In Asian societies, particularly Vietnamese society, people have a habit of being superstitious and this has been part of their daily life. On such occasions as marriages, funerals and open new house, people will try to choose a propitious date.
On the Vietnamese New Year, people believe that the first person who visits their home during Tet holiday has a bearing on their welfare for the whole year. In contrast, the person who sweeps the floor on the first three days of this festive occasion might sweep away the wealth. As for other things, such as setting out for an examination, embarking on a business venture or planning an escape from Communist Vietnam, people will try to avoid "crossing the path of a woman", in much the same way as Western people would try to avoid "crossing the path of a black cat" when undertaking something important.
The Vietnamese attach great importance to two traditional family obligations: to care for their parents in their old age and to worship them after death. In each Vietnamese family has at least one altar on which there are the pictures of their ancestors. Family members worship their ancestor because they think parents after death will go to live in another world and this altar is the place where the ancestors’ soul live in. As a result, every day, Vietnamese people not only lay the table for meal but they also lay the food on the altar for the belief that those ancestors will have a meal with them.
Spiritual life, sometimes, plays more than a passing role in Vietnamese society. By the time a boy is old enough to , for example, he may not be able to wed the girl he loves because she was born in the wrong year. On the 12-year lunar calendar commonly used throughout Asia, many of the years are considered incompatible. Such years are thought to bring misfortune if they are improperly matched with other years. Thus, a young man born in "the Year of the Tiger," cannot marry his beloved from "the Year of the Horse" unless he wants to risk a break in family ties with his parents and elder relatives. To the conservative relatives, the Tiger and Horse are incompatible and sure to bring bad luck to such a marriage. Besides, the hoot of an owl is regarded as a bad omen announcing death or illness. According to ancient tradition, the bird must be chased away and those who heard his cry should be extremely cautious about their personal safety.
What is the best way to keep a healthy? An old Vietnamese grandfather believes the charm of a certain necklace wards off evil spirits and he may give it to his grandson to protect the boy. An employee fails to show up for work on the third day of the lunar month because he believes that particular date brings him bad luck. A student tries to borrow money to buy lottery tickets because he dreamed of a special event or number one night before. These are some examples of spiritual life which may baffle the foreign visitor to this country. Yet, in Vietnam, it is part of tradition and customs passed down from one generation to the next. Ignorance, of course, plays some roles in the traditional acceptance of spiritual life. Not having sufficient knowledge, faith or trust in scientific methods, a Vietnamese often relies on his prejudices, emotions and the word of his forefathers to guide his daily life.
A large number of fortune-tellers, astrologers and palm-readers owe their living to Vietnamese spiritual life and often made a small fortune from their clients. That the reason why, in Vietnam, even the poor save money for occasional visits to well-known soothsayers. Spiritual life has been known to determine the conduct of the war in this ravaged country. A friendly or enemy commander may refuse to attack or may alter his strategy if the stars are not in his favor.
One story has it that, an American commander always consulted a Vietnamese astrologer before planning the deployment of his troops. When questioned by his incredulous superiors, he explained that, according to his theory, he could depend on the enemy to base his attacks on the positions of the stars. Therefore, he consulted a stargazer himself for intelligence on the enemy's movements.
Another story passed down through history is about of the two famous Vietnamese generals, Le Loi and Nguyen Trai. Several years ago, the pair was leading a war against Chinese invaders. Nguyen Trai decided to turn spiritual life to his advantage and used grease to write the phrases "Le Loi vi Quan; Nguyen Trai vi Than," (Le Loi for King; Nguyen Trai for Minister of State) on the large leaves of forest trees. Ants later consumed the grease absorbed in the leaf tissue and left the prophecy clearly engraved. People living nearby noticed the perforated leaves and interpreted them as a "divine message." Inspired by this, they wholeheartedly supported the war which eventually led to the defeat of the Chinese and the enthronement of Emperor Le Loi.
There are some social reformers in my country who believe that, spiritual life is a problem and should be eradicated as Vietnam is now becoming a truly progressive as well as modern nation. Personally, how dull life would be if all our soothsayers, fortune tellers, palm-readers and astrologers were pensioned off and retired! I promptly took this bad proposition to my favorite soothsayer who solemnly assured me that this is not in the stars…