What has two steeples, one pagoda, multiple unicorns, Victor Hugo, Krishna, and the eye from a dollar bill?

Cao Daism is a homegrown Vietnamese religion founded in the 1920’s based on messages revealed to the founder in a seance with a Ouija board. It has millions of adherents in southern Vietnam. Cao Daism combines aspects of Eastern religeons (the trio of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism and) and Western religion (Catholocism) to create an "ideal religeon." Apparently, spirits of Westerners who have been in touch with the Cao Dai include Joan of Arc, William Shakespeare, Lenin, and Victor Hugo.

The Cao Dai Holy See in the village of Long Hoa reflects this multiplicity. The exterior does indeed include two steeples, a pagoda and I think a dome. Krishna and other Indian gods stand guard in the back of the roof, a globe with a "unicorn" takes the middle position, Buddha and a tiger are front and center, and a pope and the Goddess of Mercy flank the steeples. The temple has a bright yellow blue and red theme, each of the colors with its own meaning.


Inside a group of musicians play traditional (?) instruments for mass. Adherants knee and pray on the floor, robe color indicating rank. Green dragons (a common symbol of power here) encircle pink columns on a checkered floor. Stars twinkle in the bright blue sky roof. Up front, the cacaphony of symbols continues. Red poles support brass discs (instruments?) in front of statues of the Buddha and others. A left eye peers out of a giant globe which contains some precise number of stars (between two and three hundred I think) symbolizing something like all the planets in the universe of Cao Daism.


On our way out we see a message of "Love and Justice" being written by Victor Hugo.


We later learn from our guide, Hue, that there is a lot of hybridization of religion in the south of Vietnam. According to him, many Vietnamese Buddhists "pray" to Buddha, yet don’t necessarily actually understand the concepts of Buddhism. And in addition to a main religeon, many also worship other gods, like the god of the front lawn or the god of the river; there are many others. My favorite is the genie of the earth, who is a happy chubby guy. Shrines often contain a figure of this god, and he’s frequently holding a stub of a real cigarette.

We saw a Cao Dai funeral car in one nearby town.


On our way to and from the temple, we saw many water buffalos like this one.


And we also saw people working the rice paddies.