Image credit: Felix Andrews
Fortune Tellers are widespread in Vietnam. They play a major role in the decision-making of many Vietnamese: from real estate decisions, to baby-names, to travel-dates, to sanctioning marriages — there is virtually no segment of Vietnamese life that fortune tellers don’t have a hand in. They are not just a carnival-show curiosity like in the West, but occupy a mainstream niche, similar to priests and pastors and rabbis.
We went to a Vietnamese fortune teller to see what all the fuss was about. We’ve had friends who’ve outsourced most of their important life-decisions to fortune tellers (like whom to marry). So, we were curious if we’d also get profound prescriptions.
To be clear, we are very skeptical about such quasi-religious practices, but we had an opportunity to try it and wanted to share it here.
In this post, you can learn about Vietnamese culture and spirituality through the lens of this ancient, tenacious superstition…
The Vietnamese’s Fortune Teller’s Life-Map
The two pillars of Vietnamese mysticism are lucky numbers and astrological interactions. The fortune teller wanted to know our birth-date and birth-hour — from this, he made various calculations and to determine how the stars will influence our fortunes.
The time-series of astrological influence is plotted on a “map of life” (see above). The map includes 12 zodiac symbols, representing the next 12 years of our life, as well as 12 core aspects of life (such as health and family) and how each of these aspects will be benefited or hindered. The 12 themes include:
- Prosperity (e.g, win money, get an inheritance, get a promotion, etc)
- Friends & Colleagues
- Talent & Learning
In our case, the big themes in our life for 2022 were: destiny, talent/learning, travel, and prosperity. We also have a spiritual shield protecting us from the harmful influences of three bad stars that are “shining on our Yi-Ching”.
Aside from the star-stuff, the fortune teller’s life-map was eerily-relevant to our year so far. For instance, we are planning a big within-country move (travel ) for the sake of education (talent ), after landing a great new job (prosperity ). Although we were skeptical at first, the relevance of the fortune teller’s life-map made us smile.
After interpreting our life-map, the fortune teller continued with more specific recommendations…
The Fortune Teller Advised Against Buying Real Estate
This was also a strangely disturbing and on-point bit of specific advice from the fortune teller: avoid purchasing real estate!
We have been saving cash and building investments to buy some property this year, after wrapping-up our Big Move and settling in locally (hilariously, at the time of writing this article, it does seem as though the local real estate market has crested, with interest rates rising and a global recession on the horizon due to the Russia invasion of the Ukraine, etc). So, perhaps the teller’s advise about holding-off on purchasing real estate was a good idea.
Of course, the fortune teller didn’t discuss global macro-financial conditions. Instead, his reasoning had to do with the influence of a certain star shining down upon us that has negative interactions with land: if we buy real estate this year, we will have bad luck with it.
Spend 33% of Income on Beauty and Fashion
The fortune teller commented on Lynn’s beautiful appearance and claimed that it was her super-power. He advised that she should spend one-third of her income on fashion and beauty-products in order to properly maintain and leverage her good looks for more good fortune.
Was this beauty-advise an example of earnest impartial divination? — or was the fortune teller merely pandering to her? After all, what spend-thrift, self-conscious woman wouldn’t want the extra affirmation that it is proper and divinely-sanctioned to splurge on cosmetics and fashion? Thanks for burning a hole in my wallet, fortune teller!
Get Married and Have Babies Next Year
Next, the fortune teller foretold that we would get married and have babies next year. This is a key theme for most fortune tellers: babies! Vietnamese families will commonly consult fortune tellers about which years (and even days) are best for having children. For example, the Year of the Tiger (2022) is a particularly bad year for having female babies — the Tiger girls will be difficult and have problems finding love.
Likewise, Vietnamese parents will screen their childrens’ suitors according to their zodiac compatibility. For instance, we know of a recent example where Vietnamese parents forced their son not to marry a girlfriend based on her birth year.
Nonetheless, we have to admit, this piece of advise from the fortune teller was on the nose — it was our plan to have children in the near future. So, +1 for the fortune teller.
Fortune Teller’s Warning: Betrayal
The fortune teller warned us about betrayal. Specifically, to watch-out for younger ambitious colleagues who will stab us in the back at work!
Although this office-intrigue may seem alarming to a Western white-collar or blue-collar worker, it isn’t that remarkable in Vietnamese: in our experience, Vietnamese workplaces tends to have less-functional teams and more pathological selfishness compared the Canadian/American workplaces (but only slightly so).
READ MORE about what it’s like to work at a Vietnam office in our post dedicated to Vietnamese Work Culture
The Fortune Teller Gave Us Lucky Colours
The Vietnamese are superstitious about colours. For example, office-employees will spend an inordinate amount of time researching the lucky and unlucky colours of big clients and government regulators, least they offend someone with a wrong-coloured gift and inadvertently wish death upon them.
Accordingly, the fortune teller told Lynn that she should only wear blue, yellow and red. Yikes! In any case, two of the three were Lynn’s favourite colours, so the fortune teller gets +0.66 points.
My favourite colour is black, which, in Vietnam, is associated with death and evil and considered very unlucky.
Examples of Too Much Faith in Fortune Tellers in Vietnam
Although the above encounter with a Vietnamese fortune teller was fun and weirdly on-point, we know of many examples in which the advise of fortune tellers have been taken too seriously, with bad results.
Marriage and Divorce. For example, we have a colleague who got married and divorced based on the advice of her fortune teller. After only one month of dating her then-boyfriend, the fortune teller said that she would marry whoever she was dating at the time. So, with that advise only, and without extensive experience with that boy, she got married! The marriage didn’t go well. After several years of a mediocre marriage, the fortune teller foretold that this year she would get divorced — so she did.
A skeptical observer may suggest that the fortune teller was just preying on her youthful romantic exuberance, and her middle-aged ennui, telling her what she wanted to hear. In any case, this example is far too common, where Vietnamese people outsource their personal agency and big life decisions to “experts” who have a monetary interest in making their life more dramatic — after all, who would pay for the advise “you must do what you think is best and deal with the consequences yourself”.
No Babies. Another example was a couple who were planning on getting married, but the parents went to a fortune teller, and the fortune teller foretold that the woman would be unable to have babies. So, the family forced the young-lovers to break-up. This may seem like a negative experience, but just imagine how much money and suffering they spared themselves, like expensive fertility-treatments, thanks to the hi-tech clinical insights of the fortune teller!
Facebook Fortune Tellers
Many fortune tellers are now on digital platforms, especially Facebook and Zalo. You can find plenty of Facebook Groups dedicated to finding and reviewing fortune tellers. On facebook, search for “xem bói miễn phí” or “xem bói”, then click on the “Groups” filter.
Vietnamese Fortune Tellers — Good or Bad?
We have mixed feelings about Vietnamese fortune tellers. The Vietnamese government is trying to discourage people from using fortune tellers and frequently issues warnings about fraud and charlatans. Certainly, there are plenty of examples of desperate people being taken advantage of by unscrupulous fortune tellers.
Nonetheless, we think that people should be free to pursue whatever kind of quasi-religious/spiritual practice they choose, including using fortune tellers, even if we do not personally condone the practice. We won’t lecture others about the damaging long-term effects of giving-up one’s agency to random soothsayers.
Nonetheless, in our case, the fortune-teller encounter was eerily fun and made us think.
READ MORE about Vietnamese religious beliefs, from Ancestor Worship to Buddhism to Athiesm in Vietnam: the Major Religions of Vietnam
One important point to consider is the historical context of fortune telling in nearby cultures like China: they had near-identical traditions and superstitions as North Vietnamese, but these traditions were literally beaten-out of the population during the CCP purges of the “Four Olds”. Fortune telling, and many other innocuous traditions and cultural substrata, were demonized and destroyed.
The Chinese cultural purges resulted in a traumatized lost generation of Chinese who continue to exhibit many pathologies, having been forcible disconnected from their organic culture (one only needs to go to Taiwan to observe the real intact Chinese culture). With this in mind, we are happy that the brutal destruction of religion and spirituality did not and is not happening in Vietnam today, nor is there a traumatized lost generation as in China.
Therefore, we think there is something to be celebrated about the good (and bad) aspects of the fortune-telling, even it doesn’t suit us personally.
Have you been to a Vietnamese fortune teller? Tell us about your experience and how to discern the charlatans from the good ones?