I admit, this post is written in part due to some recent posts around the APIA Blogosphere regarding spirituality.
Personally, I always find Frederick the Great's address to a convent of nuns to be appropriate: "All religions must be tolerated, for every person must get to heaven in their own way."
That being said, because of both my professional work and perspective as a religion major back in college, I'm frequently asked questions regarding Hmong shamanism in classrooms and community workshops, and how the tradition is intertwined with contemporary issues.
A few years back after the release of Ann Fadiman's "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," people across the country began asking questions regarding cross-cultural medicial practice. TSCY&YFD raised interesting questions while stirring significant controversy particularly among the Hmong. Those issues are fairly easy to google, so I'm not going to go into those.
While there are other earlier books that covered much of the Hmong experience during the war and tried to study the relatively recent Hmong refugee experience, TSCY&YFD made the discussion of the Hmong animist beliefs and shamanism a particularly key focus.
TSCY&YFD ultimately was no doubt an inspiration for at least two TV episodes, one being Chicago Hope, the other Grey's Anatomy. You can catch a Youtubed version here.
Neither were particularly good (ok, they stink.), but it was still interesting to see Tinseltown's first major stabs at the Hmong culture since the dreadful Air America (1990) with Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr. (A terrible, terrible film.)
But being a big fan of primary sources, I think now is as interesting a time as any to highlight some better resources for people who want to know more about Hmong shamanism, which embodies a significant body of knowledge and tradition that still needs a great deal of documentation and study.
Back in 1989, Dwight Conquergood and Xa Thao worked with Paja Thao, a Hmong shaman to discuss his life and beliefs in "I Am A Shaman."
Over at http://www.pbs.org/splithorn/ there is more information about the documentary, The Split Horn, that further discussed Paja Thao's experience.
"Hmong Voices in Montana" published by the Missoula Museum of the Arts Foundation, 1992 was also a favorite of mine, but is now largely out of print, but I like it because it contains the perspective of the shaman Kia Moua Thao, whose experiences and techniques were a little different than most Hmong shamans, and illustrated the variance that can occur within this belief system.
And as always, you can stop by over at www.hmongabc.com and check out the world's first Hmong bookstore, stocking the largest selection of Hmong books and books about the Hmong that you're likely to find at the moment.
But on an interesting side note to all of this:
Over in China a few years back there was a role playing game called Prince of Qin, and a spin-off MMORPG called World of Qin that featured the Hmong (referred to as the Miao) who you could play. One of the main character classes was translated as 'witch' in English, but I think it's safe to say that it's clearly a fantasy version of a Hmong shaman.
This was the character portrait they used:
It's certainly quite different from most of the community's traditional ideas of what a shaman looks like. Apparently they've shut down the World of Qin to unveil World of Qin 2, and I haven't taken a peek over there yet to see if you can play a Hmong person in this version.
In the near future, however, I actually hope we'll start to see more work documenting the metaphysical and cosmological perspectives of other communities from Laos, such as the Tai Dam, the Mien, and others whose beliefs are still largely undocumented.