My name is Le Thi Thu Trang. I am 33 years old, married with two children, a shopkeeper in Hanoi, and I am also a medium, a thanh dong.

I became a thanh dong when I was 25 years old, at the time I got married. Before that time, I had severe insomnia and whenever I managed to sleep I was always dreaming of Ong Hoang Muoi (the Tenth Prince of the Pantheon of the Mother Goddess religion). In these dreams, he always asked me to wear yellow clothes. I was vaguely familiar with Hau Dong but wasn’t interested in it. So I started to research this belief, and after a year of studying it, I was paired with Ong Hoang Muoi. This pairing didn’t happen in a temple or pagoda, but at home. I took it more seriously and visited temples more frequently, and on a regular basis. This caused a rift between me and my husband Dao Ngoc Doanh, and we separated for a while.

In 2013, my husband took me to a large temple where a Hau Dong was being performed, and while watching it I became entranced, and my whole body started to sway. I was possessed by my husband’s great great great grandmother, and entered my mind and body, ordering me to accept my being paired with Ong Hoang Muoi.

My teacher-master is Nguyen Van Ba who lives in Phuc Lai, Bac Ninh Province, instructed me to return to my husband and his family to settle down, and enact my destiny alongside them, and that they would be welcome me back. He told me to go to Tam Phu temple in Gia Binh, Bac Ninh and that it would be the right one for me.

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Since I became a thanh dong, I sleep much better and have no nightmares or disturbing dreams like in the past. I am always surprised whenever I am about to start a Hau Dong, I get a vision—or a dream—of Ong Hoang Muoi falling to Earth, and giving me the necessary instructions.

After a difficult time, I now have the strong support of my husband and his family for my thanh dong work. I am jubilant about this. He and his family help me to prepare for ceremonies. As I have no special temple, I meet the spirits in many temples and we have to travel to many locations to choose one. It then takes 2-3 months in advance preparation to have a good ceremony. The expenses can vary from one ceremony to the other. It depends on the number of guests, the temple and the distance from Hanoi.

I don’t have a specific temple, but I always meet Ong Hoang Muoi at Tam Phu temple where I am paired. I only perform two ceremonies every year or whenever he advises me to have one. During a ceremony, I am still aware of all happening around me. I also listen to chau van songs to make it easy for the spirits to come in my body.

I know many people think Hau Dong is superstition, but worshipping the Mother Goddess is a religion, and not superstition. Thanh Mau gave birth to the whole universe, so it’s not superstition. When I am performing a ceremony, I feel that my whole family is getting its benefit.

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Female mediums find it much more difficult than men to become thanh dong. The process is more challenging, and women have more duties at home. My husband and I have to work to support our family, and it’s not easy to be a medium and work at the same time.

Costumes are very important to me, and I ordered 22 sets from tailors working in Thuong Tin village. They are expensive, but I take good care of them and keep them in a special box.

I noticed that Hau Dong has become more popular among the young people, especially those born in 1990- 91. However, their interest is just superficial, and they like it because of the fashion, the styling and the music. To get involved in it, they would have to spend a lot of time, effort and money and they don’t want to do that. Only those who get can dong, the divine calling to become a medium, can get the necessary support from their families, community and friends. Otherwise, it is impossible.

TEXT AND IMAGES BY TEWFIC EL-SAWY