Folk religion in Vietnam is a long-established Vietnamese religion that reflects the locals’ life in the past and their beliefs in supernatural forces applied in daily life events. Therefore, this indigenous religion usually creates unique ethnic customs and becomes an indispensable part of Vietnamese traditions. Promoting human and national values, folk religion is characterized by Vietnamese Gods worshiping and venerating.
The Origin and Story of Vietnamese Gods in Folk Religion in Vietnam
Vietnamese Gods are imaginary figures or real people who have passed away and left historical or educational lessons to people of all generations in Vietnam. Gods can be the national heroes, features told in tales for their goodness and diligence, or even ordinary, kind-hearted people. When they died, people assumed they went to heaven, watching over their lives and protecting peace and luck. Many Vietnamese Gods are worshiped in temples, with different myths and stories about them.
Au Co and Lac Long Quan
Once upon a time, a dragon king named Lac Long Quan ruled the ocean, and a fairy named Au from the high mountains of Vietnam. They fell in love with each other and got married afterward. As a result of their passionate love, Au Co gave birth to a sack of 100 eggs hatched into 100 people.
However, the nature of a water person and the heart of a mountain girl make their lives incompatible. Finally, they decided to separate. Lac Long Quan brought 50 kids to the sea; the rest stayed on the land with Au Co. They promised to help each other when they were in need. The myth became a folk religion in Vietnam and it is believed that their kids later became the ancestors, the first king of Vietnamese, Hung Vuong, and the Vietnamese are the descendants of the Dragon and Fairy.
To commemorate the Great Mother and Great Father of Vietnamese, they are worshiped as Vietnamese Gods in the Lac Long Quan Temple and Au Co Temple located in Phu Tho Province, with many festivals on Tet Holiday and Hung Kings Festival in late April annually. Also, some streets are named after them in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh to show great respect for Vietnamese to our early ancestors.
Under the ruling of the 6th Hung King, an old farmer couple was wishing for a child. One day, when the wife put her feet on a mysterious giant footprint to compare, she soon got pregnant afterward and gave birth to a boy, but he couldn’t speak or walk even when he reached the age of 3. At the time, the country was on the verge of being invaded. The king asked the ambassador to seek a brave man fighting for the country. Surprisingly, the kid suddenly asked his mom to call the ambassador when he heard his voice and required a horse, armor, and a rod made of iron. And while waiting for the armor and weapons, the kid grew so quickly that the whole village had to help his family to feed him.
When the enemy entered the country and came to the Trau Moutain’s foot, the child had grown and become a powerful guy, waiting for the invader at the mountain. Thanh Giong defeated many of the enemy troops and used bamboo as a weapon when the iron rod was broken. The invader ran away in panic, but the brave man chased them off to the Soc Son Mountain. Reaching the mountaintop, he took off his armor and flew to heaven.
Thanh Giong became part of the Vietnamese Gods and was sacredly worshiped in Soc Temple in Soc Son District, Hanoi, and Phu Dong Temple in Gia Lam District, Hanoi. Also, the Giong Festival is an essential day of folk religion, which is held on the 6th day of the Tet Holiday at Soc Temple and for one week in late May at Phu Dong Temple.
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Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh
The 18th Hung King had a beautiful princess named Mi Nuong. When she reached the age of marriage, the king proclaimed across the nation to choose the best price for his dearest daughter. Many young men came hoping to be the princess’s husband, including 2 guys, Son Tinh, the Mountain Spirit, and Thuy Tinh, the Ocean Spirit. They were equally brilliant, powerful, and handsome. However, the king could choose only one, so he asked whoever brought the requested wedding presents of valuable and rare items around the country first to marry Mi Nuong.
Son Tinh was the first to be back, got the agreement from the King, and then took the princess to his mountain kingdom. Thuy Tinh, who came second soon afterward, got furious when he found out Son Tinh got married to Mi Nuong. The Ocean Spirit challenged the Mountain Spirit and used his power to call the gusty wind and raise the water to fight Son Tinh. Son Tinh then made the mountains grow even higher, and the war only ended when Thuy Tinh withdrew. However, Thuy Tinh refused to be defeated and continued the war annually. And that is how the Vietnamese in the past explained the yearly monsoon rains and floods, which later became one of Vietnam’s folk religions.
Son Tinh symbolizes kind and diligent farmers to the Vietnamese, while Thuy Tinh symbolizes the harsh weather. To pray for good crops and weather, people regard Son Tinh as a God and worship him in Tan Vien Son Thanh Temple, Ba Vi District, Hanoi.
Tao Quan (Kitchen God)
In the past, there was a woman named Thi Nhi and a man named Trong Cao. They got married but often quarreled. Once, when Nhi was thrown out by her husband, she left the house and entered the woods. Thi Nhi then found a hut to live in, fell in love, and married Pham Lang.
After Thi Nhi left, Trong Cao regretted it and decided to go looking for her. He traveled far, ran out of money, and became a beggar. Coincidentally, Trong Cao knocked at Thi Nhi’s house to beg for food and was invited to the house for a meal when Pham Lang was away. Pham Lang then returned, and Thi Nhi had to hide Trong Cao in a bush of straws as she knew how weird it would be if they met. However, Pham Lang set fire to the straw to enrich the soil. Thi Nhi jumped in the fire to save her ex-husband, and Pham Lang also jumped in to stop her. As a result, they all died in the fire.
The Jade Emperor knew their story and let them be the 3 Kitchen Gods to be together forever. Since then, these figures have become Vietnamese gods to the guardians of family chores, as well as Heaven’s informant of the situation among humankind. This is one of the most popular folk religions in Vietnam, and on the 23rd day in the last month of the lunar calendar, the locals give some offerings, and the Kitchen Gods leave the earth for heaven on a carp. The 3 gods then report to the Jade Emperor how each family has been doing in the previous year and come back to the world on the Lunar New Year’s Eve.
Phuc, Loc, Tho
Phuc, Loc, and Tho are 3 deities of Blessing, Prosperity, and Longevity, representing the 3 most essential qualities of a good life. Their origin is believed to be from two Chinese tales. One is about the well-wishing Nghieu King received from his people, which were blessing, prosperity, and longevity, and then returning to the people, hoping everyone could lead a good life. Another story is about 3 mandarines, Fu (Blessing), Lu (Prosperity), and Shou (Longevity), who lived happily, with good fortune, and for a long time.
As a result of the 1000-year domination of China and the influence of Chinese culture, the story of 3 deities came to Vietnam and became a part of folk religion in Vietnam until now. Their statues are usually put on the altars, temples, and shrines, mostly of private houses.
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Than Tai (The God of Wealth)
The God of Wealth is the symbol of luck, and he is a vital god in Vietnamese folk religion. The Wealth God altar made of wood is often placed near the door of shops, restaurants, or any business building. People usually buy gold to keep safe and as a way to receive luck on Than Tai Day, the 10th day of the Lunar New Year. This day is very important, especially to people in the business. They usually give offerings to worship this Vietnamese god carefully.
Ong Dia (The Land Spirit)
The Land Spirit is the land guardian who takes care of the land and the luck of the families. He is regarded as a good friend of Vietnamese farmers with the image of a simple laughing man who is fat with a plump belly, holding a fan. Before any building, the Vietnamese often have a ground-breaking ceremony to ask for the Land spirit’s permission. Also, The Land Spirit and the God of Wealth statues are usually put on the same altar for Vietnamese gods on the ground at the house’s corner.
Some popular offerings of the Land Spirit include the small five-fruit tray, alcohol, and flowers. People worship the Spirit on the first and fifteenth days according to the lunar calendar and on important days like the Tet Holiday. In short, the Land Spirit is among the most crucial gods of folk religion in Vietnam.
Thanh Mau (Holy Mother)
Holy Mothers are three goddesses in folk religion in Vietnam: Mau Lieu Hanh, Mau Thuong Ngan (goddess of the forests), and Mau Thoai (goddess of the water). Mau Lieu Hanh is the main goddess in the belief to worship women in Vietnam and one of the 4 immortal gods (Son Tinh – the Mountain Spirit, Thanh Giong, Chu Dong Tu, and Lieu Hanh Holy Mother). It is also believed that the other two goddesses were other avatars of her in the human world. She was the second child of Jade Emperor, an exemplary woman of all times, and did many good things to the humans.
She is worshiped in some parts of Vietnam, especially North and Central Vietnam, but the most famous temple is Phu Day Relics in Nam Dinh Province. The Phu Day festival in the 3rd month of the lunar calendar is vibrant, with many people coming to pray for good luck and a good future. In the celebration, people bring a lot of offerings to the Holy Mother statue. There is also a traditional folk art of Hat Van (invocation singing) and folk dancing that people can watch to discover more about the Vietnamese Folk Religion.
Tran Hung Dao – Duc Thanh Tran (Saint Tran)
Tran Hung Dao, or Saint Tran, is a historical figure, a national hero fighting against the Mongols to save the country from being invaded. For his outstanding character, the Vietnamese regard Tran Hung Dao as a Vietnamese god and a father of the nation. Many temples and statues are set up across the country to dedicate to him. The most famous one is Kiep Bac Temple in Chi Linh District, Hai Duong Province, as Hai Duong is where Saint Tran died.
Some other temples venerating him are Tran Temple in Thai Binh Province, Tran Hung Dao Temple in Ninh Binh, and Tran Hung Dao Temple in Tan Dinh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. The anniversary date of his death is the 20th day in the 8th month in the lunar calendar, which is also a big memorial event for many people who come to offer incense to Saint Tran, pray for good things, and join and watch the folk performances.
Besides, other gods like the turtle god, the gods of wind, and crops have many variants and avatars in different ethnic groups. The folk religion is widely varied thanks to the diversity of races in the country of 54 ethnic groups.
Summary of Folk Religion in Vietnam – Vietnamese Gods
The gods in the Vietnamese folk religion symbolize Vietnamese hope and personalities over 4,000 years. They are worshipped in many temples, which have become important attractions in Vietnam. Learning about the gods, visiting their temples, and partaking in the festivals will help you understand the Vietnamese culture and spiritual life better.