Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Exorcism In Isaan

Theravada Buddhist Monk Performing An Exorcism

When I wrote about the relocation of the spirit houses at our home, I mentioned that my wife was dealing with some family issues.  One of the family issues is her daughter.  Duang's daughter is involved with a married man who is also involved with four other women while his wife is serving time in jail.  His wife will be released from jail in a month and Duang's daughter knows that her boyfriend will not leave his wife.  Despite knowing this, Duang's daughter is madly in love with this man.  She fears the heartache and heartbreak that are coming her way. When she does not see him, she hurts inside her head and inside of her body.  When she is with him she is very happy. She is obsessed with this man and suspects perhaps that she is possessed by this man.

Possessed by someone?  In Isaan and perhaps Thailand in general there is a belief that people can make other people love them when there is no reason, justification, or wisdom to do so.  I was first made aware of this back in March 2007 when by circumstance we attended a celebration of a Mon wedding in Samut Songkhran.  I ended up dancing with some of the women and while dancing I had strange twitches as well as tingling in my hand.  At first Duang said that it was good because it was a religious dance and I was being effected.  However when her friend told her that Mon people knew how to get people to leave the people they love to love them instead, Duang became very cautious as well as defensive.  She warned me not to eat or drink anything that the women may offer me.  Supposedly, the people have you eat or drink something in which they have put a bad spirit in beforehand.

Just as I wrote recently about how you will read that Buddhist Monks are not supposed to sing, if you research on the Internet, you will find that except for Tibetan Buddhists, Buddhists do not believe or practice exorcisms.  There is a dichotomy in life.  There is the way life is supposed to be and the way that it actually is, which quite often is very different.

Just as it is virtually impossible to define or describe universally in any detailed level what an American or any other nationality is, let alone what they may believe, so it is difficult to define what Buddhists believe and even more so what heir practices are.  There is a large gap between what are theoretical believes and local practices and applications.  As you read more and believe that you understand better, you realize how many exceptions there are to what you have read or originally believed that you understand.    This can cause a great deal of confusion or frustration, but it can lead to a better appreciation for the richness and complexity of what you are studying or experiencing.

Once again I do not profess to be an expert on Buddhism, but can only reassure you that I am accurately recording what I have witnessed with some explanation coming from my wife.

The other day at a funeral that I did not attend, one of Duang's aunts told her that she has two daughters just like Duang's daughter and how a certain Monk had rid them of the bad spirits that were the source of their bad and self destructive behavior.  When Duang discussed that option with her daughter, her daughter agreed to go.

Yesterday we drove out to Tahsang Village to pick up Duang's aunt who knew where the Wat was and Duang's daughter.  We drove out to Huai Koeng Village.  It turned out that the Monk is another of Duang's relatives.  He is known as the second best Monk in the area for expelling bad spirits from people.  I did not realize at the time but the young Monk that lead the exorcism of Nongdaeng Village in December 2010 is considered the best Monk for performing exorcisms.  I asked how long he had been a Monk and through Duang I learned that he had been a Monk for 16 years.

Two Funerals and An Exorcism

The ritual started with what appeared to be an informal interview during which the Monk wrote down information such as her age, her birth date, and where she lived. From Duang he determined what the issues were. he confirmed with Duang's daughter what the issues were. With the formalities completed, the Monk had Duang's aunt go off to the local market to buy some eggs.  Shortly she returned with a bottle of Pepsi for me and 7 fresh eggs.  The eggs were part of the ensuing ritual.  Eggs are very important in some rituals in Isaan.  I had to eat a hard boiled egg as part of our marriage ritual.  Eggs were smashed on the ground during the exorcism of Nongdaeng Village.

What followed was a fairly typical merit making ritual, except for the use of the eggs and a metal sword. A pressed metal bowl contained Baii Sii Kwan made from banana leaves, a cotton string (disaisein) connected Duang's daughter a bucket  of water, the raw eggs, the sword, an offering plate and the Monk.

The Monk did a great deal of chanting and blowing air upon the eggs as if he was preparing them for something.

Two burning yellow candles where placed over the bucket of water while the ritual was being performed.  The pattern(s) that the wax drippings from the candles make in the water of the bucket indicates the internal state of the person and is an indicator of the future for the person.  In the case of Duang's daughter the dripping candle (one of the candles had fallen into the bucket about 3/4 the way through this portion of the exorcism) had created a spiral design on the water's surface - I was told that this was not a good sign.

After the completion of this ritual, Duang's daughter changed into a "pahtoon" (Lao clothing - wrap around cloth from the arm pits to just above the ankles).  We congregated outside where she sat before the Monk.  As he chanted, he poured cold water over her several times.

Monk Sprays Water With His Mouth, One of Three Times
As part of the cleansing ritual the Monk filled his mouth with water and quite forcibly sprayed Duang's daughter with a fine mist three separate times..

Monk Blows Upon the Head, One of Three Times
As she was drip drying in the bright sunlight, while chanting the Monk blew air upon Duang's daughter's head three times.  Duang's daughter then went into the bathroom and changed into dry clothing.

A beautiful saht (woven reed mat) was placed on the landing outside of the door to the sala.  Duang's daughter laid down on the mat.  The Monk knelt beside her.  He had her loosen her blouse and pull her blouse up to expose the back of her neck and lower back.  Monks are not allowed to touch women or to become aroused by women so we were threading on dangerous ground here.  I could have written we were on "thin ice" here but even now in "cold season" the low temperatures are 60F at night so there is no possibility of any ice. to tread upon. To ensure that would not be any problems, Duang assisted the Monk by moving clothing as directed by the Monk and using a hand towel to cover exposed areas of flesh not involved in the exorcism ritual.

Starting with the back of the neck, the Monk rubbed an egg on various parts of the daughter's prostrate body.  The Monk's fingers never touched the daughter's body as he rubbed the egg on her body.  After he had finished rubbing her lower back, and upper back, the monk had her lay upon her back on the saht.

Monk Blows Air On Abdomen As You Uses A Bronze Sword and Egg for Exorcism
As she lay on her back, the Monk probed her stomach lightly with a heavy intricately embossed bronze sword called a "mitdap".  It appeared that the monk was using the mitdap to press and better expose sections of the abdomen for the egg .  Occasionally the Monk would interrupt his chanting to ask Duang's daughter where she was feeling discomfort.  I later found out that the Monk was forcing the bad spirit form inside the body to go into the egg.  As I had learned back at the exorcism of Nongdaeng Village, phii (ghosts, bad spirits) are attracted to and like to feed upon raw eggs.

Using the Mitdap and Egg To Capture Bad Spirit

Using A Knife To Rid Body of Bad Spirit
After using the egg on the body, the Monk used a small handcrafted knife, very similar to the ones that we purchased in Laos, to rhythmically tap the torso as he continued to chant.  When he had completed tapping the body with the small knife, the Monk had Duang's daughter sit up.  He then drew out some kind of design on her lower back using what appeared to be a glue stick and some oil (not motor oil).  Duang said that this was to prevent bad spirit from going back in.

The Monk then used the small handcrafted knife to scrape the daughter's back as he chanted.

When he completed this portion of the ritual, Duang, Duang's aunt and I went off to the side where the egg used in the exorcism was cracked open which revealed three small blood like specks in the egg white.  They were pointed out to me and I was told that these were from the bad spirits that had been removed from Duang's daughter.

We all returned inside of the sala where the Monk completed the exorcism by performing a traditional Bai Sii ritual - binding the 32 good spirits to the body by tying a cotton string around the wrist.  The entire exorcism had lasted 2 hours.

Last night, Duang talked to her mother in Tahsang Village and learned that her daughter has been a completely new person.  She had cleaned the upstairs, cleaned the downstairs, did the laundry and had not talked back to any one.  Duang told her mom that tomorrow would be a new day and would would see if she had really changed.

Today Duang learned that her daughter had gone off with her boyfriend once again - boosting my theory that  her aching is not from his absence but more likely from "withdrawal" not from any "food" that he maybe feeding her but from whatever she may be eating that he gives her.

Life is suffering and the issues that cause suffering in Isaan are the same issues that cause families and individuals to suffer all over this world.  Although the methods used to try to stop or prevent the suffering may be different from culture to culture they can not be effective on the people unless they are committed to making the necessary changes in their life. It is sad.  But it is true.  It has been true since man started exercising free will and will always be true.  But it does not stop us from trying our best and all we can do for others.

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