A Brief Introduction about Origin and Early Development of the Three Witches Group
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██ Liang

(Literature & History of Groups of Interest, No. 30, Oct. 201█)


Abstract: The Three Witches Group is an important GoI in Early Modern Vietnam, however, since the majority of its chronicles isn't extant anymore, its early activities and development have not been studied deeply. Based on the existing Chinese and Vietnamese pieces of literature, this paper roughly examines the activities and developments of the Three Witches Group from the pre-Qin period to the early Three Kingdoms period.

Keywords: Group of Interest; the Three Witches Group; Early Activities.




The Three Witches Group( Vietnamese: Hội Ba Phù Thuỷ /會𠀧符水, French: Ordre Bapoutois), also known as Three Shamans Group( Hội Ba Vu /會𠀧巫) , or Three-Witches-ism( Đạo Ba Phù Thuỷ /道𠀧符水), was an important Group of Interest in Early Modern Vietnam. From circa 1420 until its being annihilated by the French Indochina authorities in 1888, the Three Witches Group had been active for about 400 years.

Before the Ming Jiaozhi period1, the Three Witches Group had remained underground for a long time, and the earliest extant directly-recorded active activities record of the Three Witches Group was during the 15c. Lam Sơn uprising2, so it's deduced that the Abnormality Institute's entering Vietnam during the Ming Jiaozhi period led to the aboveground switching of the Three Witches Group. After helping Lê Lợi3 to regain the country with the help of anomalies, the Three Witches Group ushered in its peak period during the early Later Lê dynasty. By the mid-16th century, the Three Witches Group had already become a huge organization centered on Thanh Hóa and covering the whole of Vietnam at that time. But during the early stage of the Trịnh–Nguyễn War4, the Three Witches Group faced an internal disagreement about which of the lords it should serve, and, after the "Hà Tĩnh Debation" in 1555, gradually formed the North Three Witches Group centered on the old altar in Thanh Hóa and serving the Trịnh lords, and the South Three Witches Group centered on Phú Xuân( also known as the new altar) and serving the Nguyễn lords. This period was called as "the South-North Two Altars"(Hai Đàn Nam Bắc /𠄩壇南北) period in extant Three Witches Group pieces of literature, during which there had been frequent conflicts between the two sects, the biggest of which was the Battle of Đồng Hới5 in 1688. In the long-term conflict, the anomalies and classics accumulated during the heyday of the Three Witches Group depleted greatly, and the scatter of the classics led further to the loss of the containment procedures so that the latecomers will rarely choose to contain new anomalies, which creates a vicious circle. Under such a background, the declining trend of the Three Witches Group was basically irreversible. In addition, the lack of external communication and the corruption of the upper members of the Three Witches Group in the same period also made this situation worse.

In 1771, Nguyễn Văn Huệ, a congregation of the South Three Witches Group, swept along some anomalies, broke away from the South Three Witches Group, and fled back to his hometown, Tây Sơn district near Quy Nhơn, and then uprose together with his brothers, which is latterly known as the "Tây Sơn Uprising". In the early stage of Tây Sơn Uprising, the South Three Witches Group, which hadn't yet had time to react, was greatly affected by the insurgents, and lost a large number of personnel, pieces of literature, and anomalies, so the survivors had to move south to the isolated Vũng Tàu peninsula6; while most of the members of the North Three Witches Group were killed in the name of the Trịnh lords' Clique, and the thirteen surviving congregations fled south to the Vũng Tàu area with some anomalies, where they formed a new Three Witches Group together with the South Three Witches Group remnants, and switched back to underground. After the establishment of the Nguyễn dynasty in 1802, the Three Witches Group expressed goodwill to the Nguyễn authorities, however, it was regarded as "Tây Sơn Remnants" by Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, Emperor Gia Long then, and was refused. Assaulted by pirates, the Three Witches Group later moved to nearby Bà Rịa area and was dragged into the battle of Bà Rịa7 with Foundation precursor Estate noir, in this battle the organization and most of the anomalies possessed by the Three Witches Group were eliminated. Then Estate noir breached the headquarter of the Three Witches Group and burnt it down, the remaining pieces of literature were brought back to France, and were transferred to the French branch of SCP Foundation as long as the incorporation of Estate noir into SCP Foundation in early 20th. century(later transferred to the Chinese branch of SCP Foundation). While the remnant Three Witch Group members were pursued by Estate noir in the name of French Indochina authorities and were all brought to justice during the French Indochina period.

Unlike the Abnormality Institute, a semi-governmental organization active at the same time, the Three Witches Group remained in a state of semi-religious organization. According to the extant classics, the Three Witches Group consisted of three parts, the Hierarch Group8 consisting of several to dozen high-leveled members, the Congregation Group9 consisting of a few middle-leveled members, and the Folk Group10 consisting of lower-leveled members. The Three Witches Group worshipped a goddess named "the Water Dragoness"(Mẹ Rồng Nước /媄蠬渃, whose relation with SCP-2481 is still unknown), and believed that all the anomalies are descendants of the Water Dragoness after its copulation with all things, therefore, if people want to utilize more anomalies, they must please the Water Dragoness with human sacrifices, and thus the goddess would produce more descendants. Meanwhiles rather than simple containment, the Three Witches Group actively used abnormal items as weapons. The remnants of A Brief Record of Mountain Gods(Chí Lược Sơn Tinh /志略山精), a Three Witches Group literature speculated to be written in late 17th. century, multiply mentioned that the Three Witches Group then would constrain anomalies for a long time and feed them with children, which would make them violent and harmful. Judging from the French classics, this is an important reason why the Three Witches Group was wiped out during the French Indochina period as well.

Since most of the literature were burnt down by French, the amount of extant direct classics of the Three Witches Group is relatively small, and most of them are damaged. In addition to a small number of pieces of literature written down in a early period, the majority of Three Witches Group pieces of literature were written in Vietnamese in Hán-Nôm characters11 rather than classical Chinese. It is speculated that due to the conflict with the Abnormality Institute in the early days of aboveground switching, the Three Witches Group refused to use the scripts of "hostile forces". Some also suggested that the reason is most the members of the Three Witches Group came from the middle-lower class and wasn't able to study Chinese characters and Chinese language systematically. Meanwhiles, many of the Three Witch Group classics were written in self-constructed Nôm characters, which might be due to reasons like secrecy. It's a pity that the previous facts lead to that most Three Witches Group classics aren't interpreted completely, which makes it be known little about the early history of the Three Witches Group. This paper examines the origin and early development of the Three Witches Group with extant interpreted pieces of literature.

I. The origin of the Three Witches Group and its development during the Western Han dynasty

As for the origin of the Three Witches Group, there are not many records in the existent interpreted classics, which could be roughly divided into three categories: local-formed, northern-migrated, and western-migrated. In the current 18 literatures that recorded the origin of the Three Witches Group, the number of literatures holding the local-formed theory is the largest, reaching 12, accounting for 66.7% of all data, which perhaps dues to the nationalism of the Three Witches Group; while the number of pieces of literature holding the northern-migrated theory is 5, accounting for 27.8% of all data; and the literature holding the western-migrated theory is only one, the Dương family (Nhà Dương /茹楊), which only accounts for 5.6% of all data.

The majority of existent pieces of literature holding the local-formed theory is represented by the most complete existent Three Witches Group literature, Book of Dragoness (Kinh Mẹ Rồng /經媄蠬), in which the origin of the Three Witches Group was recorded thoroughly. According to Book of Dragoness, there was the Dragoness between the heaven and the earth, afterwards, the Dragoness created human beings and everything with mud and water, then she kneaded three sons out of the soil, the youngest of which was Hồng Bàng, the ancestor of Việt people. Afterwards, the Dragoness copulated with everything and gave birth to many anomalies. Hồng Bàng, being the best beloved youngest son, soaked with the essence of the Dragoness while being played by the Dragoness herself, and afterwards reared a son named Giang Dương, who got the talent to command all the anomalies, which made him later become the sorcerer of Hồng Bàng. After Giang Dương's death, his three sons, who got the previous talent as well, became sorcerers of Hồng Bàng as well, and their offsprings became the predecessor of later Three Witches Group. Other records supporting the local-formed theory are similar, most of which has only some details apart (for example, some records called Giang Dương as Sông Dương, while some records thought Hồng Bàng wasn't the youngest son of the Dragoness but the eldest, etc.), so it's extremely possible that these pieces of literature were derived from a single original text.

The pieces of literature holding the northern-migrated were represented by Book of Fire (Kinh Lửa /經焒), which in the name of Shi Hui12, declared that the Three Witches Group was derived from three Jiuli13 wizards fleeing from the north in the Hồng Bàng Era. The three witches subdued the abnormal beast ranging near Phong Châu14 and bringing disasters, and were awarded by Hồng Bàng, then settled down. Their disciples then became the predecessor of Three Witches Group. Additionally, A Discussion of Beasts (Luận Thú /論兽), thought the Three Witches Group originated from three witches after the revolt of Shi Hui, who once helped Shi Hui during his revolt, but this theory is apparently conflicted with the existing pieces of evidence, so it's not considered here.

Most pieces of literature holding the local-formed and northern-migrated theories thought that the Three Witches Group originated from the witch organizations of the Hồng Bàng Era, on the contrary, the western-migrated theory made the origin of the Three Witches Group as late as the An Dương Vương.15Era, and thought the Three Witches Group originated from three witches fled from Dianchi Lake16 Area during the An Dương Vương Era, and because of their contribution of helping An Dương Vương to expand, their successor formed the Three Witches Group. But since there aren't any systematic texts before the Nanyue conquer unearthed in modern North Vietnam, all the three opinions have no direct evidence to be proven. And considering the details of the records, the local-formed-theory-holding pieces of literature has the most details, then followed by the northern-migrated-theory-holding pieces of literature, and the western-migrated-theory-holding piece of literature, with only one single reference, has the simplest record. However, since the Dương family, the only western-migrated-theory-holding literature, was written during the background period of the Three Witches Group, and was the earliest record(circa 11th. century.) about the origin of the Three Witches Group, and since the earliest circumstantial evidence was most consistent with the western-migrated theory, the western-migrated theory has the highest credibility compared to the other two theories.

The earliest circumstantial evidence about the early activity of the Three Witches Group came from the bamboo slips unearthed in Site of Nanyue Kingdom Palace in Guangzhou, 1999(referred as "Nanyue slips"), among which, there are not many parts that may refer to the predecessor of the Three Witches Group, and is reproduced below:

……太子在瓯雒时,尝闻国中有巫三人,能驱山精,又有弟子七十二人,事之如神,国人咸称巫夫,土人谓三为夫,盖巫夫者,三巫也。太子尝与之交好,获赠劲弩,告曰千步外能中敌首,试之,信然……

… When the prince17 lived in Ouluo18, he heard that there were three witches in this country, who could drive the mountain ghosts, and there were also seventy-two disciples, who served the witches as gods. People in this country called the witches as "witch-fu", while the locals call three as "fu"19, so "witch-fu" means "three witches". The prince befriended them, and was sent a forceful crossbow, (he) was told (the crossbow) could shoot an enemy's head from a thousand footsteps. (The prince) tested it, indeed…

……甲午,帝取瓯雒,太子以劲弩中瓯雒王,王死。巫祝曰:“叛吾者死于水中。”乃去。太子性大坏,既归,三月不出,饮食缒入,然卒薨于井中。帝大惧,乃访巫于深山中,不得……

…In the year of JiaWu20, the emperor conquered Ouluo. The prince shot the king of Ouluo with the forceful crossbow, and the king died. The witches cursed: "He who betrayed me shall die in the water", then fled. The prince got a bad mood, and after (he) returned, (he) didn't go out for three months, and the food and the beverages were sent with hanging ropes, but (the prince) eventually died in a well. The emperor feared, and searched for the witches in the deep mountains, but didn't succeed…

According to the Nanyue clips, during the period when Zhao Zhongshi was sent on a diplomatic mission to Âu Lạc, there had been a "Three Witches" group consisted of three witches and the seventy-two disciples in Âu Lạc. If according to local-formed or northern-migrated theories, that the Three Witches Group existed in Northern Vietnam before the Hồng Bàng Era or during early Hồng Bàng Era (when the Jiuli tribes were still active), then after development over one thousand years, it is extremely difficult to maintain such a small scale in the densely populated northern Vietnam. While according to the western-migrated theory, which means that those witches didn't enter present-day northern Vietnam until the An Dương Vương Era, then when Zhao Zhongshi, who lived in almost the same period, was sent on a diplomatic mission to Âu Lạc, Zhao's description was easy to match the current materials, which proved the western-migrated theory further. Moreover, the reason for Zhao Zhongshi's death recorded in the Nanyue slips is similar to some details of the tale of Mỵ Châu21, a modern folktale in northern Vietnam, but the plots about the three witches were concealed in the tale of Mỵ Châu, so it's speculated that the formation of the tale of Mỵ Châu was related to the behavioral pattern of the deliberate cover-up of underground Three Witches Group. However, there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

Most Three Witches Group pieces of literature and the Nanyue clips thought the first time when the Three Witches Group shifted from aboveground to underground after Nanyue conquered the state of Âu Lạc in modern northern Vietnam. While the Dương family claimed that the earliest three witches supported Tây Vu Vương during the later Revolt of Tây Vu Vương22, but Tây Vu Vương himself was indecisive and was killed by a pro-Han subordinate named Hoàng Đồng, and the three witches also died in this revolt. Their disciples fled into the deep mountains, hunted for abnormal beasts and developed subordinates, then colluded with local Lạc princes, and developed slowly.

Because of the Lạc tướng and Lạc hầu system23 adopted by the Western Han dynasty in Jiaozhi area, the development of the Three Witches Group during the Western Han period was extremely unclear. Many existing pieces of literature claimed that during this period the Three Witches Group was guided by the Dragoness and massacred the foreign Han immigrants, which is, however, totally not proven by the Chinese pieces of literature during the early and middle period of the Western Han dynasty. The epitaph unearthed in 1975 from a Western-Han tomb of the Su family in Từ Sơn, Hà Bắc Province (in modern-day Bắc Ninh Province), Vietnam (referred as "Từ Sơn epitaph")24 is one of the few Chinese pieces of literature of this period that mentioned the predecessor of the Three Witches Group. The Từ Sơn epitaph claimed that the primitives "could drive the mountain gods, and often whizzed past", which is often being explained as that the Three Witches Group of this period could have been able to initially train anomalies (majority of which might be non-intelligent anomalies), and the epitaph also showed that the Three Witches Group then at least remained half-underground among the local Âu Lạc people, so the Han immigrants couldn't distinguish them from the primitives. The Three Witches Group itself didn't enter the sight of Han Chinese until the period of Xi Guang and Ren Yan25 in the late Western Han dynasty.

II. The Three Witches Group between the Two Han Dynasties and the Trưng sisters' rebellion

The Earliest Chinese literature formally recorded the Three Witches Group is The Jiaozhi Local Custom26 by Li Yuan, a Jiaozhi-born Chinese, during the reign of Emperor Ai of Han27 (7BC-1BC), in this book, the Three Witches Group was called as "The Three Witches Sect", and was described by Li Yuan as:

……土人有巫能御气者,号三巫家,然各县或二三人,或七八人,尝问之,曰先世有三大巫,能倒流大溪,祝人即死,弟子万千,均号三巫。又曰有先天能浮空者,入三巫门,经年,能御三千兽,然吾未尝得见,不知真伪……

…There are primitive witches that can drive the qi, who were named as The Three Witches Sect. And there are sometimes two or three of them in a county, and sometimes seven or eight. (I) have asked them (about themselves), (and they) said there were three great witches in the previous era, who could reverse the great streams (rivers?), and could kill someone by a curse, (they have) tens of thousands of disciples, and all (of the disciples) were called as three witches. And it's said there was someone who could float in the air inborn, who joined the Three Witches Sect, and could steer three thousand beasts after some years, but I've not seen it, so I don't know if it's true…

The description by Li Yuan showed that, at least at the end of Western Han dynasty, the Three Witches Group began intending to absorbing reality benders just like the Three Witches Group of later generations, but the Three Witches Group then obviously didn't develop a complex organization, and was still a loose alliance composed of the posterities of the earliest three witches (and possibly imposters). However, during the late Western Han Dynasty, Han people entered the Jiaozhi area in large quantities and occupied the living space of the primitive people, and at the same time, the fangshi system brought by the Han people entered the Jiaozhi area as well, all above would inevitably lead to the conflicts between local forces represented by Lạc tướng, Lạc hầu and the Three Witches Group, and the foreign Chinese forces, which eventually led to the outbreak of Trưng sisters' rebellion (known in Vietnam as Trưng sisters' revolt) in 40 AD.

Many of the interpreted pieces of literature have mentioned a lot of the Trưng sisters (Hai Bà Trưng /𠄩婆徴), and their descriptions of the Trưng sisters' rebellion are highly consistent, with only differences in complexity and details. The most detailed description was from Book of Dragoness. The Book of Dragoness believed that the Dragoness lived on Trường Sơn28 for a long time after she created everything, and she was impressed by the quarrels between brothers after she saw the Hoa people, the descendants of her eldest son, invaded the lands of Việt people, the descendants of her youngest son, and split herself into two, transformed into the Trưng sisters to save Việt people. As the descendant of Hồng Bàng, the Three Witches Group did all they could to support the Trưng sisters. The seven most skilled witches then (called in Book of Dragoness as the Seven Great Witches, Bảy Phù Thuỷ To /𦉱符水𡚢) used seven magical weapons to help the Trưng sisters to drive the prefecture governor and set Mê Linh29 as capital, and then they ordered their disciples to defend around the Yongji pass30. Two years later, Mayuan, the Fubo General of Han dynasty marched south and was defeated outside of the Yongji Pass by the disciples of the Seven Great Witches. Later the fangshi in the army of Ma ensorcelled and disabled all the magical weapons used by the disciples, which made them pass the Yongji Pass. And the Seven Great Witches set seven barriers on the road from Yongji Pass to Mê Linh, all of which were broken by this fangshi. At last, the castle of Mê Linh was besieged, and the Trưng sisters transformed into dragons and flew away, and the survived three of the Seven Great Witches fled to the southern Thanh Hóa area, where they built the earliest altar. These three witches were also called as the Later Three Witches (Hậu Ba Phù Thuỷ /後𠀧符水).

Considering the identical descriptions of Trưng sisters' rebellion in different pieces of literature, we can basically ensure that these descriptions were from a single source. Although there are many details added and given by the later generations, with the details removed, we can still at least draw the following conclusions:

  • The Three Witches Group did attend the Trưng sisters' rebellion, which is shown in the Chinese pieces of literature as well. The most detailed literature recorded this point existing is History of the Eastern Han31, in which there are many descriptions about reality benders and anomalies while describing the Trưng sisters' rebellion. For example, when recorded the siege of Yongji Pass by Ma Yuan, there goes "土人使师婆舞于关前,援初哂之,后报曰关口猝有万仞之高,其壁若鉴,不可上(The primitives asked the witches to dance before the pass. At first, Yuan laughed at them, then there were reports that the pass had suddenly risen as high as ten thousand ren32, and the cliff was as smooth as mirrors, which couldn't be climbed)", there goes "至望海,有巫执鉴于道旁,光彩烨然,视者皆盲,援使兵士蔽以铜盾,使之自盲,巫舍鉴欲走,前斩之 (As the army marched to Wanghai33, there was a witch holding a bright mirror beside the road, while everyone saw the bright became blind. Yuan commanded the troopers to hide after copper shields, which made the witch blind himself. The witch intended to abandon the mirror and fled, Yuan marched forwards and beheaded the witch.)" in later records. According to History of the Eastern Han, after Ma Yuan's siege of Mê Linh, he indeed marched south to Xupu34 of Jiuzhen Prefecture35 to "访诸巫残党(search for the survivors of the witches)", which was consistent to the Vietnamese literature.
  • The Three Witches Group had formed a primitive two-layered structure by the period of Trưng sisters' rebellion. According to Book of Dragoness, the Three Witches Group then had roughly formed an organizational structure consist of seven Great Witches-core disciples and other disciples. However, the plot of the Seven Great Witches' personally setting barriers showed that the boundary between the two layers of the Three Witches Group of this period is not as clear as the boundary of the group latter-day, which however, wasn't very surprising considering the productivity then.
  • In this period, fangshi from China proper had very likely already entered Vietnam. Although not mentioned much in Chinese literatures, but the Eastern Han dynasty revoked the Lạc tướng and Lạc hầu systems after the suppression of Trưng sisters' rebellion and began businesses such as education-promotion and castle-building, and it was very likely that quite a large part of the Confucian scholars relocated were fangshis; meanwhile the Three Witches Group's pieces of literature clearly claimed that the person who defeated the Seven Great Witches was a Han fangshi rather than a Taoist priest which formed later than the period, which, on the one hand, could prove the ancientness of this Three Witches Group legend36, and could date it back to the period of Trưng sisters' rebellion or a period slightly later, on the other hand, could prove that, fangshis had entered Vietnam before the entering of Taoism.

The suppression of Trưng sisters' rebellion and the collapse of the primitives-autonomous system in northern Vietnam forced the Three Witches Group shift to underground again. But after a long waiting for opportunities of the whole Eastern Han dynasty, the Three Witches Group was active shorting again in the final period of the Eastern Han dynasty. There are many relevant pieces of literature during the Eastern Han Dynasty, which can roughly outline the positive external expansion and activity of the Three Witches Group during this period.

III. The development of the Three Witches Group during the Eastern Han dynasty and the Shi clan

There are many different records in different Vietnamese literatures about the underground activities of the Three Witches Group after the Trưng sisters, but most of which could be generally categorized into some specific categories:

  • Collection of local anomalies and absorption of local humanoid or intelligent anomalies. For example, Book of Dragoness recorded some legends about Five Tigers (Năm Khái /𠄼𤡚), one of the Later Three Witches, including his subduing a great golden cat for three times and advising a prediction-able dog for five times. But most of these legends, apart from some that might derive from prototypes, were, in fact, false records adapted from later supernatural stories or even novels, for example, Book of Three Sages(Kinh Ba Hiền /經𠀧賢), literature written in late 17th. century, recorded a legend named Five Tigers beats the Skeleton Duke, which was obviously adapted from Journey to the West37, and it's still unprovable that how many of legends of this category among literatures were real.
  • Long journeys. This category covered the most records apart from half-false anomalies-subduing records, and most of the records described the long journeys of Later Three Witches themselves or their disciples and were often combined with plots of absorbing primitive Yue witches. Many areas governed by Eastern Han dynasty, including Jiaozhou38, Yangzhou39 and Yizhou[footnote]] A zhou or province of Eastern Han dynasty, covered roughly modern southern Shaanxi, Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunnan and Guizhou. [[/footnote]], were related to these records. These records constructed many character systems as well, the most detailed of which was the Eighteen Apprentices (Mười Tám Học Nghề /𨒒𠔭學藝) system, which was miscellaneously regarded in multiple pieces of literature written down in the period range from 13c. century to 19th. century. The Eighteen Apprentices were eighteen disciples of Thousand Needles (Ngàn Kim /𠦳鈐), one of the Later Three Witches. The records claimed that they journeyed to a place near Huipu40, and every time they arrived at a place, they began magic-fighting with the local Yue witches, and could always make them subdued ultimately, which finally led to a huge witchcraft empire extended from Jiaozhi to southern Yangzhou. The validity of records similar to these in Vietnamese pieces of literature are still unproven, but some of existing Chinese pieces of literature mentioned things similar, for example, written by Yu Huan of Wei dynasty41, Dianlüe42 recorded that "瓯越、闽越巫觋,不论长幼,皆称有贤人南来,能呼风唤雨,凡不信者辄死(No matter they were young or old, all the Ouyue43 and Minyue44 witches and wizards claimed that there were sages come from the South, and could summon the wind and rain, while people who didn't believe in them shall die.)", so there might exist historical prototype which derived into these expansion activities. But considering the vast Yue language speaking area to the south of Yangtze River delta were still highly undeveloped, and the productivity of northern Vietnam, upon which the Three Witches Group based themselves, was relatively low, the influence of this expansion was obviously not as great as that would attract the focus of the government of Eastern Han dynasty.
  • Attempts and inductions of anomalies-developing methods. Almost all the pieces of literature related to anomalies-constraining and development traced the concepts back to Thousand Needle of this period and claimed that she began constraining and training of anomalies rather than directly using them. Although cannot be proven, considering the differences between Seven Great Witches of Trưng sisters period who could only use natural anomalies and the Three Witches Group disciples of Shi Hui period who could initially bypass the disadvantages of anomalies, and that the Three Witches Group then obviously cannot directly control the production of anomalies because of the technological uncontrollability, the Three Witches could indeed have attempted to induct the anomalies-developing methods during the one hundred years between.
  • Religionization. This is not recorded specially by any of the decrypted pieces of literature, but it's mentioned in some pieces of literature that the Three Witches Group disciples of this period would utilize some of the anomalies that could heal diseases to better the symptoms of critically ill persons, and then claimed that the diseases were healed by the blessing of the Dragoness, which led to the spread of Dragoness worship. This is also mentioned in Chinese pieces of literature, for example, Dianlüe described the customs of Jiaozhi area as "土人崇龙,有重病将死者,辄请师婆,师婆再请龙,龙至则病愈 (The local people worshiped dragon, if there was someone who was severely ill and about to die, they would invite witches, and witches would invite dragon, and when the dragon came, the diseases would be cured)", and there are many records alike among other Chinese pieces of literature of this period collected by the Foundation, and it could be deduced that there were more lost pieces of literature mentioned this point.

After biding their time for over one hundred years, the Three Witches Group met a small active period at late Eastern Han dynasty. Many Vietnamese literatures existing mentioned that the warring warlords of late Eastern Han dynasty made Jiaozhou, located on the southern edge of the whole country, to be a somehow pure land, which led to the huge migrating of Han Chinese into Jiaozhou, and an upper member of the Three Witches Group then began considering to absorb these Han Chinese into their organization. Book of Fire claimed that an upper member of the Three Witches Group came to mourn Shi Xie45, Jiaozhi taishou46 then, three days after his death, and revived him with a pill, which made Shi Xie to firmly believe in the Dragoness, while Shi Hui, his son, joined the Three Witches Group following the orders of the father. The Three Witches Group even attempted to seize the chance to expand into the central plain. But Shi Xie was content to retain sovereignty over Jiaozhou and didn't have the attempts to dominate the central plain, so instead, he submitted to Sun Quan, who had recently risen in the lower Yangtze river basin. After several unsuccessful remonstrations, the witches could only give it up first.

This legend also appeared in Chinese pieces of literature. Shenxian Zhuan, written by Ge Hong of Jin dynasty47, replaced the main role of the legend of Shi Xie's resurrection to Dong Feng48, who lived at the same period, but considering that Dong Feng was only six years old when Shi Xie passed away, so this record should be adapted from a Jiaozhou local legend, which could be originated from the relative legends of the Three Witches Group (whether this event have taken place is still unproven without any circumstantial evidences), but since the Three Witches Group had already became fully underground during the Jin dynasties, so the reporter probably concealed the parts related to the existence of Three Witches Group while reported this legend.

Shi Xie passed away in 226, then the Wu49 government appointed Chen Shi as Jiaozhi taishou. Many pieces of literature recovered from the Three Witches Group claimed that Shi Hui tore up the imperial edict from Wu and proclaimed himself as Jiaozhi taishou with the attempts to enshrine the Dragoness in the Imperial Ancestral Temple50, and he on the one hand, contact the Yue witches still loyal to the Three Witches Group, which, however, according to existent records, was obviously unsuccessful, on the one hand, sent some Three Witches Group elites to guard Yongji Pass between Liangguang and Jiaozhi. Inconsistent with the record in Chinese literatures, which was that Lü Dai, the Wu general, asked a cousin of Shi Hui, Shi Kuang to make him surrender, the Vietnamese literatures claimed that Shi Hui imprisoned Shi Kuang, and using the anomalies to kill several Wu military officers near Yongji Pass, and didn't surrender until Lü Dai entered the Red River via ships from Hepu and besieged Longbian51 castle; while Shi Yi, a brother of Shi Xie, told Lü Dai the existence of the Three Witches Group, saving the lives of his whole clan. Then after he transferred the head of Shi Hui to Wuchang52, Lü Dai attacked the Three Witches Group members guarding Yongji Pass from the road behind them, and the remaining Three Witches Group forces around Yongji Pass were soon eliminated under the guidance of Shi Yi; meanwhile with the advise of Shi Yi, Lü Dai sent troops to Thanh Hóa to search for the altar, and thanks to the covering53 by Sky Face (Mặt Trời /𩈘𡗶), the only reality bender in the altar, Lü Dai didn't find the altar, so returned after arresting some primitives.

Since most of the existent Chinese literature didn't record the details of the revolt of Shi Hui, it's difficult to figure out how many of the records in Vietnamese pieces of literature were real. But some pieces of literature, such as Dianlüe//, did mention Lü Dai "奏以广设学庠,教化土人,以绝淫祀 (made a suggestion to the emperor that they should establish schools vastly and educate the primitives to sever the worship of unorthodox gods)" after he suppressed the revolt in Jiaozhi, which probably proved that Lü Dai indeed noticed the widespread local Dragoness worship, and the following ups of this suggestion weren't recorded by existent pieces of literature, but since there weren't any pieces of literature about the Dragoness worship during Jin dynasties, the Wu government probably did sever the worship about the Dragoness with some administrative methods.

IV. Later developments

The majority of Three Witches Group pieces of literature didn't mention anything political between the revolt of Shi Hui and Lam Sơn uprising, so it's commonly thought that the early stage of the development of the Three Witches Group was ended at the revolt of Shi Hui. After that, the activities of the Three Witches Group shifted to these categories:

  • The construction of mythic systems. The earliest record of complete Dragoness myth could be found in Book of the Honorific Water Dragoness Saving the Sufferings (Thuỷ Long Mẫu Đại Đức Cứu Khổ Cứu Nạn Kinh /水龍母大德救苦救難經), in which the description was already alike to later Book of Dragoness, and core mythic concepts such as the relation between the productions of anomalies and the copulation of the Dragoness; which proved that the finish of the construction of the mythic systems about the Water Dragoness shouldn't be later than 10c., when the Three Witches Group shifted underground. And there were Chinese pieces of literature which could prove the Dragoness worship in Jiaozhi area, but there aren't any circumstantial materials that could prove the Dragoness mythic systems had been constructed completely then, so it could be hypothesized that the mythic system of the Three Witches Group emerged during the early stage of its half-aboveground period, and was finished during its underground period, and was finally popularized during its aboveground period.
  • Formation and improvement of the organization. In the fragments of the Three Witches Group literature that were supposed to be written in the 7c. or 8c., the general congregations were still called "disciples", and in the 10th century Book of the Honorific Water Dragoness Saving the Sufferings, the concepts "hierarchs, congregations and folks" appeared for the first time, and it's generally believed that the three concepts of this period represent the succession of the Three Witches Group from the primitive witches-disciples two-layer organization to the later hierarchs-congregations-folks three-layer organization in the 9th-10th centuries.
  • The tests about anomalies-developing methods. It was mentioned in many Vietnamese pieces of literature that the Three Witches Group began to utilize human on the training and weaponization of anomalies during the post-Shi Hui period. It's noticeable that several of the most earliest decrypted literatures recorded that the Three Witches Group successfully withstood the troops of Lu Xun during the Revolt of Lu Xun and Sun En54, and the ones withstood Lu Xun were "弟子十人,皆自小炼气者 (ten disciples who began training about qi since their childhood)", which proved that the Three Witches Group this period could have begun trying to train congenital intelligent humanoid anomalies or using anomalies to successfully stimulate the paranormalities of human, but there isn't any other evidence to prove this possibility and whether it had been applied later.

None of the literatures of this period showed that the Three Witches Group expressed the attempts of expansion into the central plain like it did before, which could be explained as that the Three Witches suffered greatly during the revolt of Shi Hui, and then gave up its ambition about the central plain, rather than began improving their internal organization and enhancing their strength to seize the opportunities to rise again.

From this point of view, the Three Witches Group was, in fact, successful, after their over one thousand years of waiting, it understood or directly controlled most of the abnormal phenomena or individuals in northern Vietnam, and finally helped Lê Lợi to regain the country in Lam Sơn uprising, thus ushered in its peak.

The old papers lying in the libraries are still waiting for someone to decrypt and excavate, and more evidence that may be discovered in the future could possibly give us a more realistic Three Witches Group. So the writer is trying to research here using the existing evidences, and hopes that the scholars of later generations could have it amended.




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