Hmong Shamanism as a Way of Life

“There are so many things that the Hmong culture – that Shamanism – explains for me.” —John Moua

Over the years, the meaning of Hmong Shamanism has changed drastically. But whether a believer in Christianity or the traditional Hmong ways, our goal is to preserve the viewpoints of members of the Hmong community in the Twin Cities. With more and more of the younger generations being influenced by American ways, the Hmong people are slowly losing their grasp of Hmong culture and Hmong religion. Furthermore, some are beginning to convert to Christianity, further drifting from traditional Hmong beliefs. We asked the Twin Cities Hmong community: “What does Hmong Shamanism mean to you?” We found that, whether practitioners in Shamanism or Christianity, the Hmong community believes that Shamanism is a critical component of Hmong identity, and so we believe that every effort to preserve this rich tradition should be implemented.

For me, I don’t define it as a religion. [Rather], it’s a way of life, a cultural way of life. As much as you are Hmong, you are shaman. —Mr. Yang

For Mr. Yang, he does not see Hmong Shamanism as a religion, but simply as a way of life. Coming from a family whose mother’s side identifies with Hmong Shamanism but father’s side with Christianity, there is a divide there for him. Even though his father influences Mr. Yang’s religious perceptions predominantly, he still understands the importance of Shamanism.

“My dad is a Christian, but, as an immigrant, he understands the shaman point of view. So I have come to understand both sides. I respect [Hmong shamanism]: it’s a part of our culture, our identity and [our] way of life. If that’s what some people want to practice, [then I say] let them practice it . . .” —Mr. Yang

Because there is so much to Hmong Shamanism, it makes it hard for Hmong Shamanism to be identified as a religion. Mr. Yang sees Hmong Shamanism as more than worshipping, more than believing in one specific person or thing. There are still the spiritual realms and other places that we can’t get to.

“I grew up with [shamanism]. A huge part of me believes in it because my parents do. And it’s not just my parents — my grandpa, my great grandpa, my great great grandpa, etc. — [all believe in shamanism]. I believe in it [because] I define it as a part of being authentic Hmong. I have trouble with [those] who do not believe in [shamanism but] still identify as Hmong.” —Ia Vang

Because Ia is from a family that for generations has practiced Hmong Shamanism, it is a pivotal aspect of both her religious and cultural life. To her, Shamanism is an essential component to the “authentic” Hmong identity. Furthermore, Ia believes that those who do not believe in Shamanism cannot truthfully call themselves Hmong. For Ia, Hmong Shamanism is not just a way of life, but Hmong identity.