Week 13: A small collection of ghosts and malevolent spirits

This week on #VNmyth, instead of going through just one single myth or mythical creature, we’ll go over multiple ghost and malevolent spirits with similar pattern.

Việt Nam — vietphuc: Every culture has their own pantheon...

I. Ma thần vòng

“Thần” is the common word for “god(s)” but can also be understood as “the mind” (as in “tinh thần”). Since this is a relatively new type of ghost, I’m not sure which is which. “Vòng” means “a loop/noose,” which refers to the cause of death.

This specific type of ghost results from people ending their lives by hanging (now the noose in its name makes sense, right).

This type of ghost usually is hateful and raging. The spirits would find people with the right eight characters birthday/eight lettered birthtime (sinh thần bát tự, erm, think of it as the Vietnamese equivalence of true names, though it can be used as personal horoscope as well), put them in a trance so they will end up with the same fate as the ghosts. As for reasons, there is an explanation that they are constantly reliving their moment of death because they have committed a taboo (suicide). This branches into two possible conclusions.

  1. they do it because the only way to end their suffering early is to find someone else and put them in their place.
  2. the hatred they held and the pain drove them insane and into losing their humanity => They claim more victims so more will suffer like them.

II. Ma rừng:

Now, this is arguably one of the most challenging ghosts to give you folks a proper introduction. This is because the term ma rừng (lit: forest/jungle ghosts) is so broadly used that most, if not all, ethnic minorities in Vietnam have them, and each with their own version that is in tune with their cultures. So, I’ll share what I know about this.

  1. The voices in the forest: self-explanatory; I think this is something so familiar in mythologies around the globe that no need for an explanation. But, I do have to expand on this a little.
    What is interesting about these voices is that they aren’t vague. We humans can understand them clearly, sometimes even hear our names called by the voice of a loved one.
    In Vietnam, we are told not to follow nor try to find where the voices are, but we are not allowed to directly reply to them, either. Or else, nothing good is gonna happen, although the results might vary in terms of damage. Some are lost but were eventually found, some are killed or gone missing for good, and some wish they were dead, as death would be a much more pleasant fate.
    But it didn’t stop there. On rainy days, they will even knock on the door, asking for water to drink. Well, god bless whoever thinks that voice was from a person.
  2. The claim of children: A custom of burying people in the forest/on a tree exists among some ethnicities. So… if a mother were to kick the can giving birth, or her child didn’t make it, etc., then it was believed that that newborn was claimed by ma rừng. Now, in some stories, a hero managed to chase those ghosts away as they came to demand the baby by using dog blood, or sometimes that of roosters. Why!? For the Kinh ethnic, the blood of rooster and dog, especially black dogs, have the property of fending off evil since the two animals are considered animals of Yang alignment. I have no idea if other ethnicities share the same beliefs, though I believe the Chinese have similar views.
  3. They lead you: sometimes if you were rude/disrespectful, they will guide you deeper into the woods and leave you there. Whether or not you can make it out wasn’t their concern.
  4. They are a bad omen and was blame for basically every bad thing, from diseases to drought or landslide.

III. Ma trành

This one actually has a counterpart in Chinese mythos (It appeared in Liaozhai zhiyi).

Ma trành are people who are killed and eaten by tigers. Long story short: tigers are fearsome entities in Vietnamese mythos, both in a physical sense and a spiritual aspect.

Ma trành are servants to the tiger. They are forced to lure people toward their master – in this case, the tiger, usually by putting the victims in a trance or making them lost their way into the tiger den. In turn, the tiger will eat those people and turn them into more ma trành. How to be freed from the tiger servitude also varied considerably between cases, depending on the story’s origin and the tiger in control. So, I’ll explain this further in another post about tigers.

IV. Additional comments:

_ The notion that committing suicide or harming one’s self is widely considered a taboo and a sin in many Asian countries. Ancient Chinese and Vietnamese believed that a person’s body and their life is not their own but was given to them by their parents. And therefore, harming one’s self is being disrespect to one’s parents, among other things.

_ The motif/trope of malevolent spirits tricking and harming humans to create more of themselves are quite common in myths around the world. You may or may not remember Ma Da, or the spirits of the drowned having a somewhat similar background. Ma Da have been mentioned in an earlier post and appear in chapter 7, 8, and more of Book 1 of the Half-Dead Series.

_ Ma Rừng make appearances in chapter 4 and 5, a Ma Thần Vòng appears in later chapters as well.

_ Ma Trành was covered in The Plane-Walkers Guidebook‘s chapter 4.

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