In the origin of the universe, “Three Realms” or “Three Palaces” was used to describe of three regions, The Heaven, the Earthh and the Water. In proportion of these, there were Father Kings and their mandarins, who were known as divinies or saints by us. At that time, Three Realms included:
Afterwards, when The worship of The Mother Goddesses improved and grew more and more to adapts to request of developing society, Tam Phu or Three Realms was usually known as Three of The Holy Mothers or The Viet worship of the Mother Goddesses in Three Realms. Three of The Holy Mothers includes: Mother Goddess of Heaven (The First Mother Goddess) controlling heavens, Mother Goddess of Forest (The second Mother Goddess) managing all over mountains and forests, Mother Goddess of Water (The Third Mother Goddess) admiring the rivers.
Reconstitued The councils of Three Realms in Tu Phu or Four Palaces show by Viet Tu Director Source: Viettheatre
Three Realms or Three Palaces with the Councils of Three Realms, nevertheless, doesn’t mean only The Mother Goddesses but also Father Kings and their mandarins or divinies as well. They are all worshipped and arranged in a close order on altars, which is often shown clearly in attendants of mediums in rites of hau dong, where the Mother Goddesses, Ladies of Honors, Great Mandarins, Princes or Damsels and Boy Attendants reicarnate and descend on earth as invitation of medium or the owner of temples, shrines and joss houses. That could also explain for you about the first sentence “Con lay Tam phu cong dong, Tu phu van linh” (My majestic of the Councils of Three Realms and System of Divinies in Four Palaces) when people pray in front of altars.
“Cong dong” in “tam phu cong dong” is the same meaning with “The councils of the Three Realms”, who are all of mandarin or divinies in Three Palaces. That’s the reason why locations of this councils are usually seated or arranged like departments in a court of dynasty as following:
The 1st row:
Upmost of altar is Buddhisattva Quan-Yi or Buddhisattva of Mercy with Fairy and Boy Attendants on two sides.
The 2nd row:
Three of Father Kings or Three Kings of Realms, includes:
Besides, there are two attendants on two sides of them.
The 3rd row:
Three of The Holy Mothers, includes:
In this period, after the worship of Mother Goddesses in Three Realms turned into the beliefs of The worship of Mother Goddesses in Four Palaces, there were some changes in Vienamese spiritual life, which make Four Palaces or Four Realms and System divinies of Four Palaces appear Despite of whether Three or Four Realms, The religion of worshipping the Mother Goddesses is still basically one of the beliefs of worshipping universe (heaven, earth, water and forest) with system of god or goddesses, saints or holy, which plays an important and interesting role in folk culture in Vietnam.