Père Léopold Michel Cadière (1869–1955) was a French missionary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. During his life, he wrote 250 research works about Vietnamese history, its religions, customs and linguistics—valuable historical material that he had gathered in the years leading up to the start of the First World War.
More recently, writer, researcher and explorer Judith Mann became aware of his work ‘Croyances et Pratiques Religieuses des Vietnamiens’ and was intrigued by the Frenchman’s references to the standing stones and their associated spiritual traditions that he alluded to throughout his printed works.
Judith Mann was so fascinated in fact that in 2006, she made the first of several trips to Vietnam to investigate for herself whether these timeless stone effigies and monuments still existed.
On her expedition to the north-west region of the Mekong Delta, she particularly sought out evidence of Mother Goddess worship; however, she also was keen to explore Vietnamese shamanism, ancient Cham rituals and any aspects of spirituality or the paranormal in the region.
Following the maps and notes left by Cadière, Mann followed a route that started off from the city of Hue—the ancient and imperial city of Vietnam—in November 2006. It was in Hue that Mann investigated the first of the many standing stones that are found throughout the area—a large oblong block of quartz that Cadière described as being partially hidden in the ground near the main door of The Vocational School of Hue.
Judith Mann’s experiences in Vietnam have been published in two books titled ‘Spirit Realms of Vietnam’ Volumes I and II (read our review of Volume I here).
The second of these, Spirit Realms of Vietnam, Vol. 2: The Diaries, appeared in early 2012 and features a pictorial diary of the stones that Mann visited whilst following in the footsteps of Cadière’s earlier explorations.
In her book, Mann explains how, to the Vietnamese, their standings stones form part of a long and very sacred tradition—one that is still followed today. As Mann unearthed one stone after another, she revealed these ancient belief systems whilst exploring the deep metaphysical beliefs that surround each one.
Some of these ‘spirit’ stones were easy to find given Cadière’s detailled drawings of their locations but, such as occurs with the passage of time, many had been broken up, reforged or moved to new locations.
However, armed with a investigative mind, intuitive sense and the guidance of the local people, Mann tracked down a large number of stones and to reveal something of the traditions and beliefs that surround each of them.
These traditions vary considerably. Some follow a more general context of religious deification. Others relate only to local beliefs and rituals.
Some of these center upon the idea that standing stones can offer healing; others, that the stones connect directly to the Mother Goddess or to the goddesses of the five elements.
Indeed, many stones relate to the a similar practice as that of oriental Feng Shui in that they are said to change or redirect the flow of both positive and negative energy through or around a village.
As the weeks of her initial exploration passed, Mann was advised in December of 2006 by a psychic in the country that the stones were calling her and that she was now linked to them in such a way that they were to change her life and fortune. Part of this, it was said, was that she was to be given increased energy which she was to share with others who needed healing.
Indeed, during a visit to Nha Trang, she visited Cham Towers of Pa Nagar, where she experienced a surge of energy from ‘The Mother’ stone statue.
A year later, in 2007, Mann returned to Tay Ninh and then to Nam-pho-dong where she found two stone carvings of dogs, both of which, according to Mann, ‘
…were worshipped with enthusiasm.’
From one sacred location to another, the author travelled to, photographed and catalogued each stone that she encountered during her 2007 trip and then again during her 2009—2010 visits to the country.
From villages to temples, grottos to lakes, she unearthed one spirit stone after another. Sometimes traveling by foot but very often on the back of a motorcycle—often being ridden at speed along rough tracks—the author enthusiastically follows the call of the stones as she absorbed the spiritual energy of one place after another until she covered as much of Cadière’s original expedition as she could and was able to verify her predecessors’s original findings along the way.
Mann’s final visit to Vietnam was in the winter of 2011, where she helped to conduct a series of mirror therapy workshops in Can Tho, a city in the Mekong Delta.
Before she left, she visited Vi Phuroc Pagoda in the village of Bac Duong and joined a group of people attending a lecture on Bamboo Forest meditation or ‘Truc Lam’ as it is referred to.
It is evident by the closing of the book that the spirit of Vietnam and Buddhism has firmly found its way deep into the psyche of this intrepid explorer!
Note: Judith has an extensive gallery of photographs that were taken on her travels at www.academia.org
Our Review of ‘Spirit realms of Vietnam: Vol II’ by Judith Mann
Spirit Realms of Vietnam, Vol. 2: The Diaries is both a delightful and informative publication that carries its reader along on a colorful spiritual pilgrimage through one of the most beautiful and spiritual intriguing locations in the world.
The information within its pages is presented as a form of scrapbook journal with a large number of photographs of the various locations Mann visited interspersed with notes from Cadière’s original journals and the author’s own site notes.
This gives the book a very personalised feel and I guess, in many ways, also offers the sort of overal sense of exploration that a good travel diary evokes.
As well as being entertaining and insightful, the book also serves as an important document for researchers in the future.
While the book clearly shows that the tradition of standing-stone worship in Vietnam is strong enough to ensure the continued existence of these monuments to the spirits, one cannot be sure whether, in years to come, the encroachment of a modern technological society will not destroy them along with the tradition that surrounds them.
Throughout Spirit Realms of Vietnam, Vol. 2, Mann has done an important job in preserving something of the traditions of Vietnam and in a delightful and fascinating way.
Judith Mann has succeeded in presenting a rich, varied and valuable insight into many sacred Vietnamese spiritual traditions.