occupy, so are our transitory thoughts irrelevant to the form of the bodies which deities assume. Flickering human thoughts are incapable of giving powers to steady-minded deities; but, on the contrary, omnipotent deities (who are omnipotent owning to the uncreated, indestructible nature of their universal telepathic networks extending throughout every region of the universe) impart powers to humans, including the power to assume other bodies, whether in dreams or in sequences of incarnations into diverse bodies from lifetime to lifetime -- and into which bodies mortals are fastened ("tied to", at the will -- or, in our meagre understanding of it, whim -- of deities) by combined power of mutually co-operative deities.}

Chan 2012 = Margaret Chan : “Bodies for the Gods : Image Worship in Chinese Popular Religion.” In :- Julius Bautista (ed.) : The Spirit of Things : Materiality and Religious Diversity in Southeast Asia. Ithaca, NY : Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publ. (also mentioned in her curriculum vitae)

Paper, 2009 = Jordan D. Paper : "The Role of Possession Trance in Chinese Culture and Religion : a Comparative Overview from the Neolithic to the Present". In :- Philip Clart (ed.) : The People and the Tao : New Studies in Chinese Religion in Honour of Daniel L. Overmeyer. MONUMENTA SERICA MONOGRAPH SERIES, vol. LX. Sankt Augustin.

{That which is more pertinent than whatever mortals may think of immortals, would be that which immortals think of mortals : if immortals think well of mortals (which is to be achieved largely by mortals' flattering of immortals -- in thought, in word, and in deed), then those immortals will be willing to entre immortals for controlling the body of a mortal; otherwise immortals will be (or will remain) unwilling. Once human mortals flatter deities enough (by praising the deities, and by establishing within themselves the resolve to perform whatever those deities may require of them), it is with the most facile action that deities may self-transmogrify their self-made bodies into human guise (and thus appearing to, and/or entring, humans); just as mortal humans are readily capable (with assistance from deities) of assuming various diverse animal-guises (a commonplace activity of shamans) in the dream-worlds. [written Feb 8 2015]}

p. 341 "stone egg"

"There was a rock that ... one day split open,

{"Mithras is born from a rock." ("RCM", citing Commodianus : Instructiones 1.13).}

giving birth to a stone egg ... .

{Peruvian deities "were born from stones" ("TPCL", p. 299 [394]) : "each was born from a similar egg of Stone, just as found in the Peruvian temple for a Peruvian star god, etc." ("TlNI").} {Likewise among the Gebusi of Papua ("ChGP&SIG", p. 152).}

Fructified by the wind it developed into a stone monkey ... . At once this monkey learned to climb and run ..." (Waley, [1942], p. 11)."

{Wind-god Pavana became godfather of monkey-god Hanumant, so that when "he [Hanumant] departed from the earth, all life panted for air" ("LH"). {"Ecatonatiuh ... through wind-storms ... men were changed into monkeys" (CV#3373, p. 186). "Ecatonatiuh (sun of wind) ... female monkeys ... got scattered in the forest" (CThNW, p. 216).}

"RCM" = "Roman Cult of Mithras".

TPCL = "The Travels of Pedro de Cieza de Léon, 1532-50", contained in the First Part of his Chronicle of Peru (Vol. 8).

"TlNI" = "Tlaltecutli- - New Iconography".

"ChGP&SIG" = B. M. Knauft : “Changing Geographies of Power and Spiritual Influence among the Gebusi”. In :- L. R. Goldman & C. Ballard (edd.) : Fluid Ontologies : Myth, Ritual and Philosophy in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Bergin & Garvey, Westport (CT), 1998. pp. 143-161.

Waley, 1942 = Wu Ch>eng En (transl. by Arthur Waley) : Monkey : Journey to the West. (reprinted 1961 London: Penguin Books)

"LH" = "Lord Hanuman".

CV#3373 = Eduard Seler : Codex Vaticanus No. 3773 (Codex Vaticanus B). Berlin & London, 1902-1903.

CThNW = Jose` J. Morales Lara : Cyclical Thought in the Nahuatl (Aztec) World. PhD diss, Binghampton Univ, 2007.


Jack Hunter & David Luke (edd.) : Talking With the Spirits : Ethnographies from Between the Worlds. Daily Grail Publ, Brisbane, 2014.