Friday, October 29, 2010

Having the Answers - Faith

One of the Spirit Houses Being Relocated
Things are not what they always appear to be.

The more that you think that you understand, the less you know.  However it is this dichotomy of perception and reality that keeps life so interesting for a falang here in Isaan.

A little over two years ago, I wrote a blog regarding the installation of Spirit Houses at our home here in Udonthani.

Installing Spirit Houses at homes, businesses, government buildings, and industrial facilities to ensure good luck, prosperity, and harmony for the occupants and owners.  The belief is not related to Buddhism but to the Animist religion that preceded both Buddhism and Hinduism in this region.

A great deal has happened since that day.  There have been great times.  There have been good times.  There have been a few, very few, not so good times.  All in all it has been wonderful and the not so good times, the disappearance of some personal items and my traffic accident last May, have been within the realm of what I would consider normal living - nothing to prevent happiness.

For about a year now, one of Duang's uncles, the Brahman priest, who officiated over the installation of the Spirit Houses, has been in bad health.  After two visits to the Kumphawapi Hospital within a week back in April, he was sent home and instructed not to return.  The hospital had determined that they could not help him.  I have seen him a couple of times since then and while he does not appear to be in the best of health, he is still alive.

In a somewhat related matter, the same uncle has been having troubles with his daughter who is around 20 years old.  Her boyfriend has left Isaan, as so many other young Lao Loum men, to seek a livelihood in Bangkok.  He had decided to cast his lot in the factories of the metropolis rather than the subsistence fields of Isaan.  One week ago, Duang's niece decided to go with her boyfriend to Bangkok.  This became a cause celebre in Nong Dang Village and its environs which includes Tahsang Village.  As I have noted in several blogs, there are no secrets or privacy here in Isaan.  A young woman leaving her family to live with a man who is not her husband is frowned upon especially if she is leaving without her family's blessing.  In order to support their parents, many young women go to Pattaya or Bangkok to work in tourist or entertainment venues.  This is accepted and not discussed.  However leaving in order to cohabitate is a taboo.  I guess the difference is that one is being business and the other is being personal.

For a week and one-half there has been a family crisis involving the niece's desire to go to Bangkok.  Duang's uncle and aunt threatened to disown their daughter if she left. The niece went without eating for three days and threatened to commit suicide.  Duang was contacted to talk some "sense" into her niece.  Duang was apparently successful in getting her niece to recommence eating and to stop talking about suicide.  However her niece remains depressed.

Confronted with the uncle's ill health and problems with the niece, the family sort out outside assistance.  With this being Isaan, the assistance sort did not come from the local government, federal government, or mental health organizations.  With this being Isaan, the first out reach was to the local religious institution - the Monk of the local Wat.  The family also heard about a special Buddha (Monk), a white Buddha, from a village 25 kilometers from Tahsang Village.  "White Buddha" is Duang's term for a Brahman Priest or Shaman and not for a member of the Buddhist religious community.

It is believed that the local Brahman is reincarnated from a man who died one thousand years ago.  He has been possessed by "good" spirits and spends his time helping people.  It is said that he goes into trances in which he communicates with spirits to see how to solve problems, set things right, and to foretell the future.

He arrived in Tahsang Village yesterday afternoon, about one hour before Duang's niece was going to get on the bus to Bangkok.  He went into a trance.  He spoke to the family.  He put some stuff into a glass of water for the girl to drink and she then decided to not to go to Bangkok much to the family's relief.  With this wonderful development, Duang was called so that she could meet the Shaman.  In the course of conversation the Shaman determined many things - the biggest item was that the Uncle's health was compromised because he had performed the Spirit House installation at our home and was not properly qualified.  It turns out that Duang's uncle was qualified to perform weddings and Bai Sii ceremonies, he was not qualified for rituals such as Spirit House installations.  This was news to me and the rest of the family.

Offerings to the Spirits

According to the Shaman, Duang has been making the wrong offerings to the spirits at our home.  She had been making offerings of fruit, Fanta Strawberry Soda, flowers, and drinking water when the spirits actually wanted blood, pork, beef and fish.  Apparently Duang's Uncle in addition to not being properly qualified had also given her some bad advice on how to keep the spirits content.  The spirits were not happy and were wanting blood, kind of like as in wanting people dead.  Duang's Uncle is number 1 on their list and he would be dead within 10 days.  Duang would be dead with in one year with Duang's daughter being next to die.  I inquired about my status in this bad situation and Duang told me as she has on several occasions, "You OK, Phii (ghosts) afraid of falang (foreigners)".  Many foreigners complain or more accurate whine about perceived discrimination here in Thailand but this is obviously one situation where it pays to be a "falang".

Duang returned home yesterday afternoon and informed me of this development.  She told me that it would be good for her to have the Shaman come to our home the next morning and set things right.  Apparently the Shaman was going to consult the spirits and relocate the spirit house in a proper ritual that would set everything straight.  This would help Duang's uncle's health and remove the cause for my traffic accident and the loss of our personal property.  I asked her how much money it was going to cost me and she replied that it would not cost anything.  I asked her how much of our landscaping would be destroyed and she said very little.  Sounded like a good deal to me so I agreed especially when Duang added that our 21 month old grandson, Peelawat, would be coming along with the relatives for the ritual.

Preparing Offerings While Shaman Consults
 The relatives and Shaman arrived this morning around 8:00 A.M.  Peelawat and I amused ourselves looking at pictures of him on the computer while everyone else prepared for the ritual.  The ritual started with a sit down, as in cross legged on sahts, breakfast of fruits, rice, soft drinks, fish, and meat dishes that Duang had freshly prepared.  The Shaman maintained a vegetarian regimen unlike the Buddhist Monks in the area.

Shaman Prepares to Relocate A Spirit House While Peelawat Rearranges Decorative Rocks

Peelawat Watches the Ritual
After eating, the Shaman talked with Duang, her family and friends from Tahsang Village.  On several occasions he went into a trance to communicate with the spirits.  Duang's Uncle did not come due to his health but her Aunt and Niece had come to our home to ensure the benefits of the ritual for the Uncle.  The Shaman then walked around the Spirit Houses in our front yard and made the decision to relocate one of the Spirit Houses to our front side yard.

Peelawat "helps" his Grandmother and Father to relocate a Spirit House
 Under the supervision of the Shaman, the family relocated one of the Spirit Houses and made offerings at both of the Spirit Houses.  The Shaman preformed a proper ritual to appease the spirits and set everything back to where it needed to be.  Since we also have a shrine in our home, he went upstairs and had the shrine furniture rearranged to be in a proper configuration.

Shaman Performs Ritual for Relocated Spirit House
After the rituals, the Shaman did consultations for the family.  Duang's Uncle, according to the Shaman, will live for three more years.  Duang will live for five months longer than I will.  I will die in Thailand when I am 90 years old.  Peelawat will take care of us in our old(er) age.  When I am 36 and Duang is 32 years old, in our next life, we will have two children - one boy and one girl.

Peelawat and I have a very close relationship.  Duang and many of the Tahsang Villagers have attributed this close relationship to their belief that he was actually my son in a previous life.  The Shaman confirmed this to be the fact.

The family and Shaman piled into the pickup truck around 12:00 P.M. to return to their homes.  Duang was pleased and content that everything had been straightened out with the spirits.  She had answers for why things have happened and knowledge of things to come.  Her world had balance and harmony returned to it.  She had done the right thing and her faith gives her a road map for the future.

My wife is happy, so I am happy too.  She has answers.  I understand a little bit more and perhaps know a little more.

It was another interesting day here in Isaan.


  1. Amazed that you encourage this faith in inanimate objects made by hands. What self-respecting spirit or whatever would want to live in a tiny reinforced concrete and plaster spirit house?

  2. @Anonymous ... You are missing the spirit of my blogs. My goal is to accurately and completely describe my observations as well as experiences. I do not proseltyize. There is a greater world outside of our comfort zone for those who will open their eyes and mind.



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