Even though there is some disapproval of superstitious practices, most Vietnamese still hold deep-rooted beliefs set by our ancestors long ago. These Vietnamese superstitions can also dictate the people’s day to day. Just as an old Vietnamese proverb goes, “Co kieng co lanh,” roughly translated to “There is no worship without sacredness, there are no taboos without luck.” Here is what you should know about Vietnamese superstitions so that you can cultivate your own luck, too.
Vietnamese Superstitions – Beliefs in Afterlife and Spiritual Beings
Vietnamese usually offer food and burn ghost money and votive items like houses, clothes, and cars for death so that they can eat, spend, use, and continue their afterlife in another world. You can often see this ritual during the Tet holiday, one’s funeral, the death memorial occasions, and Vietnamese Ghosts Month.
Vietnamese will burn incense or a piece of paper to chase away bad luck and fan the smoke. The Chinese Vietnamese have a similar ritual: burning and stepping over charcoal.
Vietnamese Superstitions and Fortune-telling
Vietnam has many kinds of fortune-telling and the Vietnamese love fortune-telling. The word for it in Vietnamese is “coi boi”. The most popular time for this is the Tet Holiday. People will go to fortune-tellers (thay boi) and see their fate in the family, love life, and work or business progress. Even though it can be a fun thing to do once in a while, many Vietnamese wholeheartedly believe in it.
Traditional fortune-telling includes Tu vi (a combination of reading your star sign, lunar calendar birthday, gender, and some previous events in the past to tell your future), palm reading, and zodiac sign reading. While some fortune-telling methods seem to use logical reasoning, most are based on no scientific proof or solid evidence.
Vietnamese Superstitions – Remedies for Bad Luck and Changing One’s Fortune
Along with fortune-telling, there are remedies when the result of reading your destiny is bad.
Draw a line of salt
According to Vietnamese superstitions, bad luck results from an evil spirit looming over you. It is advised that you draw a line of salt in front of your door as a talisman or protective charm that will keep the spirits from entering your home.
Most Vietnamese have multiple altars in both their home and workplace to worship their ancestors as well as different deities like Buddha, Bodhisattva, Than Tai (Caishen) – God of Wealth, and Phuc Loc Tho – the three Gods of Prosperity, Wealth, and Longevity. Read more about Religions in Vietnam here.
Depending on what you’re praying for, be it health, wealth, or general fortune for yourself and your family, you will pray to different deities. However, make sure that the number of incense you use is always odd (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) when offering to ancestors or Buddhist deities. Learn more about how incense is made.
Eat a Balut
Balut – fertilized duck egg embryo – also known as Hot Vit Lon, is a popular food Vietnamese use to eliminate bad fortune. The name of the dish itself can explain the reason for this tradition. The word “lon” in Vietnamese means “to reverse”, so you should only eat a balut to reverse your bad luck and not when you are lucky. Remember only to eat an odd number of eggs (1, 3, 5) and crush the eggshells when you’ve finished.
Check here for more exotic Vietnamese dishes.
In Vietnamese superstitions, people believe their house comes with a history and negative or positive energy. However, the owner can change that by changing the arrangement of their home and surrounding environment according to feng shui to harness lucky power.
There are five feng shui elements: earth, air, fire, wood, and metal, based on your birth year. For example, if your element is water, you should go for black or blue in combination with white or silver. These are colors representing the purity of water.
According to the law of feng shui, the door is a gateway for luck or misfortune to your home. Though it is mostly a superstition, some rules hold some sense. For instance, if the main door or the windows are shaded from harsh sunlight, the house will be cooler, consequently leading to a calmer home.
In Vietnamese culture, numbers like 1, 6, 7, 8, 9 are considered lucky numbers. Particularly number 8, because the Chinese pronunciation sounds like the word “Phat” meaning “wealth, prosperity”. However, many feng shui masters have said 9 is the luckiest number, representing completion, fulfillment, and achievement. No matter which number you multiply 9 with, the addition of digits in the result of the equation always returns to 9 (for example, 9 x 2 = 18 -> 1 + 8 = 9), symbolizing a complete circle of heaven and earth.
Vietnamese also believe a good combination of digits in their motorbike license plate or phone number. They choose their numbers using a wide range of tools ranging from the year of birth, elemental/zodiac sign, or just a beautiful sequence of numbers, most notably quadruple eight and nine. Some wealthy businessmen would even go as far as paying millions to acquire a good number.
Other Irrational Beliefs in Vietnamese Superstitions
- The day’s first customer will determine whether it is a good or bad day for business. Customers buying a lot is considered a good sign and vice versa.
- Whistle at night will attract snakes.
- The Vietnamese believe when you see an owl, that means someone, especially those who are close to you, is going to die.
- Any unfortunate events you meet in one year are because the sign of your zodiac is not comparable with the zodiac signs of that year.
And there are more because every person, with their unique background, occupation, and experience, will have their superstition and ritual related to it. For example, the fishermen don’t flip the fish in their food as they believe this would turn over their boats. You can see more of these irrational beliefs in chopsticks-using manners and gift-giving etiquettes in Vietnam.
Some Vietnamese Superstitions during Tet Holidays
Tet is also about turning to a new page and having a fresh start for a new year. So there is no wonder why Vietnamese practice many of these superstitions to ensure that the transition from the old to the new year happens as smoothly as possible.
No cleaning during Tet of any sort
Vietnamese believe that by cleaning the house during Tet, especially the first 3 days, they will sweep the good luck and prosperity out of their home. So when visiting a friend’s family during Tet, make sure not to comment about their piled-up trash or help out with cleaning, as you will be throwing out their good fortune.
Xong dat- also known as the first home caller or first foot
Keeping an eye on what or who enters the house is also just as important. It is believed that the first person to entire the house after midnight of the Lunar New Year’s Eve is responsible for the good or bad fortune throughout the year.
Other Dos and Don’ts during Tet.
Conclusion on What You Should Know About Vietnamese Superstitions
Superstitious beliefs are everywhere on the planet and vary from all corners of the world. Many superstitions in Vietnam reflect the country’s rich history and diverse culture. Check out our Vietnam travel guide or our private tours if you wish to learn more about Vietnam’s traditions and customs.