Kalasan’s Yan Talat district is now recovering after being in the grips of an exorcism where two women were gathered before villagers to be exorcised of 100 ‘phop’ ghosts. The exorcism is expected to be hard, but with the combined efforts of an entire village, it is expected to collect over 100 spirits into 100 sticks of bamboo.
Daeng Somwai and Kancahan Wangchalee began to be examined by holy men when they exhibited symptoms typical of a phop ghost possession. As they spoke, suddenly their speech would ramble off into an incomprehensible feverish dialect that seems like nonsense to those listening, but is believed to be a form of tongues, the “language of the gods.” Their bodies also showed a severe increase in tremors mixed with hysterical laughter and/or crying which would alternate wildly as they had sudden attacks. Fearing for the two women, locals took them to the Abbot in Wot Donyanang, who specializes in possession cases and the exorcism of spirits.
Surrounded by 300 villagers, the abbot oversaw the exorcism as the assembly was surrounded by hundreds of feet of blessed ritual thread. The exorcism went on for several minutes, with the abbot sprinkling holy water on the women as hundreds of monks prayed over the group, and the three hundred spectators watched, protected from the phop ghosts as long as they remained behind the thread.
As the ritual went on, the voices of those involved became more intense, and the spirits apparently began resisting the ritual, according to witnesses. In time the one hundred phop ghosts were gathered and collected into the bamboo, which was then taken away to be properly disposed of. The women are currently recovering from their ordeal.
Not all, however, are supportive of this method of treatment. Thavee Tangseri of Jitavev Khon Kaen Hospital suggests the treatment creates a belief that harm can come to a patient from ghosts, and therefore promotes that patient to exhibit symptoms of it. When the ghost is exorcized, the patient may be cured, but this doesn’t necessarily help with mental health in cases where illness was brought on by this belief in the first place. Of course some other psychologists disagree, saying the ritual is merely a symbolic transformation like any number of other psychiatric treatments that, if given mystical background, could look very similar to a traditional exorcism practiced in several of these villages.
He suggests the treatment of patients who are exhibiting possession symptoms are largely psychosomatic and the treatment should either be replaced by or supplemented with educated psychiatric health practitioners or strong minded individuals who can help a hysterical person through the event that brought on the illness in the first place. Events can be anything from the passing of someone close in their sleep to the sudden loss of or change to life. The debate, of course, rages on with some saying it’s a matter of spiritual concern and others declaring the problem a purely psychological one. Perhaps as with many things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.