A Tentative Outline of Vietnamese Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

The Vietnamese are originally polytheistic. Vietnamese folk religion or polytheism may be defined as the reverence for the Vietnamese local Vættir/Wights, which the people of Vietnam call thần. Due to the central importance of the thần, Vietnamese folk religion may also be called thầnism. Đạo Mẫu, which is a branch of Vietnamese folk religion, may be equated by certain people with the whole of Vietnamese folk religion (see here and here).

The Vietnamese bring chào bán (offerings) to their Vættir: fruits, alcohol, flowers, and incense. The choice of offerings is not unlike those seen in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. I was always intrigued by such fruit offerings, which I first learned about through Korean cinematography and which I later saw for the first time in real life in the temples of Hong Kong, which I at the time considered to be hidden cultural treasures as well as refreshing peaceful retreats from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis; a combination of curiosity and a desire for relaxation attracted me to the temples of Hong Kong. I really felt an urge to explore the temples since my intuition told me that it was culturally and historically important.

The Vietnamese assert that Njörth, whom they name Lac Long Quan, was once married to Skaði, whom they name Au Co and they consider her a Dís (see here). She produced many offspring with Him, but as is also narrated in the Prose Edda (for which see § 23 of chapter V of Rasmus B. Andersen’s translation of the Prose Edda), their relationship did not work out since He longed for the sea and She for the mountains. I mentioned in my article on the Vanir of the Sea and Earth that the Skaði-Njörth dispute may originally have been a dispute between Sea and Earth, male Nerthus/Njörth and female Nerthus/Njörth; originally, it may have been more of an issue of opposite but interconnected forces, the sexual tension between the two, and therefore the dispute may be seen as yin and yang in action.

The Vietnamese worship the Landáss, a Tutelary Deity of the land whom they call Ông Địa and He is especially associated with farmers (see here). It is commonly believed that the Landáss of Germanic sources is to be equated with Thor, an Asa-Deity with a history of great popularity among the peasantry. The Landáss of the Vietnamese is nevertheless not a God of Thunder, but is rather associated with property and wealth (see here), which are traits I also discussed in the context of the Liminal Deity in my article on Heimdallr. The Vietnamese regularly hold a landásablót — not to say þórrablót — on the first and fifteenth day of every lunar month; they give better gifts to Heimdallr on that day.

The Vietnamese worship many Deities in groupings, which is not unlike Germanic pagan tradition. The number 3 is important in Vietnamese folk religion: Tao Quan (Kitchen Gods), Than Mau (Holy Mothers), and the Deities Phuc (Blessing), Loc (Prosperity), and Tho (Longevity) are holy trinities (see here).

The Vietnamese terms for heilagr ‘holy, sacred’ are linh thiêng and thánh; the Vietnamese term for hof ‘temple’ is đền; the word for festival is lễ hội; and the word for ceremony is lễ (see here). The word linh, which is found in linh thiêng, deserves special attention; for it is fundamental to Vietnamese folk religion. Linh occurs as a baby name and is then explained as ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ (see here). Pages 9-13 of Vietnamese Supernaturalism: Views from the southern region authored by Thien Do treat the Vietnamese concept of linh. On page 9 and 10, linh is glossed as supernatural power.

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