Medium Nguyen Ngoc Vinh (born in 1944) lives in Ngo Quyen Ward, Son Tay Town, Hanoi. In 1975, Vinh began to practice the Hau Dong (receiving incarnations of the deities). So far, it has been 46 years since he followed Thanh Mau (the Holy Mother). Mr Thong Ban (in Son Loc, Son Tay) accepted him as a disciple and taught him the knowledge of rituals, costumes, and props for Hau Dong. After acquiring all the in-depth knowledge of Mother Goddess worship, he was awarded a medium and has since accepted about 300 disciples, including his son and daughter-in-law.

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Vinh participated very actively and held important positions in social organizations, such as President of the Xu Doai Cultural Heritage Group, member of the Executive Committee of the Thang Long Cultural Heritage Association - Hanoi, member of the Hanoi Monuments Manager Club; member of the Survey Board for the Study of Traditional Cultural Values; and incense host at the Phu Mau Linh Tu Temple in Son Tay Town. From 1987 to 2017, Vinh took the initiative with local people to restore seven collapsed relics, including Ho Bac Communal House (Tay Son); the communal house, temple, and pagoda in Ha Tan Village (Ba Vi); and Ao Vua Temple (Ba Vi). He received one order, four commemorative medals, and two certificates of merit from the state and departments for his positive contributions to the life and beliefs of Mother Goddess worship. In 2020, medium Nguyen Ngoc Vinh was on the list of the Hanoi People's Committee to request the State Council award the title of "elite artisan" in practising the belief of Three-Palace Mother Goddess worship. In 2020, he donated 39 artefacts to the Hanoi Museum, including the ritual costume, the statues of the Three-Palace Holy Mothers, and an altar - these vital artefacts are on permanent display at the Hanoi Museum.

Statues of Three-Palace Holy Mothers donated by Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Vinh to the Hanoi Museum

The field trip helped us better understand his character and hear stories from nearly half a century of practice. After contact, interviews, and videotaping as he practised Mother Goddess worship at his home shrine, we obtained vivid documentary footage. Besides, we also participated in his and his disciples' service at Hang Mieng Temple (Quang Minh Commune, Van Ho District, Son La Province), organized in early spring 2021.

Vinh said he wanted to be a medium from his early life, from about 12 or 13 years of age. Back then, when he played with his friends, he used to put a red scarf over his head, make them prostrate, and give them gifts. However, his parents treated it as a child's joke then and did not care much, even forbidding him from covering his face (to abstain from bad omens).

Subsequently, when he was in his 30s, married and had children, he was mature enough to know he wanted to be a medium. He still remembers the early days when he started his worship practice. Then, the state had regulations to combat superstition and ban this practice, but curious people still came to see him as they found it strange to see a medium who could dance so well. However, this is normal for someone with a predilection for Mother Goddesses. Although they have not passed any school for dance or poetry recitation, when they have "taken the holy chair", they are taught by "His Gods”.

His disciples are many from all over and in different occupations and backgrounds. For those who have opened a shrine like him, each year there will be four ceremonies on solemn occasions, including the Thuong Nguyen (Lunar January full moon), the beginning of summer (Lunar April), the end of summer (Lunar July), and the end of the year (Lunar December). In addition, there are ceremonies such as "Father's death anniversary on Lunar August and Mother's death anniversary on Lunar March" or on good days when his disciples, who have not yet opened their shrines, celebrate at his shrine.

Three to five days before the ceremony, Vinh must perform certain taboos, such as: abstaining from meat and fish, taking a vegetarian diet, and eating less than usual. In particular, he is not allowed to have sex. This ritual is purifying himself before becoming a chair for the Gods to sit on. Before entering the ceremony, he must perform the offering of sentient beings. We are impressed with his offering ritual. It is performed outdoors, in front of the shrine. Offerings include salted rice, porridge, popcorn, and a water basin with coins dropped inside for the souls of the drowned. His vows are as deep as spreading a metaphysical energy that made the space extraordinarily sacred and still.

When entering the ceremony, the band uses musical instruments, including lute, drums, and flute, combined with lyrics to create a joyful and majestic atmosphere that directly affects human hearing. The costumes worn in the rituals have vivid colours, and jewellery accessories directly affect the visual senses. In the worship space, the smell of incense smoke, fruit fragrances, and perfumes affects the sense of smell. Alcohol, tea, betel nut, and tobacco affect the taste buds. The applause and praise of the disciples and guests affected the feeling of sublimation of the medium. These factors positively affect the medium's senses during the ceremony. When God has descended and entered the medium's soul, he is no longer himself but the embodiment of the divine - this is most clearly reflected in the medium's facial expressions, posture, and manners: Majestic and stern when he is the Grand Maid; cheerful and willing as the Lady; or naughty and mischievous as the boy. At the end of the ceremony, although it is midnight, the medium is still not tired; on the contrary, he is more potent and gentler.

Medium Nguyen Ngoc Vinh in the costume of The Third Grand Maid and the Lady

In his seventies, medium Nguyen Ngoc Vinh always thinks that he "will continue to be a son of the Holy Family to pray for the nation to be safe, live a good life, teach disciples the ancient ways in the rites and rituals of worshipping Three-Palace and Four-Place Holy Mothers, follow the Holy Buddha, and practice as a medium." These are also the fine features in the belief of the Three-Palace Holy Mothers: honouring God, respecting the teacher, and directing people to the beauty of Truth, Faith, and Love. "There are good and bad people in medium circles and human society. Many people take advantage of the gods and disciples' faith for profit. Such priests should be condemned and dismissed." Vinh said.


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