For thousands of years, spiritual and religious customs have played an important role in the lives of Vietnamese people. Worship of Mother Goddesses is a popular practice and has existed for a long time. This ritual remains a beautiful custom and is preserved by the government. The Worship of Mother Goddesses is a folk belief that appeared very early in the cultural life of the Vietnamese people. A charming practice, it taps the primitive soul of the national character. This folk belief is rooted in the matriarchal system, where women hold important positions in a family.
While many other religions and beliefs are directed towards life after death or the blessing of the soul of the dead by the living, Mother Goddesses Worship focuses on present life and realistic needs such as the desire for health, prosperity, wealth, and fortune – everlasting human desires.
No historians have claimed to know the exact birth date of this belief. What is known is that Mother Goddesses Worship comes from a primitive time and respects female figures represented in nature such as Mother Earth, Mother Heaven, Mother Water, and Mother Rice. This custom started because people were reliant on nature to survive. They idolized a supreme mother for giving them life and food. They worshiped these Mothers and asked them for protection. This custom continues today. Besides expressing respect, and honoring and worshiping goddesses with supernatural abilities, the Worship of Mother Goddesses also shows gratitude and absolute trust in the gods who protect human life. The Worship of Mother Goddesses was divided into many different branches. Although it has the same practice, the principles and beliefs vary. In 2006, at the 11th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on the Protection of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO held in Addis Ababa, the heritage “Practices related to the Viet beliefs in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms” in 21 provinces of Vietnam (provinces from Hue to Saigon) was officially registered on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The welcome ceremony of the inscription was held in 2017.
The Three Realms in the belief of the Vietnamese stand for three separate regions: Heaven (sky), Land (the soil, the delta) and Water (river, sea, and lake). The three Holy Mothers worshipped according to this belief are Mother Heaven, governing heaven, Mother Earth, governing the land and the mountains, and Mother Water, governing rivers, lakes, seas, agriculture, and the fishery. In each realm, there are different guardian gods. Temples are places where the gods work. Beneath the three realms are other ranks, such as Officer (Quan), Servant (Chau Ba), and Representatives (Co Cau).
As the belief developed throughout time, the concept of Mother Goddesses Worship was expanded by the people. Mother Goddesses are not only powerful gods, but are also heroines, princesses, queens, or the female ancestors of village professionals – famous and talented women in history who did significant deeds for the country when they were alive. These people received the respect, were worshiped and finally were deified to become one of the incarnations of the Holy Mother.
The Three Realms worship belief has been preserved with other elements of folklore such as costumes, lyrics, music, dance, and performance art. The practice of Mother Goddess Worship is a museum that stores thousands of years of Vietnamese culture, history and cultural identity. Through this practice, the Vietnamese express their viewpoints on history, culture, gender roles, and ethnic identity. The main purpose of the worship is to meet the needs and aspirations of everyday life – hope for prosperity, fortune, and good health.
One of the most popular practices of Mother Goddesses Worship today is Chau Van, also known as Vietnamese folk song. This traditional folk art has been recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage. It is a kind of folk song (an adaptation of poetry into singing) performance with spiritual music, flexible dance, and solemn ritual, making for a fanciful and ecstatic atmosphere. The lyrics are about legends, historic anecdotes, war, people and merits of the gods. Many artists today are concentrating on performing Chau Van on the contemporary stage, bringing a fresh aesthetic view better suited to the taste of modern Vietnamese. This has helped the audience recognize the beauty and value of the art form and understand the nature of the belief. A fresh perspective has also helped eliminate negative twists and avoid superstitious activities that distort the inherent cultural values of Chau Van. Mother Goddesses Worship is a Vietnamese folk belief with a long history that is gradually transforming to adapt to the changes of modern society. The core value of the worship is to lead people to be kind. Mothers always teach their children to have virtues, better the world and live usefully for society. Those who come to worship the mother gods must have a kind soul, good behavior, and devotion to their ancestors. They must also have gratitude for country’s people of merit, as taught in the idiom “when you eat a fruit, remember the man who planted the tree.” Vietnamese cultural values with many layers of humane meanings is encapsulated in the Worship of Mother Goddesses. A rich and vivacious practice, there is a lasting vitality in this unique belief.
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