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.
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.