Some interesting academic papers to keep an eye out for when doing research on Southeast Asian spirits and ghosts. In this batch, some regarding Laos, Thailand, and Burma:
Fear and Loathing in the Laotian Highlands
Author: Guido Sprenger (University of Heidelberg)
Among Rmeet in Laos, proong are said to live as ordinary villagers by day and blood-sucking half-humans by night. What does this tell us about concepts of humanity and sociality, when social spaces harbour the inversion of the social?
Concepts of destructive and dangerous, yet person-like beings point to an unsettledness of the sociality of humans. The ambivalence which they represent is heightened if these beings shift between roles, being ordinary members of society in one context and dangerous monsters in another. This paper elaborates upon the proong in upland Laos, a category of people who turn into half-humans at night, eating corpses and sucking life out of sick persons and newborn children.
Villagers of the Rmeet acknowledge that some of their neighbours might be proong, however today this hardly ever leads to open accusations or banishment. For most of the time, their existence is made intelligible by stories and precautionary measures, but the identities of local proong remain undetermined. This paper explores how the social and the non-social person emerge as a whole, how frightening ambivalences and concepts of social order are related to each other and how social space might harbour the inversion of the social.
In the land of Pii Poob and Pii Grasueh: how malevolent magic epitomizes Khmerness in contemporary Thailand
Author: Benjamin Baumann (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Exploring how Khmer speaking villagers in Thailand think about local forms of malevolent magic, as well as describing some of the related ritual practices, I will argue that the ambiguous characteristics of two malevolent spirits, mirror and epitomize the ambiguity of Khmerness in contemporary Thailand.
From magic tattoos to love potions and malevolent spirits, Thai popular discourse intimately links the socio-cultural category Khmer to magical practices. Although stigmatized as deviations from the imagined orthodoxy of a state sponsored Theravada Buddhism, these practices nevertheless represent sources of great spiritual potency and are seen as indigenous traditions. Linking the present with a past known for the omnipresence of supernatural powers, Khmer magic commonly evokes feelings of fear and respect, while simultaneously being sought for in various contexts. Ranging from politicians to prostitutes, members of all strata of contemporary Thai society engage in magical practices, whereby the extraordinary power of Khmer magic is commonly agreed upon.
This paper aims at exploring how the intimate relationship of Khmerness and magic inflicts upon processes of socio-cultural identification in Thailand's lower Northeast, a region where approximately one million people speak a local Khmer dialect as mother tongue. Exploring how villagers in Buriram province think about local forms of magic, spirits, and witchcraft, as well as describing some of the related ritual practices and their popular religious foundations, I will argue that the ambiguous characteristics that two malevolent spirits display in local discourse, mirror and epitomize the ambiguity associated with being a Khmer speaker in contemporary Thailand. Furthermore, I will show that popular religious concepts like spirits and witchcraft continue to represent reference points for interpreting misfortune and illness and supernatural agency continues to be a driving force in social group formation, despite the fundamental transformations of village life caused by globalization.
« No witch, no village » : the therapeutic role of sorcery (and countersorcery) in Arakan (Burma)
Author: Céline Coderey (IRSEA (Marseille))
Based on my fieldworks in Arakan (Burma), my paper focuses on the important role played by sorcery for the inhabitants of that area. It aims to show that the persistence of sorcery largely relies on the fact that it allows the handling of anxiety and incertitude at various levels : therapeutic, social, psychological, religious.
Based on my fieldworks in Arakan (Burma), my paper shows the important role played by sorcery for the inhabitants of that area. This importance is attested by two facts : 1. Sorcerers are a cause of misfortune and illness which is often put forward; 2. Many individuals act as « anti-sorcerers », i. e. as exorcists. Villagers often have recourse to them in order to be protected or freed from sorcery aggressions.
The persistence of sorcery largely relies on the fact that it allows the handling of anxiety and incertitude at various levels : therapeutic, social, psychological, religious.
First, sorcery represents an important component of therapeutic itineraries, which is more and more true as the availability and the efficacy of medical care are largely insufficient especially in the field of mental health. In other terms, it gives a sense to and provides a way to act on symptoms that cant be handle by other means.
Second, sorcery provides an instrument of social control because it legitimizes the temporary rebellion of oppressed individuals as well as the strengthening of destabilized social relationships. Moreover, sorcery allows the handling of anxiety and incertitude arising in a competitive context, by acting as an instrument of social manipulation as well as a mean of fate control.
Finally, by embodying the Bad, the Impure and the Disorder, sorcery provides - through the fight that is taken against it - a mean to restore and strengthen the Good, the Pure, the Order and, by doing so, the hegemony of Buddhism representing them.