Shamanism and animism play a big role in Hmong lives. We rely on our shamans to mediate and travel between the spirit and human worlds. We believe every living thing (animal, plants, earth, sky, water, air) have a spirit. And from these beliefs, superstitions are born.
Merriam-Webster defines a superstition as:
A) a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation;
B) an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition.
Wikipedia defines it as “a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge.”
Below are some of my favorite Hmong superstitions that I have heard of.
Don’t point at the moon or it will cut your ear.
If you do point at the moon (either by accident or on purpose), you can appease it by saying, “Quav qaib, quav npua, quav nyuj, quav twm (Chicken poop, pig poop, cow poop, buffalo poop).” I hear that the moon only cuts children’s ears. If adults try it, the moon won’t cut their ears. Some swore that they find their ears cut the next morning. Others have tried it and nothing happened. There have been numerous times when my daughters would point at the moon and yet their ears have never been cut.
Poke a hole in a leaf, look through it and you’ll see ghosts.
This is if you have an eerie feeling that something or someone is near you. You know, that feeling when all the hairs on your skin are up on ends and the room gets chilly out of no where. I have heard that this will work, but the price to pay for seeing those who do not wish to be seen is not worth it. Because you see, after seeing the ghost, you’ll die.
If you hear someone call out your name, don’t answer unless you see someone near.
According to animism, all natural things have souls, so there are spirits around us. If you don’t see anyone around when you hear someone call you, then it must be a spirit. If you do answer it, it will take your soul and you’ll die. This is also similar to the superstition about not whistling at night or singing kwv txhiaj** or spirits will take your soul.
When you go out to the wild, before you leave, call your spirit home.
This is when you’re out in the jungle, forest, mountains, lakes, and rivers. Be careful how you say it or you’ll invite wandering ghosts to your home. You have to state who you want to call home. “MaiBao, los tsev nawb (Come home).” If you simply state, “Come home” you’re inviting nearby spirits to your home and they may haunt you forever. Young children, whose spirits are not as attached to their body as adults are, should definitely be called home. My mom always remind me to call my daughters home when we go fishing, swimming at the lake, or camping. I don’t do it all the time because I tend to forget.
Don’t cut your hair while you’re pregnant.
Growing hair represents your child’s growth in the womb. If you cut your hair, you’re cutting your child’s health. Another pregnancy superstition is don’t visit or cross over any rivers and lakes while you’re pregnant. Female water spirits are yearn for children, so one might envy you and take your unborn child’s soul causing you to miscarry.
A grown child or adult cannot drink their mother’s milk.
There is a Hmong folktale that tells us why this is so. A long time ago, an old man came knocking at a house where two mothers lived (one Hmong and one Chinese). The mothers were breastfeeding their babies. The old man was hungry and since he didn’t have any teeth to chew food, he asked the mothers if he could drink their breast milk. The Hmong woman told him that she’s embarrassed because he’s already an old man. She won’t give him her breast to suck on. The Chinese woman gladly offered him her breasts and he drank his full. After his hunger subsided, he turned to the Hmong woman and said, “Since you were so embarrassed to give me your breast to suck on, your children will only be drink your milk as babies. If you allow an older child or an adult to drink your breast milk, they will get struck by lightning.” And so, if you allow your grown child or husband/boyfriend to drink your breast milk, they will get struck by lightning.
I know there are many more Hmong superstitions out there. If you know any that I have not listed, please add them in the comment section below!
**Kwv txhiaj is the name of very traditional Hmong chanting songs.