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.
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.
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.
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.
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)