Wushu – Hearing voices, speaking in tongues, possession, exorcism, healing and prophecy
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity: Some Preliminary Reflections on a Gendered Religiosity of the Body - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara
According to everyone I asked, most shamans today in Wenzhou are women, and many believed that these women generally have some sort of mental illness (shenjingbing 神经病) or physical ailment that predisposed them to hear voices, have visions, or go into trance. Most of them have very little formal education and cannot speak much Mandarin, only the local Wenzhou language.
A primary ability of shamans in Wenzhou is their capacity to embody or communicate with deities or ancestors who speak through them. Spirit possession is called “coming on to the body” (shangshen 上身) or “dancing like the body of a shaman” (tiao tongshen 跳僮身) in local parlance. Elsewhere in China, the term “dancing to the great deity” (tiao dashen 跳大神) is used, but it is not favored in Wenzhou.
Other shamanic abilities include ritual healing, exorcism of ghosts and demons, and seeing or divining the future. Some shamans are accomplished in all these arts, while most only have one or two abilities.
Compared with Taiwanese and Southeast Asian ethnic Chinese shamanism, Wenzhou shamanism is somewhat subdued. We do not have the laceration of the body with saw-shark teeth, or the walking over hot coals, nor the piercing of various parts of the body with spikes. Or at least I never saw these, nor did I hear about them being performed. When I described these ritual feats to Wenzhou people, many seemed a bit horrified. The dramaturgy of trance performances is similarly toned down. Nor I did see or hear about planchette divination-writing in Wenzhou, whereas it has made a comeback in Fujian.
In 2004, Mr. Wang, an old diviner in Longwan District, told me that in the Yong Qiang ( 永強) area of Wenzhou, he knows of only three male shamans, but there are over forty women shamanesses. There are many more in Pingyang and Cangnan Counties in southern Wenzhou, and also in Yongjia County in the north, the less developed areas of Wenzhou. Said Mr. Wang, “They close their eyes and sing Beijing or Yue opera tunes. Then a god or someone’s ancestor enters ‘into their bodies’ (shangsen 上身) and they start to give voice to the god. Sometimes they speak in strange tongues that no one can understand.”
Mr. Wang works with several women shamans who come to him to have him divine an auspicious date for their clients, and then they advise their clients to do certain things on the lucky date. Most shamans operate at their own homes because officially, they are not allowed in temples, and they could be fined or even taken to jail if they are caught practicing in public. They often treat illnesses that doctors and hospitals could not cure.
I asked Mr. Wang why most shamans in Wenzhou today are women, when in the old imperial days there were both men and women shamans. He thought it had to do with the fact that women’s minds are “simpler” and more “naïve or pure” (danchun 單純), therefore women are more sensitive and it is easier for them to hear the gods and ancestors and “communicate effectively” with them (hao goutong 好溝通). They are more receptive and sensitive to the gods’ presence and words, he thought.