As a kid in Saigon I remember my grandmother taking me to watch Lên Đồng, or Spirit Possession Rituals, in the evenings after dinner has been served. She dressed up and took me down alley ways somewhere in our neighborhood to someone's house.
The home is packed with people sitting or standing around a small stage. It is large enough for about five people, 4 were attendants and the person who is designated as the receiver of the spirit that evening. On the stage is a large altar full of flowers, food offerings, lights, and incense. Performing these rituals is usually done by an older woman with lots of makeup on while wearing fancy costumes. She may take on a female or a male spirit. Her attendants help her change into different Áo dài as she takes on different spirits of other goddesses right front of us. As each spirit arrives, I hear chanting “Cô lên, cô lên, she is here, she is here” to indicate the moment when a female spirit being called upon has finally arrived. (Image from UNESCO Video)
I don’t remember much else except a combination of people packed together, music, songs, dance and smoke from the incense painting the humid air. I may have fallen asleep on a few occasions only to be woken up by grandma jerking her hand away from mine because the designated spirit woman gestured for her to come up on the stage to dance with her. This was the ultimate honor for any attendee. I could sense the flirtation between them even as a kid. These memories are deeply embedded in my mind and heart. I have not experienced anything like that again since leaving Vietnam. Now with the help of Youtube, I am able to listen and watch these rituals again. They still hold a deep fascination for me as they did so long ago.
Lên Đồng is a part of Thờ Mẫu, the Worship of Mother Goddess of Three Realms which is recognized by UNESCO World Heritage on April 2, 2017 as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
"The tradition involves daily worship, ceremonies, rituals and festivals. Transmitted by bearers such as temple priests, the activities provide a basis for social relations connecting the community and maintaining an aspect of its cultural heritage." Source: UNESCO
For more on this topic watch this informative video made by UNESCO: