April 9, 2017
The spirit of Phi Faa in Isaan – A benevolent spirit that is both worshipped and feared
The people of Northeast Thailand believe that a supernatural power, resides in the sky. They call this being “Phi Fa,” also known as Nang Fa (นางฟ้า) or Phi Thaen (ผีแถน), often represented as a woman having a malevolent side related to the cannibalistic pop phi. Phi Fa is believed to bring about disease and natural disasters. She is said to be a very powerful ghost, who can, should she so desire, grant them their wishes, she is also said to be respected and feared in equal measure.
The people of Isaan have in the main, a great faith in supernatural beings, employing many different rituals as a tribute and a sign of respect to their gods and spirits. One such ritual is called “Lum Phi Fa” or “Moh Lum Song” which is performed for the purpose of healing illnesses.
The ritual follows ten basic steps, from inviting the gods or spirits to help cure a person to eventually asking them to leave. The ritual and singing performances are normally conducted by women medium; Moh Lum (or singer), who is also a local shaman. It is said that a woman’s voice is more pleasing to the ears, of those attending, plus the sprits to which it is hoped, will hear her voice.
The event is accompanied by music, song and dance, with each of the 10 steps contained within a verse, within the song. It is this need to complete each part of the ritual that means it may take some considerable time, to complete the whole ritual. Guests attending a Phi Fa Ritual are also involved into this highly spiritual ceremony with dancing around a decorated sacrificial altar. The dancing and singing can last a full night, creating trance like conditions for many of the participants.
The Khaen is the intrical and sole musical instrument used in the healing ritual, the Khaen is a type of mouth organ which is traditionally made of bamboo, connected with a small, hollowed-out hardwood reservoir into which air is blown, creating a sound similar to that of the violin. It is believed by the Isaan people, that the Khaen is the only means to communicate with gods, without it, no ritual can take place.
The music in the healing ritual usually has a slow tempo. It runs on consistently while accompanying the singing of the performer. The purpose of this ritual is to heal a patient, so the songs chosen normally do not have a quick tempo, because it is said that any faster and music might over stimulate the patient and worsen his condition.
Verses in the Phi Fa ritual (You Tube), tell the patient about the cause of his illness and are sung, in the style of Lum Long or Lum Tang Yao (listen – You Tube); praying for or recruiting assistance from the spirits. The spirits or the gods being prayed to are usually both praised and appeased, for they are seen as fickle in regards to people’s needs and desires.
Returning the sole to the patient
The purpose of the singing is to ask for the god’s protection, plus to entice the patients Kwan or Khwan (spirit) to return to them. The idea of spirits living within a person is a common belief in the people of this region and with their northern Thai neighbours.
Hill Tribes in Thailand
The Karen people, believe each person has 37 Klar (Kwan). While the Hmong, believe we all have several souls which at times are scared away from their host, in which case A soul calling ceremony (hu plig), is performed to entice the soul home with chanting and offerings of food.
Other Rituals of Isaan
There are a number of other rituals, the people of Thailand’s most populated region use, which include playing other instruments: The Pin (a small guitar-like string instrument), hand drums and Ching, small bells and symbols.
In these other rituals the Khaen acts as the main melody maker while the other instruments provide rhythm, which helps bring out a desire to dance in the worshipers, who play various percussion instruments to accompany the bouncing music. Music used in these rituals is also different according to the kind of god or spirit they are praying to, but follows the genre of chanting very similar to mor lam, the traditional music of Lao and Northeast-Thailand. (See You Tube)
Witchcraft or just Good Medicine
Whether or not these practices do cure the patient, is be open to debate, but even medical science believes in the good effects of positive thinking……… which ultimately these rituals do in-print, into both the patient and those attending:
CNN published an article on this point in 2011 in which it wrote:
First of all, thinking is “real” medicine, as proven by the placebo effect. When given a sugar pill in place of a prescription drug, an average of 30% of subjects will show a positive response. What causes this response isn’t a physical substance but the activity of the mind-body connection. Expectations are powerful. If you think you’ve been given a drug that will make you better, often that is enough to make you better.
The article goes onto add “there can be no denying that the mind-body connection is powerful.”
For more on other ancient ceremonies still found in the region see our posts; Using cats, porn & snakes to make rain in Thailand and the Ceremony to Return a Wandering Soul.
While some may scoff at these rituals, they do no harm and may…….. just be the right medicine for some people
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