Hmong superstitions

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.

32 thoughts on “Hmong superstitions

  1. Some superstitiouns are rediculous and some just freaks the living out of you.

    There’s so many out there. One that i always hear and always remember is, Don’t fall at a funeral or you will see the dead person spirit and they will follow you home making you sick and worst scenerio dying.

    1. I thought that it was if you fell at the funeral, the spirits will later take you soul on the day that they bury the dead. The person who died will wave to your soul for you to go with it.

  2. What about a woman not going into her mother’s house for 6 weeks after having a baby, and eating only boiled chicken for 30 days after a baby’s birth? Do you know the basis for those things?

    1. The barrier to the spirit and human world weakens during childbirth. Because of this weak barrier, her [husband’s] ancestors roam more freely in the human world for 30 days. If she visits someone, she’ll bring her ancestors and bad luck along with her to the family that she visits. This causes great disrespect to the other family’s ancestors. The family will have to call a shaman to fix this. The woman can visit her husband’s side of the family because they have the same ancestors. The baby, on the other hand, can go inside anyone’s home during that time.

      I would also like to add that this is if you’re still practicing Shamanism. If you’ve converted to Christianity, you no longer worship your ancestors, so you don’t have to worry about upsetting them. For example, If you’re a Shamanic Hmong woman who has just given birth, you cannot go into another Shamanic Hmong person’s house, but you can enter a Christian Hmong family’s home or any other non-Hmong home for that matter.

      And the boiled chicken with herbs diet is to cleanse the woman’s uterus and help the body heal from the hardship of pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

    2. In some culture, my aunt told me that, the reason why once you gave birth you can’t go visit your parent house, because when your dead, you will see blood at the door and you won’t able to wash it and like Mai boa said it is show disrespectful.

      1. My grandma and mom told me that, too. It is also what MaiBao said and adding the blood at the door. It is said that if she goes to someone who’s shaman during that first month after labor, they will fined her to fix their family. Before death she will hesitate to died because there’s blood at the doors where she went. Her spirit have to go wash all the bloods at the door or she will keep coming back.

  3. Oops, what a bad idea for reading the first few superstitions at night!!!

    I truly enjoy your wordpress! This is so amazing, I love listening to my elders speak of the superstitions from the Philippines and of course other countries.

    My good friend is from El Salvador and her mother loves to tell me some of their superstitions. Like with the leaf, she told me that if you take a dog’s eye booger (sorry for lack of any other word to explain it) and place it in your eye you will see spirits. Also that animals in your life that have passed will be your guide to what people commonly call heaven when you pass from this earth. It is so interesting and enriches cultures. Thank you so much for sharing =)

  4. I didn’t really read through your blog about this but I briefly read it and one of the supersititions says don’t cut your hair while your pregnant. Umm.. I cut and died my hair at the same time during my pregnancy….so I jsut that was kinda weird and funny..

  5. My salvadorian nanny keeps cutting my two year old daughter’s beautiful curls. Anyone know of a reason why anyone would do this? Is there a belief underlying this?

  6. I’m doing an informative speech for my speech class about hmong supersition. I’ve been trying to find information about how hmong people started to believe in it and how it came to be. My only source is my grandmother but I can’t communicate with her. If any of you would help me gather any information, it’d be a pleasure.

  7. i have a couple too…
    1. what about when you go camping or what not, the old folks use to say that if an animal crosses your path for you to turn aorund and take another route.
    2.when dinner is done and you tell your family its done you cant say come inside the house to eat cuzz then you can invite unwanted spirits to come eat you have to say like “dad come inside etc.
    3.is a baby that hasnt lost there teeth yet can not stare at themself in the mirror, or go to a grave site…cuzz they can attarct unwanted spirits.

    1. I don’t know, but when my siblings are still young, we used to have them look at themselves in the mirror, but then, my mom will be yelling at us to stop. So I think what you said is true.

    1. The Hmong practicing shamanism can eat anything. The religion doesn’t prohibit anyone from eating anything.

  8. I heard that you cannot feed any animals with food in the palm of your hand because it will take your luck away.
    Your not allowed to argue at the beginning of the new year or you will argue the whole year.
    Your not allowed to whistle at night because it will attract spirits.
    If you eat outside, your not allowed to throw bones on the grass or a spirit will come and eat it.
    Your not suppose to make a promise about being together forever with your boyfriend or girlfriend because they will wait for you after death. Your not allowed to drink blood of the person your dating because they will not reincarnate unless they take you with them. (if you pay attention to those who drunk each other’s blood they will never be together in the ending.)
    Your not allowed to walk in odd numbers.
    Don’t scream Ghost when you see one or they will follow you and you won’t be able to escape.
    Don’t look back if your trying to run away from a ghost.
    these are the only ones that i can think of right now

    1. What if a pregnant woman of a month or two goes camping where there’s a lot of trees and a man made lake? Does this cause a miscarriage? Because I went camping two months ago and at times I was told to go get stuff for the family by going back to camp ground alone. And at times I have to take my younger sisters to those camp bathrooms during the evening and mostly at night and I wait for them outside alone. There was also this one time when like 15 of us, uncles and cousins, went for a little tour around the mountains and around the lake. I was staying behind because I kept taking pictures of nature and I’d end having to reach camp ground by myself. It was my first time camping so I don’t know if I was feeling uncomfortable all the time because of that or some other reason. Then when we were coming home my father called all of our names and we drove home. After a week or two I had a miscarriage and got very sick and had to go to the ER. So I was just wondering what you guys think about this? I know it can be non-superstition related, but I’m healthy and during the time of being pregnant I did do anything wrong and I ate well and all and I’m not those skinny skinny women. Well let me know what you guys think.

  9. Hello

    Do you know the story behind the myth of goat can’t cross body of water because of dragon?

    Or the myth of copper can make dragon leave their home/well?

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