Hmong Culture: Being Taken To Spirits

Shamanism by way of animism is the belief in the existence of spirits, both human and inhuman and those possibly never alive. It possesses a spirit world or underworld, while some believe spirits coexist within this world. Shamanism conducted by shamans who communicate and control spirits, usually through a ritual trance state.

Shamanism in Western culture often evokes images of “witch doctors”, but for the traditional Hmong, they are sought out as holy, healers, leaders, and even counselors to those who seek further answers or guidance. The practice and cultural tradition is one of the oldest forms of healing and part of many regions throughout the world. Many Hmong still practice the belief (religion) today.

The Calling

Shamanism is the trance that the shaman or healer enters in order to communicate with spirits, rescue souls, battle demons or communicate with an offended spirit for reconciliation. Most shamans, traditionally are men, though women are called upon to become shamans. I personally know more Hmong women shaman, but that may be due to my own gender. Hmong women and men have diverse roles within the culture and tend to be segregated.

When one becomes a shaman, it’s not a duty or role by choice. There’s usually a calling through spirit visitations. Often leading the person to confusion or perhaps just fear of the unknown. Near death experience or a serious illness also can indicate a calling. Many believe that the illness or near-death experiences gives one the experience have the ability to learn and heal others who falls upon such sickness or unfortunate events.

  • Master shamans, also viewed as mentors will take on the role of teaching. The master shaman must agree, each person’s spirits must align and guidance can begin.
  • Training must practice and learn under a master shaman’s guidance. It’s possible to train for many years before taking on rituals of his or her own.
  • It may even take years to find a master shaman to agree to be one’s mentor. Not having guidance can lead to more illness as the transition is placed on hold.

A Role

To many, the shaman could be seen as a medical doctor, holy man, or medium. A shaman in the Hmong Community is an essential member and serve as a bridge communicator between the physical and spirit worlds. The shaman’s healing rituals provide existence with a moral interpretation and meaningfulness. There is meaning to behind each ritual practiced by him/her. Some events that take place that a shaman is invited for, called “ua neeb”, consists of several events. A process is “ua neeb saib” to seek the spirit of the situation to determine what happens next.

  • Seeking/Determining; ailments, illness, troubled spirits of the home, a scare in someone’s life that may have a soul drift or spirits lost – “poob plig”
  • Blessings; marriage, newborn child, new year, new home – “hu plig”
  • Healing; sickness, marriage, reconcile for one’s spirit or soul – “ua neeb kho”

Shamans play a major role in the Hmong Community who practice the tradition. Even with being sought of for the rituals and seen as a healing practitioner, a shaman too may need their own rituals done on him or her.


Image provided by Lor Lao. Follow him on facebook at @StudioLorLao to purchase this or one-of-kind art creations.


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