Religions and Beliefs
The Vietnamese folk beliefs since the ancient time consist of belief in fertility, worship of nature and worship of man. Human beings need to be reproduced, crops need to be lushly green for the nourishment and development of life, so belief in fertility came into existence.
In Vietnam, this long-standing belief was displayed in the cult of linga and yoni (in India, only linga was worshipped) and the act of sexual intercouse (this is an unpopular practice in Southeast Asia). Many traces of this practice can be found on many stone statues and columns, decorative motifs in the Central Highlands tomb-houses, some customs and dances, especially in the shape and motifs of ancient bronze drums.
Wet-rice agriculture that depended much on natural factors ignited the belief of worshipping nature. In Vietnam, this belief was polytheism and respect for goddess, and worship of animals and plants as well. A research book published in 1984 listed 75 goddesses or Holy Mothers, mostly matriarchal goddesses, also called Mau (ancient people not only worshipped the Creator but also Mau Cuu Trung which was a female Creator, as well as Goddes of Forest, River Goddess and so on). Regarding botany-worshipping belief, the rice plant was most venerated, the next were the banyan-tree, the areca-tree, the mulberry tree and the gourd. In respect of animal-worshipping beliefs, unlike nomadic culture that worships fierce wild animals, the Vietnamese tend to worship gentle species of animals like stags, deer, frogs, especially those which are easy to come by in the riverside regions like water-birds, snakes, and crocodiles. The Vietnamese proclaimed themselves as belonging to the Hong Bang family line and the Tien Rong breed (Hong Bang is the name of a huge species of water-bird; Tien, or Fairy, is deification of an egg-laying species of bird; Rong, or Dragon, is an abstract image of snake and crocodile). The ascending dragon that was born in the water is meaningful and special symbol of the Vietnamese nation.
Among the human-revering beliefs, the custom of ancestral worship is the most popular, which nearly become one belief of the Vietnamese (also called Dao Ong Ba in South Vietnam). The Vietnamese choose the death-day rather than the birthday to hold a commemorative anniversary for the deceased. Every family worships Tho cong, or the God of Home, who takes care of the home and blesses the family. Every village worships its Thanh hoang, the tutelary god, who protects and guides the whole village (the Vietnamese always honour the people who rendered distinguished services for villagers or national heroes who were born or died in the village to be their Thanh hoang). The whole nation worships the very first kings, sharing the common ancestors' death anniversary (the Festival of Hung Kings Temple). Particularly, the worship of Tu Bat Tu, or the Four Immortal Gods, namely, Tan Vien (preventing flooding), Saint Giong (resisting and defeating foreign invaders), Chu Dong Tu (together with his wife growing out of poverty to consistently build his fortune) and Lieu Hanh (heavenly princess who left Heaven for the earth in the yearning for happiness) has been regarded as extremely beautiful national values.
Although turning into superstition in some specific cases, folk beliefs have lasted consistently and mixed with orthodox religions.
Buddhism was first introduced to Viet Nam in the 2nd century, and reached its peak in the Ly dynasty (11th century). It was then regarded as the official religion dominating court affairs. Buddhism was preached broadly among the population and it enjoyed a profound influence on people's daily life. Its influence also left marks in various areas of traditional literature and architecture. As such, many pagodas and temples were built during this time.
At the end of the 14th century, Buddhism began to show signs of decline. The ideological influence of Buddhism, however, remained very strong in social and cultural life. Presenty, over 70 percent of the population of Viet Nam are either Buddhist or strongly influenced by Buddhist practices.
Catholicism was introduced to Viet Nam in the 17th century. At present the most densely-populated Catholic areas are Bui Chu-Phat Diem in the northern province of Ninh Binh and Ho Nai-Bien Hoa in Dong Nai Province to the South. About 10 percent of the population are considered Catholic.
Protestantism was introduced to Viet Nam at about the same time as Catholicism. Protestantism, however, remains an obscure religion. At present most Protestants live in the Central Highlands. There still remains a Protestant church on Hang Da Street in Ha Noi. The number of Protestants living in Viet Nam is estimated at 400,000.
Islamic followers in Viet Nam are primarily from the Cham ethnic minority group living in the central part of the central coast. The number of Islamic followers in Viet Nam totals about 50,000.
Caodaism was first introduced to the country in 1926. Settlements of the Cao Dai followers in South Viet Nam are located near the Church in Tay Ninh. The number of followers of this sect is estimated at 2 million.
Hoa Hao Sect
The Hoa Hao Sect was first introduced to Viet Nam in 1939. More than 1 million Vietnamese are followers of this sect. Most of them live in the south-west of Viet Nam.
Mother Worship (Tho Mau)
Researchers describe the Vietnamese mother-worship cult as a primitive religion. Mother, Me in the Vietnamese language, is pronounced Mau in Sino-script. The mother worship cult might be originated from the cult of the Goddess in ancient ages. In the Middle Ages, the Mother was worshipped in temples and palaces. Due to the fact that it is a worshipping custom and not a religion, the Mother worshipping cult has not been organised as Buddhism and Catholicism have. As a result, the different affiliations of the cult have yet to be consistent and different places still have different customs.
The custom of Mother worship originated from the north. In the south, the religion has integrated the local goddesses such as Thien Y A Na (Hue) and Linh Son (Tay Ninh).
In fact, the Mother worship cult was influenced by other religions, mainly Taoism.