There are many rituals and ceremonies that the Hmongs practice. The clan elders used to perform the traditional ceremonies but now rarely do. Majority of the rituals and ceremonies are performed by a shaman. There are specific rituals, chanting and ceremonies that must be performed by a shaman in order to discover what the problem is and then to please the “upset” spirit so it can make the person healthy again. Sometimes these rituals include special herbs and/or animal sacrificing where the blood is used as a sacrifice. These sacrificing ceremonies are normally done at New Years, weddings, spiritual callings, and funerals.
Click on the links to read more on the specific rituals and ceremonies.
A shaman is transported to another world via a “flying horse,” a wooden bench usually no wider than the human body. The bench acts as a form of transportation to the other world. Buffalo horn tips are thrown to the ground to determine which way the soul has gone. The shaman wears a cloth mask while he or she is reaching a trance state. The mask not only blocks out the real world, so the shaman can concentrate, but also acts as a disguise from evil spirits in the spirit world. During episodes when shamans leap onto the flying horse bench, assistants will often help them to balance. It is believed that if a shaman falls down before his soul returns to his body, he or she will die.
One way in which a shaman returns the soul to the body is through a string-tying ritual. White, red, black or blue strings are tied to shield the person from evil spirits in the form of sickness. These strings signifying the binding up and holding intact of the life-souls.
The string tying ceremony, ua plis, is performed when a couple decide to get married, a new baby is born, or when an individual becomes very sick . Strings are tied around the person’s hand to shield them from evil spirits. The strings represent the binding up and holding intact of the person’s life souls. Sometimes string tying can follow a soul calling ceremony. During the string tying ceremony, family members are called upon to tie cotton strings around the loved one’s hand and to speak special words such as wishing them a long and happy life. After the string tying, everyone feasts on a sacrificed animal.
Shaman attempt to heal illnesses through offerings to the spirits, such as with meals or with a sacrifice of a chicken, pig, cow or other animal. In Hmong culture, the souls of sacrificial animals are connected to human souls. Therefore a shaman uses an animal’s soul to support or protect his patient’s soul. Often healing rituals are capped by a communion meal, where everyone attending the ritual partakes of the sacrificed animal who has been prepared into a meal. The event is then ended with the communal sharing of a life that has been sacrificed to mend a lost soul.
Live animal sacrifices occurs during the ua neeb and ua plis ceremonies. Chickens are sacrificed because their souls have wings and can therefore fly and search for and awaken the soul. The cow or pig is sacrificed because their souls have four legs, allowing them to carry the soul back to a person’s body. Chickens and pigs are usually sacrificed in the home, though cows are typically sacrificed at the place where purchased and then brought home to be butchered.