Crossing the river: Xiangxi Miao spirit mediumship

Submitted by James Miller on Tue, 02/14/2012 - 15:23
James Miller's picture
TitleCrossing the river: Xiangxi Miao spirit mediumship
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsWu, H.
Corporate AuthorsDwyer, Arienne M.
Academic DepartmentProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Date Published2010
PublisherUniversity of Kansas
Place PublishedUnited States -- Kansas
ISBN Number9781124417677
KeywordsAsian Studies, Cultural anthropology

In Xiangxi Miao communities, there are three kinds of spiritual practitioners: the zimei medium, the badui spirit official, and the daoshi Daoist monk. The zimei consult spirits on the daily affairs of the Miaos in the Miao language, the badui spirit officials perform rituals memorializing legendary Miao ancestors in local Chinese, and the daoshi Daoist monks conduct funerals, also in local Chinese. This thesis describes how zimei establish themselves as mediums and perform rituals, which occur in a syncretic matrix of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. The Xiangxi Miao practice animist, Daoist, Buddhist, Confucian, and syncretic forms. The zimei 's ritual, known as the bu-zimei , serves to restore social harmony when it has been disrupted. Through the author's observations and interviews during the summers of 2009 and 2010, the bu-zimei performed by the zimei is both animist and profoundly syncretic. The zimei establish and perform mediumship: this includes their recruitment, rituals offered, paraphernalia, clients, patron spirits, and performance. Apart from its normative nature, the bu-zimei is also a social activity. In the Xiangxi Miao context, social harmony is summarized as people having health, obtaining good harvests, giving thanks and observing filial piety, and having thriving domestic animals. The above social norms summarize what constitutes the three kinds of social harmony that the Xiangxi Miao are seeking to achieve: that among humans, between humans and spirits, and between humans and nature. The zimei are often invited to perform the bu-zimei , restoring social harmony by imposing social norms.