THE WAR AGAINST EVIL SPIRITS – SAINT TRAN’S SPIRITUAL EFFICACY IN CONTEMPORARY VIET NAM
According to popular beliefs, when ghosts and evil spirits intrude into the life of the living, they afflict and harm people. They are invisible but the consequences of their intrusions are visible. They make their victims sick, miserable or even crazy. Their powers are great, so suppressing them requires an even greater force. That force is seen in the powerful figure of Saint Tran. In this paper authoress explores the way, in which physical, mental and emotional problems are interpreted by Vietnamese people in terms of supernatural agency. Saint Tran, i.e. Tran Hung Dao is a well-known national hero who defeated the Mongol-Chinese army that invaded Vietnam in the 13th century.
According to the widely diffused beliefs, he is involved in a particular “war against evil forces”, and the people could use his power for their own advantage. As a symbol of military strength, masculinity and mysterious power, Saint Tran has become the most famous protector of the people in many ways. People’s afflictions and malaises are interpreted in the name of his enemy, Pham Nhan (by the legend he acted as a guide for the invading Mongol-Chinese army), who was pitifully defeated by Tran Hung Dao and then became maligned and pathogenic. A captious and capricious spirit Pham Nhan still receives offerings, since the people continue to fear his power. A battle between Saint Tran and all sorts of malignant forces is reflected in various religious activities in contemporary life. In these, Saint Tran communicates his power through his media, exhibits his eminence in his sacred places (temples and shrines), transmits his power through these same sacred places, and signifies his protection through bloody marks and amulets.
The authoress has not discussed the practical effect of exorcism rites and healings or the relation between exorcism and psychotherapy. She gives a general overview of contemporary practices and beliefs as articulated by individual voices, and notes the continuity between past rituals and those of today. On this basis, she identifies and delineates current ideas about spiritual efficacy and Saint Tran’s specific importance in a world inhabited by the dead, ghosts and demons. She shows that faith has the power to turn psychological belief into social reality. Regardless of what psychological elements are involved, or the verifiable efficacy of the rites, the social fact remains that Saint Tran has become one of the most powerful spirits for fighting off ghosts and demons in the religious landscape of contemporary Viet Nam.