Hua Miao spirit worship.
1. The Spirit Zu-gi-za and the ancestors. 1.

Compiled by Wang Ming-ji.


The significance of the name The Spirit Zu-gi-za is nowhere explained. Za means "worship", and the word "zu" is joined to it by the conjunction "gi" to form an alliterative phrase which might mean "the Spirit to be worshipped". The alternative title, that by which he had to be addressed, Yeu-su-mu, means "Grandfather ancestor". It is not made clear exactly who he was, beyond saying that he was above all other spirits, and was present everywhere. In addressing him, people called themselves his "children". Yet, he is clearly distinguished from "grandmother and grandfather", that is the immediate ancestors of the family, whose spirits were thought of as still living in their "fir-wood houses", their coffins in the graves. From these they could be called to attend the feasting, to receive their offerings at the time of sacrifice, and, afterwards, be escorted back again.

Nevertheless the Spirit Zu-gi-za and the ancestors were closely associated. Although he might be worshipped without sacrifice being offered to the ancestors, they could only be worshipped after sacrifice had first been made to him. Moreover, the incantations used for both seem to have been identical. Thus it would appear that, though the spirits of the immediate forebears were thought of as remaining in the graves, as the years went by and new generations arose, the location of the graves could be forgotten, particularly when the family removed to some distant place, and in any case the Miao could not afford headstones to serve as reminders. In these circumstances the ancestors concerned seem to have been taken up into the Great Spirit, a kind of corporate ancestor of the race, the Spirit Zu-gi-za, who, being everywhere, could be worshipped in any place where the family happened to be living. This enabled a semi-migrant people to maintain their ancestral worship without constant recourse to family tombs.

In his introductory paragraph Wang Ming-ji, in underlining the supremacy of the Spirit Zu-gi-za, has slipped into making some general statements which are not only unsubstantiated by subsequent descriptions of the actual rituals, but are, in fact, contradicted by them. Thus there is no evidence that either the ancestors or the shaman-healer were ever requested to intercede with the Spirit Zu-gi-za on behalf of the people. In case of sickness the shaman-healer was indeed called to identify the source, and he might decide that this spirit was responsible, and direct that a sacrifice was required. However, at this point his responsibilities ceased, for the actual worship of the Spirit Zu-gi-za had to be carried out by the zu-mu, a member of the family duly authorised and trained, and by nobody else. He was the person who alone knew the incantations and could offer prayers acceptably on the people’s behalf.

The Miao used the same sequence of names for the months and days as did the Chinese.

























The cycle of days ran independently of the cycle of months.

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