Tag Archives: shamanism

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.

“무망” college predictions.

B is a 21-year-old Korean male originally from Busan, South Korea. B is currently a college student in Los Angeles, California.

B informed me of this folklore while I was in a college dorm chatting with him about the college admission process. I did not approach B with the intent of collecting folklore, but after he brought it up naturally in conversation, I requested B’s permission to record his folklore experience. The following is B’s story.

B: So there’s like this thing called “무망” (mudang) it’s kinda like an exorcist. Exorcist? Or whatever. But they’re not not really exorcists, but, they’re people who can like talk to ghosts and.. well, these ghosts are more like Gods who can like guide people, like.. like show visions you know? And I talked to them and I wanted to like um know what college I wanted to go to. Like what actually fits me really well. It’s like a fortune teller kind of thing. And I gave her a list of like all the schools I wanted to go, and like what schools would be the best. And the list had like USC um… Cornell.. what is it, Colombia or like anywhere, Carnegie. And she pointed to like these-uh, she divided the schools into like “O” “triangle” and “X” and the “Os” signified-like, they signified that I would get into that school. “Triangles” would be like, she wasn’t sure because there’s like a… waitlist-like waitlist thingie in America and.. it’s not exactly the same in Korea so like she didn’t know what it was. And “X” would be, um, I wouldn’t get there sadly laughs. And surprisingly, she got like seven out of nine guesses correct. And the last one was Columbia, and she put a “O” there. Or it was a “triangle,” no, I think it was an “O.” And I was expecting that I would go there but I failed, so like I was really disappointed with that. But, she got everything right, and she pointed to like USC.. or somewhere and she told me that I would go somewhere like, somewhere warm instead of like the cold areas which is like normally the east side, East Coast. Like the, all the Ivy Leagues. And, well.. I wanted to go to the East Coast but she told me that I would go somewhere like warm and I though it was uh.. bullshit. But, here I am laughs.

Reflection: At least in terms of practice, the Korean mudang in B’s account sound quite similar to American fortune tellers who both read cards and speak to spirits to predict futures. I am admittedly skeptical about the legitimacy of fortune telling, but it is hard to believe that the mudang was able to successfully determine seven out of the nine colleges correctly, especially without previous knowledge about the colleges . This odd and difficult to explain occurrence has at least made reconsider my stance on fortune telling. Based on B’s story and the continued popularity of Shintoism in Japan, it seems that shamanistic practices are still able to fulfill a need within modern East-Asian societies.

Why the Plants are Gods

From what I can remember, there was a race of living beings, some species before us, way before our time, that knew that we were coming out of the muck and they were much farther evolved than we are or were at the time. I suppose you could say at the time we were either very weird fishy organisms in what we called the muck or something even more devolved than that. And they recognized that something intelligent was going to come out, something that had the capacity to change its environment, grow in strength and power and number. And so that species decided to leave behind some of its intelligence in the form of other living things on the planet, in particular, plants. And those plants ended up helping us in our evolution as we progressed and they spoke to us, so to speak. And they continue to speak to us through different mediums and to the people that choose to listen.

 

My informant learned this myth from a South American shaman who uses plants for medicinal, psychotherapeutic, psycho-spiritual, and healing purposes and ceremonies. It’s a myth about human intelligence and plant intelligence and how we didn’t get to this point on our own, but were given help. What I take from this myth is a particular respect for nature as well as an explanation for the profound powers plants have on their own and the powers they have in our bodies, concerning food, medicine, and even drugs when we find the appropriate ways to extract those powers. Working with plants, humans have developed agriculture and advanced kinds of medicine through practice and study, or as the shaman would say, by listening to what the plants had to tell us and still have to tell us.