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Spirits and Mediums

Spirit House in Chiang MaiThe Northern Thai believe in territorial spirits for forests and fields, tutelary spirits for houses and towns, and ancestral spirits. Misfortune can be blamed on spirits properly propitiated with such offerings as meat, liquor, Areca nut, bananas, coconut, flowers and incense.

In former times the jungle beyond the muang was considered abode of beasts primitives and fearsome spirits, while the city pillar represented the heart of civilization. Today Indian forms of worship associated with Brahmanism and Buddhism are used in ceremonies to pay respect to the highest spirits that guard the cities.

Pre-Indian practice dominates rituals that honor the lesser ancestral clan spirits. In propitiation rites female mediums following clan lineage are possessed by ancestral spirits, reflecting women's spiritual power in the traditional matriarchal structure of northern society (in rural areas men still move into the houses of their spouses).

In Buddhist cosmology the spirits possessing male or female mediums are thought to be thewada (angel) who dwell in heavenly realms between the cycle of rebirths, and who are sometimes identified as figures of local historical importance. By providing a beneficial link between spirit world and human realm the mediums are ensuring progress in the cycle of rebirths for one and all.

In propitiation rituals (Ngan phi) mediums enter trances, don bright robes, swig rice liquor, dance with abandon and offer guidance to supplicants; but whether one comes across such an event is a matter of fortune.

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