Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Nats and the Burmese character

Wood statues found in many Burmese temples, and several for sale at Shakespeare’s Sister, 270 Court St., Brooklyn NY 11231, are of people upon whose death gained a spiritual reality as Nats. These are popular spiritual presences propitiated throughout much of Myanmar, and revered in the form of effigies. They represent capricious spirits which can protect and guard, offer assistance and courage, and provide a stimulating example.
The Burmese Nat is a spirit unable to re-enter the cycle of rebirth, due to life conflicts irresolvable from extreme complexities of violence, lust, greed, extreme passions and other unfortunate realities. 37 were adopted as guardians of the country, but thousands more protect crossroads, river convergences, pagodas and other places of worship, summits, homes and places of business. The Nat Pwe is a lengthy ceremony popular with Burmese, and usually involves over a week of drunkenness, prophesy and occasionally, conflict resolution.
Due to a history of despotic domination, and pathological infliction of continual trauma on the Burmese (and neighboring peoples), by Burmese despots, hysterical personality disorders (a.k.a. complicated post-traumatic stress disorders) and compulsive mysticism have become a social norm in the country.
Fear is a common element in life, and it is not only Burmese people who seek protectors who can understand their trauma. What the people of Myanmar are able to find is quite often but a wooden Nat. These representations of spirits or people whose lives were so corrupt, disorganized by violence and treachery, and so unresolved, that they cannot be reborn, are often quite artistic, beautiful and emotionally evocative. Nats are believed to stay in their area, to inflict harm on those who don't recognize and propitiate them, and to protect the helpless. Devoted supplicants may imbibe in alcohol heavily and continuously for nine or ten days, speak in tongues, throw fits and/or achieve ecstatic states, as they then, subsequently, might feel not so helpless, connected as they have become able to feel, to something extra-dimensional, mystical, and beyond the norms of our experience. The Nats help people stabilize in an untenable, unacceptable and incomprehensible society, bringing back some serenity and composure into lives almost as disturbed and disjointed as those of the Nat spirits themselves.



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