Wushu – The Initiation ordeal of a healing shamaness
Type of Spiritual Experience
The claims she made about her patients were not verified so cannot be included in the observation and are described below. But her own healing and experiences are worthy of note
Luo was eager to recount all her healing triumphs. Indeed, the manner in which she recounted her accomplishments can only be described as boastful and relentless, for there was no stopping her. I can only give a few examples here. One of her earliest successes was helping a farmer who had lost seven pigs. She wrote three magical talismans and burned them, then mixed the ashes with rice porridge and fed the mixture to the three remaining sick pigs. To the gratitude of the farmer, all three were saved.
She once warned a man not to travel between the first and the twenty-third of the fifth lunar month because she had a vision of him dying in a terrible accident. He ignored her, and sure enough, he and six others were crushed to death when a train derailed and fell on top of them.
Once, a man brought his thirteen-year-old son to see her. The son was traumatized because he saw his dead mother in a vision, and he fell into a catatonic state. Years earlier, his mother had committed suicide by drinking poison after an argument with his father. Not only did Luo cure the son, she also told the father that when the son reached sixteen years of age, he would go abroad. The father dismissed this improbable idea, because one needed a great deal of money to go abroad. Luo triumphantly told me that three years later, his father happened to be standing nearby when a woman threw herself into the river. She attempted suicide because her husband, who was an illegal migrant working in Italy, had called her on long-distance telephone to tell her that he wanted a divorce. The father of the catatonic boy jumped into the river and saved the suicidal woman. In gratitude, the woman offered to take his son with her to Italy, where she planned to find her husband and talk him out of the divorce. So, just as Luo had predicted, at age sixteen, the boy went to Italy and worked very hard there, saving enough money to come back to Wenzhou and open up his own store.
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
My second interaction with a shaman was in 2008 in a picturesque village deep in the Western Yandang Mountains of Rui’an County. This village had seen a depletion of population in the past decade as the able-bodied adults and youth had descended the mountain to the towns of the plains in search of wage work, leaving mainly the elderly and the very young behind. The village head was an ambitious leader who was trying to stimulate the local economy in his deserted mountain village by attracting tourists from the lowlands. One of the ways to do so was to reconstruct and expand the village’s dilapidated old Yang Family Elder Temple (Yangfu Miao 楊府廟), dedicated to an important local god of the Wenzhou area, Yang Jingyi (楊精義).
The head of the construction crew contracted to work on the temple introduced a shamaness from Qingtian County, a poor area northwest of the Wenzhou region. Although a Party member, the village head said, “She will imbue this temple with new life, so I welcome her.” She was promised a certain guaranteed income for three years and entrusted with the management of the temple, so she settled into the village with her husband to await the completion of the temple. This shamaness called herself a “deity-child” (shentong 神僮), and I will give her the name of Luo Jinhong.
She told me that she used to be at another deity temple in Yongjia County in northern Wenzhou, but she was “chased out by bad people.” She would not divulge the reason for her forced departure, perhaps finding those memories too unpleasant. Although she occasionally heard from gods, her powers were mainly in healing, not communicating with spirits. She came from three generations of Daoist priests: her maternal great-grandfather, maternal grandfather, and mother were priests of the Zhengyi sect who were never formally ordained.
She never realized she had a calling until one day the goddess Mother Chen the Fourteenth appeared to her in a dream and told her she should “conduct rituals” in her honor ( zuo daochang 做道場). She was reluctant to take up this profession because it involved rigorous training and she never learned to read.
Soon afterwards, she fell seriously ill and could not eat, lying in bed day after day. The doctor said she had contracted hepatitis and told her she would not live past forty days. She refused to accept death and went into the mountains to seek an old “Daoist healer” ( fashi 法師) for a cure. He performed a full day of healing ritual for her, and she stayed with him for one week. After she returned home, her whole body developed scales of skin which all peeled off, and she went back to the Daoist. This time he wrote three magical talismans (fu 符) with a calligraphy brush on paper for her, burned them, and poured the ashes into hot water, which she drank down.
Miraculously, three days later, she felt better and eventually fully recovered her health.
Taking her brush with death and miraculous recovery as a sign from Niangniang that she must become a shamaness, she threw herself into her training. Each day, she followed a strict regimen. Three times a day in a quiet room, for two-hour periods beginning at 5:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 7:00 p.m., she chanted mantras (nianzou 念咒) and memorized Daoist texts from an audio recording. She repeatedly invoked the following names: Mother Chen the Fourteenth, her patron deity; the sage Laozi (Taishang Laojun 太上老君); and Jade Maiden of the Ninth Heaven ( Jiutian Yunu 九天玉女), another goddess.
“Please give me a hand and lift my body up” (qingni fuwo yishen 請你扶我一身) she pleaded with the gods. She persisted with the training seven days a week for seven weeks, totaling forty-nine days. Finally, one day she felt the “magical powers transmitted to her body” ( fali chuandao woshenshang 法力傳到我身上).
...............Years later, after she got married, her husband taught her how to read her family’s Daoist books. Given her Daoist family background, her training in Daoist texts, and the gods she called out to for assistance, it is clear that Luo is affiliated with Daoist culture, even though nowadays, official Daoist culture considers living shamans an example of “superstition.”