Tag Archives: Folk religion

Thai Folk Religion

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Thai

Age: 22

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Thai

(Notes-The informant will be referred AH to as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: AH was born in California, but both her parents are of Thai descent, moving here a few years before she was born with a large chunk of her family. Her family still practices many aspects of Thai folk religion in the United States. She notes that her religion is incredibly complicated, so she will only tell me a few, significant aspects of it.

K: Uh so just say which things you’re gonna be telling me about, like the names of them, where you learned about these things and if its like applicable uh the context to the performance, like under what circumstances would you do those things.

AH: Uh yeah I guess the first thing I wanna uh I wanna mention are Shamans. They’re like the main practitioners in our religion, and there are 2 main ones uh…phram’s which are like local village ones and uh…mo phi, which are the ones that can conduct like rituals. Mo phi is the more important of the 2 technically, but both are held with like…the same amount of respect by the community.

K: Can you go into more detail about what each does?

AH: Yeah of course. So phram’s are like village uh shamans like I think I said. He does like exorcisms and marriages and stuff like that, more common ceremonies that seem like they would be held in a home or village. The mo phi also does rituals and ceremonies and stuff but more intense ones, like contacting the dead.

K: Can you tell me more about that ritual?

AH: I was just about to. So uh its kinda complicated. Four sticks are planted in like a square around where someone was buried, and then thread is wrapped around them once forming like a protective square. A specific mat is laid in the middle and that’s where the uh mo phi sits-sits down. In front of him, like wherever he is facing but outside the square, there’s a terracotta pot with something called an uh…uhm a yantra painted on the outside with the bones of the dead person and uh…the pot is called a mo Khao. there also normally uh a like plate of rice for an offering and like a stick to whack spirits away *laughter*. After this point, it like varies pretty widely what happens next, but the goal is to invoke the spirits so you can speak or see them one last time.

K: What are yantras? Can you tell me more about them and their uses and stuff? Like when are they used especially

AH: Yeah so uh…they’re like protective symbols I guess. People can either wear them around their neck as like an amulet, and a lot of people actually get them tattooed, especially in more rural areas. It gives whoever has it like…supernatural protection and luck and love and wealth and stuff like that. They’re drawn kinda everywhere, like over the entrances of grocery stores and inside taxis and airplanes and normally you have one drawn somewhere during like a wedding and things like uh that.

Interpretation:
This was so cool. I wish I could have sat with the informant longer and learned more about Thai religious folklore, but sadly she had other obligations. What she was able to tell me was so interesting. Shamans are not uncommon in many older regions,e socially folk-based ones, but hearing how they are specifically used in Thai religion was interesting. The fact that there are two different types of shaman, one more common one for larger ceremonies, etc, is really enlightening towards Thai culture. I also think it’s important to note that although one has an arguably more important or more difficult job, they both held with the same amount of respect and adoration.

Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos

–Informant Info–
Nationality: United States of America
Age: 30
Occupation: Lead Associate of Operations, Chase Bank
Residence: Laguna Niguel, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (MR).

MR: So when you ask a saint for a blessing and then you have to make a promise to them. For instance, I would say a prayer, and then when it is fulfilled I would promise to come back to the saint’s temple and crawl from the beginning of the temple to the altar.

HS: What are some examples of saints that you have performed these acts for in the past?

MR: I’ve been to the temple of the Miracle Baby Jesus, or even another saint that is more well-known is the Virgen de San Juan de Los Lagos. She is the saint that cures sick people. So you ask her to heal you or anyone else. So people go to her temple in my home of Guadalajara but it is not just a place that you casually go to like a church here in the United States. It really varies. Some people trek for miles and miles and miles. People walk on foot from their homes for days. In my case, I just drive up to the entrance because I don’t have the time for all that. And then once you actually arrive at the temple itself, you crawl on your elbows and knees from the entrance to the altar and then leave a candle and family picture of us four, like my mom, my dad, my sister, and myself in an area where you’re allowed to leave stuff.

Background:

My informant is my co-worker from my job. She is essentially my supervisor and she enjoys helping me to practice my Spanish and telling me a lot about her culture and heritage. She was raised in a Spanish-speaking household by two parents who both immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She comes from a devout Catholic family and has taught me a lot of traditions that I didn’t know pertain to Catholicism, seeing as to the fact that I myself was raised in a Catholic family.

Context:

These religious traditions were brought up while having a general discussion with my co-worker about her culture and traditions. I had just watched an episode of one of my favorite shows that included a scene where Roman Catholic Mexcian crawl on their hands and knees to worship an idol and so I decided to ask my coworker about it. She had told me about these traditions before but I asked her to go more in-depth for the sake of the collection project. We were sitting next to each other on the teller line at work and we would chat in-between customers.

Thoughts:

I have been extremely interested in Roman Catholicism ever since I watched the Breaking Bad series. While watching the series, I had no knowledge of any traditions pertaining to the religion and was confused when out of nowhere, I saw Mexican drug lords peacefully giving up all of their material possessions and crawling on their hands and knees with other people trying to cross the border. This scene in the series made me curious about the tradition, and so, knowing that my coworker came from a devout Roman Catholic family, I asked her about the subject. She was quick to inform me that the drug lords were crawling on their hands and knees to ask the saint Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte for protection as they cross the United States-Mexico border, but that the tradition of crawling on one’s hands and knees to honor saints was widespread across all of Mexico out of respect for them. She also informed me that Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, is a cult and is not recognized by her church.

For more info on these saints:

Allison McNearney. “The Death Worshipping Cult of Santa Muerte: From Argentina to Canada, There Is No Religious Movement Growing Faster, Says an Expert. But How Serious Is Worshipping ‘Saint Death?’” The Daily Beast, The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC, 2015.

Graziano, Frank. Miraculous Images and Votive Offerings in Mexico. Oxford University Press, 2016, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199790869.001.0001.

Fountain of Mercy prayer

Main Piece: The Fountain of Mercy prayer takes place at 3 o’clock (either AM or PM), as this is considered a special hour where prayers will be more powerful. If you pray with your rosary at this time, it is said that all of your prayers will be answered. For each of the rosary beads, you pray that Jesus has mercy on a certain person, and it is common to list family and close friends. “However, towards the end you realize that you run out of people. There are about 20 beads on that thing – you’re gonna run out of names, so you start listing random people. Like, ‘have mercy for that one person I saw on the bus early last week,’ and ‘have mercy on the person at the checkout counter.’” The prayer is uniquely designed to force people to think about and pray for other people besides themselves: “It forces me to remember that other people outside of my direct orbit exist while I’m existing, too.”

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. OC originally heard the prayer from her mom and cousin; she has always remembered it because Paraguayan culture highly values family and taking care of others, which is what the Fountain of Mercy prayer reinforces. Personally, the informant cannot perform the prayer every day at 3 o’clock because of her busy college schedule, but whenever she has a free moment to clear her mind, she does an abbreviated version and simply asks God to forgive certain people as well as herself.

Personal thoughts: I think it’s interesting to see how the informant adapts the prayer to her modern life, which reflects the disparity between her everyday life and the lives of her relatives in still living in Paraguay. As a first generation pre-med student who also works part-time, OC is working under the pressure to prove herself in a fast-paced, future-oriented America that values material success such as wealth. This American mindset directly contradicts the day-by-day, mindful lifestyle of her Paraguayan family. For example, her mother, who is still deeply connected to Paraguay, makes it a habit to perform the prayer every single day at 3pm, while OC almost scoffed at the idea of giving a whole hour of her schedule to prayer and nothing else. Rather, religious mindfulness comes secondary to the demands of America’s demanding education system, begging the question of whether modernity and future-oriented thinking (two concepts that are expanding more and more each year) can truly exist in perfect harmony with devout religiosity.

Haitian Voodoo

Context: Informant’s father is from Haiti and grew up in an area where Voodoo was practiced. Though it may not have been the majority, there was still a presence and the practice was perceived as dangerous. Because of this, he would need to come back into the house from playing at a certain time in order to avoid being caught up in any practices in his neighborhood area.

Informant:

“The thing that keeps coming to mind is like Voodoo… which isn’t like… I don’t know. I just remember my Dad saying that like… he would play stuff… he would like play outside, and at a certain time, you would like, have to go inside because like… the Voodoo people would just like, come around the corner and do their thing and leave at night. But one day, he was like playing too late and he could hear sounds like around the corner, around the mountain or whatever, from around his house and then he saw them and they were in all white… and like, yeah.”

KA: And what is the “Voodoo people” specifically? Like, this was in…

“In Haiti.”

KA: Okay.

“This was like, when he was a kid in Haiti. Um… I mean, for my family specifically, we don’t have to like… really do anything related to Voodoo, but you shouldn’t like… not believe in it just in case anything comes true. It’s like you shouldn’t… I don’t know… I guess like… speak against the gods or like Loa or something like that. I’ve also started researching Voodoo, ’cause I thought it was interesting, but I don’t know. It’s not something that… it’s not really a thing that a lot of Haitians like… do? But it’s also like… not a thing that a lot of Haitians DON’T believe in.”

KA: So why would your Dad have to run inside and not be out?

“Because they’re also like… I mean it can be dangerous.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to Voodoo through their father.

Analysis: I found this extremely interesting. I feel like people acknowledge Voodoo but don’t fully understand it all of the way. Growing up, I’d hear about Voodoo a little bit from my dad, but it was never an overwhelming presence in my life. The interaction I did have from him was caution though. Through the years I feel as though I’ve been exposed to it the most through popular culture which can morph the reality of it in a way, so I think it would be extremely interesting and beneficial to learn more through a lens that isn’t just one meant to entertain.