Does heaven exist? With well over 100,000 plus recorded and described spiritual experiences collected over 15 years, to base the answer on, science can now categorically say yes. Furthermore, you can see the evidence for free on the website allaboutheaven.org.

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This book, which covers Visions and hallucinations, explains what causes them and summarises how many hallucinations have been caused by each event or activity. It also provides specific help with questions people have asked us, such as ‘Is my medication giving me hallucinations?’.

Available on Amazon
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Chinese shamanism - Wushu

Category: Shaman

Shamanism ( wushu 巫術 ) in China is an archaic religious tradition tracing back to the Shang Dynasty (1700–1027 BCE) and perhaps the Neolithic Age. Chinese shamanism in these days was much the same as that we see throughout the world - certain gifted and respected holy men or women directly communicated with or were possessed by gods, spirits, or ancestors.  In trance or ecstatic states, they practised weather control, they went out of body to travel to ‘other worlds’, and they healed the sick through dancing, singing, ritual performances, and exorcizing demons.  They could also prophecy – divine the future.

A reviving tradition

Chinese shamanism has all but been wiped out by Communism, however, an article written by Mayfair Yang of the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara in Review of Religion and Chinese Society [2] in 2015, provides us with a very good summary of what it was and where it flourished.  We will be using extracts [with due credits] in the following entry.

Equally interesting is her finding that relatively recent fieldwork in rural and small-town Wenzhou, has revealed that shamans, ritual healers, and spirit mediums have re-emerged in the post-Mao era.  But there is a major difference between the pre-Communist and post-Communist eras, most spirit mediums in Wenzhou today are women.  Chinese shamans of old were both – men and women.

Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) 

In the Wenzhou area today, shamans are called by various terms. Male shamans are called “men of the deities” (shenhan  神漢), while female ones are called “old  women of the deities” (shenpo  神婆), “woman of the Dao” (daogu 道姑), or  “spiritually efficacious women” (linggu 靈姑) or “spiritually efficacious female child” (lingutong 靈姑僮). I was advised to avoid using the term “old shamaness” ( wupo 巫婆) in directly addressing a shamaness to her face, for this term has a pejorative sense. There are also the terms “child of a deity” or “servant of a deity” (shentong 神僮), and “servant-body” (tongshen 僮身), and “divination child” ( jitong 乩童), which do not seem to be gender specific. There is also a class of vegetarian shamanesses, called “teacher-mothers” (shiniang 師娘).

Shamanism had been suffering from a slow but steady decline, even before Communism was imposed.  This decline probably started with the ascendancy of Neo-Confucianism in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but this was greatly accelerated during Maoist-era suppressions.  There is some indication that it was the activity of the male shamans that was in part the cause - one of the hallmarks of the male shamans was that they engaged  “in bloody and violent public ritual performances”  especially it seems “in those areas where male shamans predominated”.

Despite the fact that today’s female shamans are more likely to to be healers, who employ only gentle ritual to achieve their aims, memories are long and there is still animosity toward shamanism and spirit possession by both Chinese officialdom and mainstream Chinese society today. The areas where shamans are most prominent in terms of both numbers and public visibility seem to be the coastal cultures of Fujian, Guangdong, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the ethnic Chinese enclaves of Southeast Asia.

 In contrast with South Korea, where some female shamans have been declared national treasures, in mainland China today, shamanism continues to be denigrated and marginalized in most areas, so that practitioners “often live a subterranean existence mainly in rural areas”.

Some history

Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) 

Shang Dynasty shamans were associated with the earliest writings on oracle bones for divination into the future. The Han Dynasty text The Rituals of Zhou ( Zhou Li 周禮) states that shamans in the Zhou Dynasty belonged to the lowest class of state officials at the court, and their duties included presiding at state sacrifices, calling down the invited gods and ancestors, performing exorcisms, dancing at sacrifices for rain, and averting diseases and natural disasters.

A passage in the fourth-century text the  Discourses of States (Guo Yu 國語) may be the earliest description of shamans in ancient China.

古者民神不雜。民之精爽不攜貳者,而又能齊肅衷正,其智能上下比義,其聖能光遠宣朗,其明能光照之,其聰能聽徹之,如是則明神降之,在男曰覡,在女曰巫。是使制神之處位次主,而為之牲器時服,而後使先聖之後之有光烈,而能知山川之 號、高祖之主、宗廟之事、昭穆之世、齊敬之勤、禮節之宜、威儀之則、容貌之崇、忠信之質、禋絜之服而敬恭明神者,以為之祝。


 Anciently, men and spirits did not intermingle. At that time there were certain persons so perspicacious, single-minded, and reverential that their understanding enabled them to penetrate and compare the worlds above and below, and their sagacity enabled them to illuminate what is distant and profound, and their bright insight enabled them to enlighten people, and their intelligence enabled them to hear things [from the gods] and penetrate through [what was said]. Therefore, the spirits would descend into them. Those who were thus possessed by the gods were, if men, called xi  [shamans], and if women,  wu [shamanesses].
 It was these shamans who supervised the ranking and positions of the spirits at the ceremonies and prepared the sacrificial victims and vessels, and seasonal clothing. It was also they who ensured that those descendants of the former sages were able to know the designations of the mountain and river gods, the primary order among the august ancestors, the affairs of the lineage temples, and the zhaomu order of the generations [for rituals].  These shamans made sure that rulers assiduously paid respects to the deities, and observed the authority of ritual propriety and ritual regulations. They helped the rulers put on solemn and lofty facial expressions and develop an ethos of loyalty and sincerity so that they could offer sacrifices with purity of heart and serve the deities with reverence. In these ways, they assisted the rulers in offering sacrifices

In the Han Dynasty, shamans continued to be used in the court as ritual specialists, diviners, and healers in the state religion. However, once Confucianism came to dominate court life, there was always an uneasy tension between Confucians and spirit mediums. Donald Sutton explains this as the tension and competition between two powerful ritual traditions. On the one hand, there was the literate, cultured, austere, self- disciplined, and ponderous ethos of Confucian culture, which stresses decorum, social order, and hierarchy. On the other hand, the ethos of spirit mediums was spontaneous, ecstatic, “Dionysian,” and sometimes socially rebellious.

Ritual practises and methods

Most of the practises of both male and female shamans relied upon spirit possession and trance states.  They might be possessed by particular gods, ancestors, or animal spirits.  The methods used to induce trance were much the same as most shamans use - dancing and drumming.

Possession by “fox spirits” (huli   jing  狐狸精) tended to be found across northern China, while “spirit-writing, self-laceration with swords, and the carrying of deity palanquins by mediums in trance” seem to have been common to south-eastern coastal China and places in Southeast Asia where southern Chinese had migrated.

Shamanism’s influence on Daoism and Buddhusm

Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) 

During the Song Dynasty (960–1279), organized Daoism frequently denounced the wu shamans, since Daoists saw spirit mediums as rivals in ritual healing and acquiring clients. However, it was not until Neo-Confucianism became state orthodoxy in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties that active hostility toward and occasional persecution of spirit mediums took off. Both Ming and Qing imperial law explicitly prohibited spirit mediums (shiwu 師巫) on pain of punishment and death, but as was common in late imperial (and contemporary) China, the laws were not well implemented.

It is all the more ironic therefore that many of the rituals and practices, beliefs and methods were in the end absorbed into Daoist and Buddhist practices. This happened too with Tibetan Buddhism which has a very distinct shamanic arm.

Mircea Eliade, for example, decided that the Daoists, with their flying immortals, dance steps in ritual healing, and communion with the gods, had “elaborated and systematized the shamanic technique and ideology of proto-historical China” and were the “successors of shamanism.”  Kristofer Schipper agreed with Eliade and wrote that Chinese shamanism provided “the sub-stratum  of Taoism,” because so many Daoist rituals looked like they derived from shamanistic precursors.

Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) 

We can see the influence of shamanism in contemporary Daoism in Wenzhou, where the Lu Mountain sect ( Lushan Pai  閭山派) of Daoism, which emphasizes martial movements and exorcistic rituals for their priests and nuns, is especially strong.

Another clear indicator of shamanic influence is in the pantheon of gods and goddesses, many of whom were actual people.  We have seen that anyone who completes the spiritual path and acquires all the skills of an Adept, becomes a ‘god’.

Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) 

The goddess Mother Chen the Fourteenth (Chen Shisi Niangniang  陳十四娘娘), also known as Chen Jinggu (陳靖姑), is a major goddess in the Lu Mountain sect ( Lushan Pai  閭山派) of Daoism.
She started out as a historical person, born in Xiadu Village, outside Fuzhou, Fujian Province, in the Tang dynasty.
Today in Wenzhou, the religious oral storytelling rituals called “drum chants” ( guci 鼓詞) have been revived after four decades of being banned. In these stories, Mother Chen is shown casting spells, conducting rituals and incantations, and engaging in martial arts to exorcise people of wicked demons ( yaojing  妖精) and free whole communities from the Green and White Snake Demons.
In one episode, Mother Chen descends into hell to save her sworn sister, the goddess Li the Thirteenth ( Li Shisan  李十三), whose soul was being punished for having offended the gods. After traveling through the Ten Prisons of hell, Mother Chen finally discovers her sister mired in the dark Lake of Blood ( Xuehu Chi 血湖池) and brings her back to earth and to life.

Stephen Teiser has even suggested that the popular Chinese Buddhist tale of Mulian, a disciple of the Buddha, has deep roots in indigenous Chinese shamanistic culture.

Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) 

In the medieval Buddhist Ghost Festival (Yulanpen盂蘭盆) stories, Mulian travels to the darkest realms of hell to save the suffering soul of his sinful mother trapped there, and engages  in battles with the demonic armies of hell.

 These elements of spiritual travel beyond earth, exorcising demons, and communing with spirits in other worlds are the hallmarks of Chinese shamanism.

Shamanism and Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity  - Mayfair Yang (楊美惠) 

Sinologists can easily point to a number of historical texts where the late imperial state reveals its deep suspicion of and animosity toward independent charismatic or divine authorities who may challenge the sovereign power’s monopoly on divine authority or access to the higher divinities, such as Heaven.  
The imperial state attempted to control religious revelations through official compilations of Daoist and Buddhist texts and limited the ordination of their clergy. However, it was unable to control the utterances of individual shamans or the gods who spoke through them. The awesome power that shamans wield as incarnations of the gods confers on them the dangerous ability to give voice to gods who are positioned as transcending the political authority of the emperor, the court, and the dynastic power order.


  • 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
  • De Groot, Jan Jakob M. 1901. Sectarianism and Religious Persecution in China: A Page in the History of Religions .
  • De Groot, Jan Jakob M.  The Religious System of China: Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History, and Present Aspect, Manners, Customs, and Social Institutions Connected Therewith, vol. 6, book 2.
  • Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
  • Sutton, Donald. 2000. “From Credulity to Scorn: Confucians Confront the Spirit Mediums in Late Imperial China.”  21:2: 1–39
  • Chau, Adam Yuet. 2006.   Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China
  • Kang Xiaofei. 2006. The Cult of the Fox: Power, Gender, and Popular Religion in Late  Imperial and Modern China
  • Schipper, Kristofer. 1993. - The Taoist Body


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