Champions of Buddhism, I.3



Spirits versus Weikza

Be'ne'dicte Brac de la Perrie`re


pp. 55, 76 Natha spirit-mediumship

p. 55

"spirit mediums known as nat gadaw embody the guardian spirits of places (nat) in the context of spirit possession performances (nat kana pwe)."

p. 76, n. 3

"Nat gadaw literally means "spirit's wife" and refers to ... the relation of the spirit to the medium ... to be established through a seduction {i.e., courtship, the male spirit courting a human female potential medium} process and a wedding".

p. 55 Vidya-dhara spirit-mediumship

"As for the leaders of the cultic groups related to the weikza,

they are called bodaw / medaw.

[p.76, n. 4 "Bodaw, "noble grandfather," is a respectful term used to address ... leaders of cultic groups ... . Medaw, "noble mother,"is used for the female leaders of such groups."]

They make sure that their followers have access to

a kind of protective "energy" (dat) that is specific to weikza." [p. 77, n. 5 : "dat ... is what bodaw deal with as devotees of the weikza and [as] practitioners of their path."]

{This dhatu 'energy' is also more definitely known as "Vajradhatu ..., which is ... based on the Sarva Tathagata Tattva Samgraha Tantra" (DhThC"VM").}

{As with the Burmese case, so likewise with the Bodish, one must "denote as the Vajradhatu Buddhism ... by the Vidyadhara." (RFSh"ShB&VB")}

DhThC"VM" = "Vajradhatu Man.d.ala".

RFSh"ShB&VB" = "Shambhala Buddhism and Vajradhatu Buddhism".

p. 57 volcanic spirits at Popa volcano {not cognate, however, with the Nahuatl name /POPocA-tepetl/ of a volcano?}

"Mount ... Popa is actually the realm of Min Mahagiri and his sister ... . ... . ... known to facilitate esoteric practices, ... an impressive religious complex covering the top and base of Taung Kelap, a chimney of the volcano." {"the Lord of the Great Mountain, and his sister Lady Golden-Face, whose abode was on Mount Popa, an extinct volcano in central Burma. They became, in the nin[e]th century, the guardian gods of the city of Pagan and its kings. There was an annual Nat feast on Mount Popa itself ... .

{"Ngatoro called to his sisters back in Hawaiki ... . Te Pupu and Te Hoata heard him and came at once. Their fire ... burns still in the crater of Ngauruhoe, and in the many other places in Arawa where ... volcanic activity is to be found. ... The name Ngatoro-i-rangi ["Resound in the sky"] must" (MM&L, s.v. ""Ngatoro-i-rangi", p. 126b) refer to making the welkin ring by means of the noise of an explosive volcanic eruption.} {The name of "Tahitian god ... >Atoro-i-ra>i ... is given as meaning 'strong and active' and 'to ascend towards the sky'." (Ibid., p. 127a) This would refer to the active volcano's strongly odorous fumes' ascending into the sky.}

People came from afar to take part in the feast, ... to dance with abandon, believing themselves to have become possessed by the Nats.

{"a series of bòbòkyì and thaik ladies, who are basically pagoda guardians, have recently come to be summoned to dance under the ritual pavilions." ("OFRBS", p. 198)}

There were spirit mediums in attendance at the Nat shrines, who provided the wild music and led the wilder dances." ("F-EBB")}

MM&L = Margaret Orbell : [Illustrated Encyclopedia of] Maori Myth and Legend. Canterbury Univ Pr, Christchurch (NZ), 1995.

"OFRBS" = Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière : "An Overview of the Field of Religion in Burmese Studies". ASIAN ETHNOLOGY 68.2(2009):185–210.

"F-EBB" = "Folk-Elements in Burmese Buddhism". ATLANTIC MONTHLY, Febr 1958.

{As for the name /Nauru-hoe/, /nauru/ (Haw. /naulu/ : HD, p. 243a) is 'vexed by teasing', and /hoe/ (antiently /whoe/, protoPolynesian /fohe/ : HD, p. 69b) is 'oar'. Odusseus while in Thesprotia was teased about his oar when it was called (as foretold in the Odusseia) a "winnowing-bat". Thesprotia is reputedly the realm of Aidoneus (i.e., Haides, custodian of the river-of-fire Puri-phlegethon [Th"KhPP"], which may be volcanic).}

HD = Pukui & Elbert : Hawaiian Dictionary. Univ Pr of HI, Honolulu, 1971.

Th"KhPP" = "Khthonios Potamos Pyriphlegethon".

p. 58 other spirits assigned to mt Popa

"the Lady of Popa, mother of the Taungbyon spirits". [p. 77, n. 11 : "Mendelson (1963b) already noted this distribution of spirits, with the Lady of Popa (Me Wunna) being settled on Taung Kelap while the Lords of the Great Mountain were resting in the city of Popa."]

"spirit mediums arriving at Kyaukpadaung ... now transformed into yawgis

by taking the brown robes of the temporary religious practitioners

{Likewise, "Ari monks ... wore dark brown robes" ("F-EBB").}

in order to attend the weikza festival in Popa."

Mendelson 1963b = E. Michael Mendelson : "Observations on a Tour in the Region of Mount Popa, Central Burma". FRANCE-ASIE 19 (179):780-807.

"F-EBB" = Maung Htin Aung : "Folk-Elements in Burmese Buddhism : Alchemy, Spirits, and Ancient Rituals". ATLANTIC MONTHLY, Febr 1958.

pp. 60-1 spirit-possession by Thaik goddesses

p. 60

"women of Shan bands are possessed by the thaik Ladies on the higher platform of the pagoda".

p. 61

"Thaik Ladies are associated with the protection of the relics of the sanctuaries, while bobogyi are often involved with the location of the appropriate site." [p. 77, n. 13 : "About these spirits, see also ... Brac de la Perrie`re (2012a)."]

Brac de la Perrie`re 2012a = Be'ne'dicte Brac de la Perrie`re : "Being a Spirit Medium in Contemporary Burma". In :- Kirsten Endres & Andrea Lauser (editrices) : Engaging the Spirit World ... in Modern Southeast Asia. NY : Berghahn Bks. pp. 163-83.

pp. 63-5 a woman-organizer of hybrid performances, from Yanon

p. 63

"she runs both a spirit shrine (nat kana) and a weikza shrine called the dat zakhan ("place of dat") ... . She organizes ritual performances in a ceremonial pavilion ... . ... . ... part of the shrine called dat zakhan was also devoted to ... ogres (bilu), and dragons (naga). ...

The performance was

p. 64

composed of a succession of spirit possession dances by spirits and pagoda guardians. ... Among the the ritual specialists [at Yanon], [this woman] was also the only one to perform both kinds of dances, those of the spirits and those of the pagoda guardians. In the middle of the afternoon, she embodied a whole range of ogres, guardians of the most famous pagodas of Burma. Both the monk and [this woman] owe their ability to manage ogre possession to their involvement in the weikza path. ... Significantly, the sequences devoted to ogres differed from those of the spirits in that ... the ogre did not provide his blessings ... . Instead, the dance was performed in front of ... the musicians, with

p. 65

the audience only staring at the ogre mimicking his distress at ... when the monks were harassed by the [civil] authorities."

"[This woman] insists upon the fact ... that she came to spirit possession by listening to spirits' voices and

going through the initiation process on her own.

{i.e., having been trained in spirit-mediumship by the spirits themselves, and formally initiated by them.}

While she was progressing in her own meditation path, she says, different categories of spiritual beings started to "talk to her." This is how she came to know that in a previous life she was the sister of Namada, a dragon (naga) guardian of the Shwesettaw pagoda. This is also how, later one, a spirit, the Taungbyon younger brother[,] manifested to her. He asked her to become his wife (nat gadaw) or spirit medium."

{Being trained in spirit-mediumship by "hearing voices" while awake is slightly different from the usual shamanship (as known among Siberians, Eskimos, North American Indians, etc.) attained through being trained in dreams by particular deities regularly met with therein. Another difference is that whereas musicians play their instruments into order to induce spirit-possession in the medium, traditional shamans, on the other hand, typically play their own instrument (always a drum) in order to summon deities to appear visibly and audibly to audiences (such deities frequently levitating objects in the sight of the audience, etc.).}

pp. 65-7 woman-organizer of hybrid performances, from Mawlamyain

p. 65

"a woman claiming a special relation to a pagoda guardian, the Lady of Kyaikkami (a pagoda south of Mawlamyaing), who, she says, belongs to Bo Min

p. 66

Gaung's following {but how can a goddess -- all pagoda-guardians are deities -- be a followeress of a mortal man : would it not be more feasible for the goddess to act in conjunction with a spirit-guide of the mortal?}. This woman tends elaborate shrines (dat zakhan) hosting weikza as well as Hindu divinities ... where she gives consultations on a daily basis. She is a disciple of a weikza cult led by a specialist claiming the title of Medaw Nagani, who is linked to the weikza Kowida."

"to let the Lady of Kyaikkami dance, a spirit possession se'ance was needed. For this reason, the hostess had to invite a group of spirit mediums and erect a ... ritual pavilion (nat kana) ... . To convene other spiritual figures related to the Lady of Kyaikkami, particularly thaik Ladies ..., she also invited women disciples of her weikza cult. The ritual pavilion was ... shared by the two groups. The part contiguous to the house contained the shrines to the thaik Ladies, while the other one closer to the street hosted the shrines to the spirits, and in the upper central part of the shrines stood ... {idols of} some weikza. ... Besides this divisions of the ritual setting, the whole ceremony was also split between

colorfully dressed spirit mediums, most of them homosexuals in this case,

{Where the women are possessed by gods (who, by occupying it, cause the woman's body to behave alike to a man), therewith the men must be possessed by goddesses (who, by occupying it, cause the man's body to behave alike to a woman) -- but this temporary behaviour of the body is in neither case a mark nor trait of true homosexuality (which in this case may be a rather scurrilous misnomer).}

acting on their own when it was time for the spirit part,

{False! Mortal human media (for spirit), when possessed, cannot "act on their own"; but rather, their bodies are robotically controlled by a praeternatural external mechanism.}

and women disciples of a weikza cult, dressed in brown, stepping in only when it was time to embody thaik Ladies and zawgyi.

{It is only by the assistance of a vidya-dhara that these women-disciples manage to evade having their bodies continuously occupied by possessing-divinities during the entire course of the caerimony.}

... the leader of the weikza cult group dressed in the red velvet attire of zawgyi to start the series of pagoda guardians' incarnations. Zawgyi are ... Burmese legendary figures who share most of the attributes of weikza, that is, the mastery of ... alchemy,

p. 67

or making medicines, and powers such as flying. It may be said that zawgyi are only distinguished from active weikza by being their imaginary {read "imaginal"} counterpart in the {mythic} Burmese past,

except that they are not supposed to have escaped the karmic cycle." {More accurately, the zawgyi have not escaped beyond the range of detectability by the local Mara-s.}

{A buddha is stated to become (after achieving nirvan.a) unable to be found by the 5 Mara-s, who collectively praeside over a billion planetary systems. But no one can be said to "escape" karman (literally 'work', which is also jargon for 'a duty to perform beneficial actions'); though whoever is out-of-range of communication with a buddha, would not know praecisely what those duties of the buddha might currently be.}

p. 67 entry into, and occupancy of, the body of a living devotee, by a dead vidya-dhara

"Bo Min Gaung may be incarnated under specific conditions, as Berglie (2005) has related about a Bo Min Gaung devotee['s] dancing in a spirit possession ceremony. I also witnessed this ... in the temple of Thamaing Bobogyi (Yangon) ... . Impressively violent, the incarnation made a statement".

Berglie 2005 = Per-Anne Berglie : "Shamanic Buddhism in Burma". SHAMAN 13.1-2:41-59.

pp. 68-70 Dat Si, as compared to Nat Win

p. 68

"Spirits belonging to the Thirty-Seven Lords emerge from {the peculiar} spiritual residue left by violent {when, furthermore, in their cases undeserved and unjust} death. ... As for the weikza beings ..., they can still act upon the world by staying available to help living beings in their transient existence. ...

p. 69

In the case of spirit possession, the spiritual entity displaces the soul (leikpya) of the spirit medium embodying it.

Possession is signified by expressions such as nat win ("spirit is entering"), nat pu ("spirit is sticking {adhaering} to"), and nat ka ("spirit is dancing"). ... Spirit possession is manifested through the enactment of the spiritual characters who are thus entertained one after the other in the context of specific ceremonies (nat kana pwe) dedicated to them : they dance, eat, smoke, drink, and interact with the audience, each one according to its assumed personality. ... Through these exchanges,

the devotees can tap into their ... efficiency {due to their pragmatic experience} in everyday matters."

{"tap into", usually via receiving helpfully practical personal advice about affairs of one's own daily life}

"possession by the weikza is referred to as dat si. The primary meaning of dat refers to elementary particles ... . ... Si means to ride a vehicle or to flow, for water. The usual gloss is that the dat of the weikza goes {i.e., floweth} through the possessed medium. ...

p. 70

According to an old spirit medium ..., the feeling resulting from weikza's action is cooling, more than

{The term for 'soul', /psukhe/ is related to /psukhros/ 'cold'; thus, of cool temperament, etc.}

heating {to become hot-tempered} is the case with spirit's action. Encountering the weikza does ... imply ... that their mind (manaw) sends their energy (dat) to ... the medium. ...

The word used in Burmese to designate the first encounter with the nat (nat kauk) explicitly refers to an "election" {passively being selected, passively being chosen} by a nat. ...

During se'ances, weikza typically manifest themselves by giving messages to their mediums, mainly in the context of various freestanding therapeutic cults."

pp. 70-1 lecture regularly delivered via spirit-possession, followed by exorcistic correcting elimination of malign influences; spirit-possession in a S^an Osi

p. 70

"a bodaw ... medium of Bo Min Gaung ... organizes rather simple sessions at his home every Sunday. He sits on a throne in front

p. 71

of his elaborated shrines, facing devotees sitting on the floor. After short invocations, he {or rather his body, now at least putatively possessed} starts to behave as Bo Min Gaung was known to behave.

He smokes and chews betel continuously

{Certain West African deities likewise smoke tobacco while possessing their mortal-human media.}

while he delivers a kind of sermon infused with moralistic advice and cosmological knowledge to the ... audience, lavishing using ... answers to his own questions, jokes and rumor-spreading. The speech may last for an hour.. Then, the bodaw shares the leftovers of his chewing and smoking among his devotees as protection. He listens to his followers' particular personal inquiries and cures them through ... forms of exorcism : they aim at shunning evil influences -- such as those of ghosts -- through the weikza's efficiency {read "efficacy"}.

When all the devotees have consulted,

{The devotees are likewise encouraged, and provided with the opportuanity, to consult with the deity through the medium in Umbanda performances in southern Brazil.}

the session is over ... and the bodaw returns to his normal behavior. ...

He is also the leader of a Shan band (shan osi). He performs at pagoda ritual occasions with his sister possessed by Ko Myo Shin, a Shan spirit of the Thirty-Seven Lords pantheon."

{When the provided entertainment for spirit-possession/mediumship is "rather simple", lacking music, lacking colorful ornamentation, lacking incense, etc. etc., such lacks may be compensated by tobacco and betel, joking and rumor-telling.}

pp. 71-2 a different type of regularly-held spirit-possession public performance

p. 71

"In another case, a group of weikza followers has developed a rather complex setting for wekza se'ances ... . Sessions are held once a week ..., in the different {city-}wards where the group is implanted. The leaders, two

p. 72

brothers around 70 years old, officiate ... . They are distinctively called "masters" (hsaya) ... . Sitting under the house shrines, they face the devotees of the group seated on the floor in front of them. ... . ... encircling them are women who actually perform as mediums.

... manifestations of weikza occur successively from one woman to the next, following the order announced by the "master."

{This is quite different from the procedure in West Africa public performance of possession by a deity, where neither the sequence nor determination of what particular persons will become possessed is decided by human officiant -- such details being left to the possessing deities themselves to decide upon. Another difference is that in the West African model, deities are always invited (to take possession of whomever praesent which they may care to possess) by means of singing of hymns (of invitation) to drum-music -- otherwise no deity would deign to arrive.}

One of the women begans to yawn or to eruct {belch} and then changes her sitting position : legs that were folded to the side are crossed in front. With closed eyes, she begins to speak with a changed voice. ... .

If any of the women moves from the sitting position, suddenly rolling herself on the ground, the "master" puts his hand on her head, immediately stopping her as if her behavior was {read "were"} a deviation.

{It cannot be the woman herself, but one of the 37 Natha-s whom the autocrat-"master" is stopping and is declaring to be "deviant" : that repressive autocrat may imagine himself be be mightier than the deities, but they are more likely not to be "repressed" so much as insulted thereby, and to depart from the scene in disgust at the "master's" grossly impious behaviour.}

The casting of this ... performance is particularly significant. It is typical of possession in women when it occurs spontaneously during ceremonies to the Thirty-Seven Lords ... before being ritually channeled in a spirit possession dance."

{This is a description of the usually-ensuing rite, as practiced in every 37er religious locale in Burma other than this peculiarly deviant site.}

"In this case, weikza do not directly address the devotees but deliver cryptic messages,

which are then interpreted by the "master" for the devotees."

{Thus, the "master" hath every opportunity to distort the message, even to the extent of twisting it into the reverse of its litteral meaning.}

p. 73 contrasts between vidya-dhara spirit-mediumship, and natha spirit-mediumship

"dat si ... session is usually organized in the context of the regular therapeutic consultation of the cult group's head or bodaw, at home, in front of a private dat shrine (dat zakhan). ... As a rule, the performance is much more sober than are spirit possession ceremonies, lacking the kind of festive atmosphere and unrestricted lustful behavior that marks the spirits as agents. The spatial setting allows for the main practitioner to sit under the shrines, facing the audience ... .

By contrast, the mediums of the Thirty-Seven Lords stand facing the images of the spirits and stare at them

{In contrast to the Roman Catholic priest's facing the congregation, an Eastern Orthodox priest, while saying mass, is facing the altar.}

in a reciprocal relation before embodying the figure and revolving toward the audience.

Then, bodaw usually master the manifestation of the weikza themselves

or supervise those members who have the function of manifesting the weikza

while spirit mediums are dependent on musicians to fully embody the spirit. {West African deity-possession caerimonies are likewise enabled by drummers' drumming.}

{In the [former (discontinued during the 2nd World War) mode of] Omoto spirit-possession caerimonies, the supervisor is a stone-flute-playing instrumentalist musician.}

In some cases, weikza mediums stay fully aware of what happens during the appearance {i.e., during the mediumship-performance}

while spirit mediums whose soul (lekpya) is displaced by the spirit do not as a rule remember anything of it."

pp. 73-4 negativity (in repelling unlucky spirits) of vidya-dhara, as contrast with positivity (in attracting luck) of natha

p. 73

"weikza mediums ... distribute the remainers of their consumption ... in the same way that

spirits as embodied in mediums distribute part of their offerings, banknotes they have been given in donation, for instance, after using them to wipe off their sweat.

But in the weikza's case, the contact with the

p. 74

perfected spiritual entity helps to ward off dangerous beings such as ghosts

while in the spirits' case it aims at capturing good fortune by summoning spirits."

{Is is, however, very dubious whether there are in existence any veritable "dangerous beings such as ghosts" -- apart from spirits which may be automatically (without recognizing the consequences) doing the bidding of greed-maddened ploutokrats, or doing the bidding of hired minions of the ploutokrats, or doing the bidding of persons incautiously following recommendations by the ploutokrats : all of which varieties of misled spirits abound in class-ruled societies. Spirits "which bring good fortune" are, essentially, the only sort known in non-class-ruled societies.}

p. 75 influences in an aira of revenant ghosts

""nat line" and "dat line" emerge as fluctuating domains in the overall fluid religious landscape. More precisely, they appear as evolving along opposite courses depending on the context of their mutual interactions. Weikza path practitioners account for this by stating that this is an era with more ghosts (winyin lawka).

According to an informant, the influence of ghosts is particularly high today, as a legacy of colonial rule :

in want of their previous belongings, the departed masters return after death as ghosts.

{Such colonial-rule "belongings" would praesumably largely be plantations in Burma formerly owned by absentee-landlords residing in Great Britain.}

In their capacity as beings who have exited {out} of the karmic cycle, weikza are in a position to tackle disease and disorders provoked by ghosts."

{There is definitely no such thing as "exitting the karmic cycle", forasmuch as all beings have some sort of karman (litterally 'work') to perform as their duty in karman-yoga; nor are diseases provoked particularly by "ghosts" (of dead persons), but rather (as expounded by every shaman everywhere) by divinities who, never incarnating, rule in various Netherworlds.}

{Do living Burmese folk generally regard themselves as severely harassed by ghosts of dead English plantation-owners? This would be similar to living United-States descendants of Africans imported into the Deep South as slaves, considering themselves to be, as of now, much-harassed by ghosts of long-dead ante-Civil-War plantation-owners. That which may be far more possible would be for minor divinities (primarily guide-guides of, and former spirit-guides of, ruling-class ploutokrats) to be harassing praesent-day Burmese. (Ghosts [in the sense of souls of dead persons] are required promptly to redincarnate elsewhere, to that they do not have the luxury of ever harassing anyone; but their numerous retinues of never-to-be-incarnate spirit-guides, counterguides, etc., do have the leisure to meddle in that way.)}


Be'ne'dicte Brac de la Perrie`re; Guillaume Rozenberg; and Alice Turner (edd.) : Champions of Buddhism : Weikza Cults in Contemporary Burma. NUS Pr, Singapore, 2014.