Spirit Writing in Vietnam. Political Messages from the Beyond
Gertrud Hüwelmeier (Humboldt University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper seeks to explore the transmission of otherworldly messages through spirit possession and "écriture automatique". Moreover, it looks at the interpretation of encrypted notifications and the implementation of the spirits' instructions in Vietnams' military border zones.
Paper long abstract:
"Écriture automatique" is a "new" mode of spirit mediumship in late Socialist Vietnam. By analyzing oral and written otherworldly messages, sent by political heroes from the past, and transmitted via an urban female spirit medium, this paper seeks to explore how the interpreter and the devotees actively transform the celestial notifications into political action. In the process of making otherworldly beings and powers appear, trance mediums need equipment, which, in the case discussed here, includes technical media. Based on the understanding of spirit writing and orally transmitted communication practices as emerging popular religious practices in late Socialist Vietnam, the paper investigates the process of spirit writing, and various layers of translation, decoding and implementation of the spirits' instructions. Messages include moral advice towards authorities as well as directives about the establishment of spiritual landmarks in order to safeguard Vietnam's border zones. In the case discussed here, the spirit of Hồ Chí Minh intervenes and exercises power over the contemporary communist regime. By travelling from the political center Hanoi to the countries' border zones, devotees and authorities alike performed spatial and ritual practices, transforming restricted military areas at the outposts of the country into spiritual landscapes. The spirit's message refers to an emerging nationalism and indicates contemporary border tensions, triggered by the Paracel Islands and Spratly Island dispute in the South China Sea.
Divine mobilities: how gods and spirits move through the world