Of Gods Amongst Men: The rituals of the Ji Tong Spirit Medium

In Singapore, the act of Ji Tong 乩童, an ancient form of shamanism that dates back over 5,000 years, can still be observed in temples or procession commemorating the birthday of their gods of choice across the island.

A medium decked out as one the 'child' gods in Taoist folklore.

A medium decked out as one the ‘child’ gods in Taoist folklore.

Another group of mediums wait in line after their self-flagellation ritual

Another group of mediums wait in line after their self-flagellation ritual

While the history of Ji Tong is shrouded in particular mystery, the name of the procession itself gives an idea of what it is all about.

“Ji” (乩) stands for “asking questions through divination”, while “tong” (童) stands for “child”, referring to the innocence of the spirit medium’s soul being temporarily replaced by that of a god.

In the lead up to the trance session, ritual items such as joss-sticks and yellow amulet paper will be laid out on a table facing the select altar. The medium then proceeds to sit on a “dragon chair” while accompanied by the processional percussion of gongs and drums. The medium then waves three lighted joss-sticks over his head to purify himself and drinks the scared water, which then leads to a series of violent movements that cumulates with the medium striking a pose indicating the god which has possessed him.

Hidden inside is an altar where the ritual trance session in conducted

Hidden inside is an altar where the ritual trance session in conducted

At the far right, a dragon chair is placed for the gods to sit.

At the far right, a dragon chair is placed for the gods to sit.

After this, the now possessed mediums proceed to conduct self-flagellation with any one of the series of “Five Precious Tools” (五宝法器) that range from a moon axe (月斧) to a nail-studded ball (刺球). It is often said that aside from mild soreness the day after, the devotees themselves do not suffer any major injuries, evidence perhaps of divine presence.

To prove that gods have indeed taken over the bodies, mediums will partake in self-flagellation activities to show that they're more than just human.

To prove that gods have indeed taken over the bodies, mediums will partake in self-flagellation activities to show that they’re more than just human.

A medium waits alongside his assistants.

A medium waits alongside his assistants.

A medium waits patiently to welcome fellow mediums into the fray.

A medium waits patiently to welcome fellow mediums into the fray.

The second part of the procession sees a process of ‘Consultation’, as other temple devotees take the opportunity to speak to the ‘Gods’ with questions ranging from cures for illnesses and their ever important wealth prospects for the year ahead.

Two spirit mediums receiving gifts from devotees before they partake in the 'consultation' process

Two spirit mediums receiving gifts from devotees before they partake in the ‘consultation’ process

A devotee speaks to the gods who are now inside the medium. Question often revolve around traditional topics of wealth, health and the future.

A devotee speaks to the gods who are now inside the medium. Question often revolve around traditional topics of wealth, health and the future.

After the 'consultation' process, the mediums make their exit alongside their assistants for the next phase of getting out of the trance.

After the ‘consultation’ process, the mediums make their exit alongside their assistants for the next phase of getting out of the trance.

A predominantly Taoist related practice, I can’t seem to find much about how this process originated or came about in Singapore, but the video below taken back in 1983 perhaps gives a better idea of the full ritual of the Ji Tong. (warning, some pretty graphic images ahead)

2 comments

  1. Bull

    Hi if u able to help… i frequent dreamt of ji tong.. not once many2 times… it coming to pass 3 years.

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