Community

On the altar, there are many cups with grains and kernels to offer to the Hmong spirits

Shaman known as Grandma describes her duties

Red strings lead the spirits to the altar

Glasses of grains with toothpicks in them.

Egg in grains of rice with toothpicks sticking out of it.

Grandma stands next to the altar

Many cups on the altar, with red strings to lead the spirits to the offerings.

Pictures on the wall of the Shaman's house

The strings wrap around a disk near the offerings

Gong that the shaman uses when going into a trance.

The kids relax as the Shaman tells her tale

Disk that holds the knotted ends of the red strings

Grandman talks to the kids about being a shaman

The altar holds many offerings for the spirits.

Bayview Shaman
Madison, WI

Martin | Anna | Jenny | Zoe | Martin | Mark | Anna | Alice | Erika
Alice | Anna | Martin | Kyle | Dylan | Emily

We were lucky enough to be able to interview a shaman, through a translator. She was very welcoming and asked that we call her Grandma. She first became a shaman after the birth of her third son, and the spirits contacted her and told her how and why to become a shaman. --Martin

The shaman is chosen by the neng spirits of the spirit world. There are 24 neng spirits. In Grandma's case, she became very sick after having her fourth son, and the neng spirits told her that the only way she could get well was to become a shaman. --Anna

She says shamans are supposed to help people. She only can heal people that are sad and stuff like that. She showed us her shaman tools. She showed us the doge, the horns, the bells, and a very special sword. The sword is for battling and to bring the spirits. The most important thing to bring is the horns so she won't get sick.--Jenny

When she is ready to go into a trance she has someone beat a gong, and she puts on a pair of special rings. Now she can go safely to the sprit world. But she brings along a knife and a larger ring to keep hostile spirits away. The spirit world makes Grandma feel light. She says the spirits are almost like children playing. To her, the sprit world is a regular world. --Zoe

We asked her: why do you use the big knife? Her answer was to ward off evil spirits and help coax the good ones back. --Martin

Grandma needs the sword so she can battle with the bad spirits. --Mark

If a shaman dies they will have to throw away the shaman's stuff. --Mark

Grandma says that when a person is sick she will - if asked - go in to a trance and go to the spirit world to find a spirit that will then be taken back to the human, and give much protection. Then spirit money is burned as a gift to the spirit, hoping that the spirit will stay with the human. --Anna

The spirits always choose who's going to be a shaman, but if you have a bad personality or a bad temper you are not going to be chosen.--Alice

Grandma said she didn't want to be a shaman, but that she had to for her safety and health. --Erika

If a person comes to a shaman and asks for help the shaman must help them or else the shaman gets sick. --Erika

Only the good spirits visit her, and that's why they have the power to heal. --Alice

When Grandma goes into a trance she uses 3 tools: the 2 finger rings that sound like bells, a hoop (usually metal) that's about 10 inches around. It has about 20 to 30 rings of metal with red fabric at the top. --Anna

On her alter there is an array of things that I saw: several sticks of incense; many assorted candles; several cups; one jar full of rice; and a lighter. It looked like she burns a lot of incense. --Martin

After this ceremony, the shaman has two ox horns. She throws them on the ground to see if he or she has successfully contacted the spirits. Then he or she throws them again to see if he or she has cured the person. --Kyle

There are special alters only shamans can have. She told us that some spirits hang around the alters. --Dylan

The spirits that want her to be a shaman are spirits that have been in their family for generations. --Dylan

When she is in the spirit world she says it feels like a dream, and her body is very light. --Dylan

She had strings on the ceiling that led to the altar, so that the spirits can get to the altar. If you are a shaman and you don't have strings leading to the altar, it can mean that you aren't as good of a shaman. --Dylan

On the wall of Mr. Lor's house there is an alter. In the middle of it
are 3 feathers. They are thought to ward off evil spirits. --Emily

Our Tour by Location | Our Tour by Theme | How We Did It
Link back to the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures

Submit an Error Report

This page last updated on October 23, 2002