I adore learning and new experiences so when I was given 10 minutes to get ready and head around to a friend’s place in the old city in Chiang Mai on New Year’s day to visit a real Thai Shaman, you can imagine that 9 mins 51 seconds later I was off the phone and getting ready.
My friend Stu had been invited by the owner of his guesthouse to visit this shaman a few days ago and just before they left, the invitation was fortunately opened to me. Noi, the owner, was a well travelled Thai lady in her late 30s with Buddhist views and a Swiss husband. She had lived in many countries and spoke pretty good English and French and was forthcoming on sharing with us some wondrous stories of people who had followed this path Stu and I were now on to the shaman. Stories ranged from ‘curing’ cancers, finding purpose and other spiritual revelations, often relating to past lives.
What I share now is only my personal reflection of the event.
If the stories I’ve been told (and witnessed whist I was there with the name change) are to be believed, then there are people who are benefiting from this man. Those who chose to believe his powers can certainly benefit. As Buddha is quoted to have said:
“I will teach them illusion, till they are ready for the truth.”
At 3:10pm we got in to Noi’s BMW and navigated out of the walled city to the larger streets heading out of town. Stu and I were not sure what we should take to contribute, however we were educated that a selection of breads, milk, juices and practical foods would be perfect. We pulled in to a service station and picked these up – making sure we shared the cost so it was a contribution from us all. Apparently these foods are shared with others and are not specifically for the shaman himself and I have to admit I did like the practicality of what we purchased.
Approximately an hour after our departure, we arrived on a small home plot just past a temple which was voted the most beautiful/best in the area (or perhaps even the country). I did find this rather interesting that temples could be considered better or worse as I would have thought that spiritual involvement and belief is rather invisible, however that’s just me and I can appreciate tourism and pride in your home or place of worship.
We stepped out of the air-conditioning into the beautiful winter Chiang Mai afternoon temperature – gorgeously pleasant in light clothes and not really humid at all.
We walked past a small shrine, a range of animal statues adorning the ground, and were introduced briefly to greying 38 year old guy who was outside a main room and a lady who had a mother kind of energy. We removed our shoes and stepped through a magnetic fly screen to an empty room the shaman would soon be found in. It was about 9 x 5m and across the far third of the room the wall was painted and a large number of statues from 20cm tall up to about 1m created a spiritual atmosphere. Totalling around 150 statues, I have to say that I didn’t recognise them i.e. no standard Thai Buddhas or my affectionately named pie-eating Buddha (the one with the happy smile and big tummy). There was a small flock of other animal figures and some large tigers painted on the wall behind.
The Shaman arrived
Having placed our gifts in a silver tray as an offering, the shaman arrived – it was actually the guy we’d met on the way in – and whilst Noi, Stu and myself sat on the floor, he dressed himself in a pair of white fisherman’s pants and sat in lotus position on the shaman chair in the centre of all the statues. He donned a long string of amber-looking beads, took a small towel placed it on his lap and closed his eyes. He was preparing to tune in.
Chkknnnnnnnnn… snkkkkkrrrkkk…. chhhhhhhhhllllllkkkkkkkk….
… and other nasal snoring-type noises escaped his face and chest which contorted into a range of painful expressions for around half a minute. He held the towel to his face and when he finished slowly wiping it, he was connected. He didn’t look or feel any different to me.
One expected but unfortunate part of this experience was that the shaman only spoke Thai so Noi had to translate for us. He sat there quite comfortably and spoke and answered a range of questions, specifically focusing on how we had had past lives in Siam and that Stu and I had been brothers protecting a princess (which incidentally turned out to be a reincarnation of Noi). We stood either side of an elephant and our names were SongSak and SongTong Da-in. In fact we could see our names if we went to the appropriate location where names are recorded on tombstones … we could apparently actually go and see our old bones too.
We were each given an animal to represent fortune in the coming year; a pig was chosen for Stu and mine was identified as an elephant. I quite liked that idea, however I did find it rather coincidental that I was wearing a white Thai shirt with elephants on it.
A few times I asked questions relating to the present and future (as opposed to focusing on the past lives), however I never really received any answers I felt fulfilled my enquiries. The best I could get was that if I came back and was attuned, then I’d have more understanding of my past which would have a knock on effect in my life.
Other shaman skills
We were the only people in the room to begin with, but after a short while, other people turned up behind us and sat quietly. One couple brought their baby to see the shaman because apparently this three month old had some strange personality traits they felt needed dealing with: namely sometimes it cried for long periods, other times it slept for long periods and other times it just stayed awake… (seems pretty normal to me). It may have been a mistranslation, however the parents were concerned and the shaman used a ceremonial bundle of coloured incense sticks he dropped on the floor to identify the new name the child should have which would deal with the issue. My understanding of the resolution was that the child’s three syllable name was shortened to only two – that should deal with the sleeping/crying/awake issue. Incidentally whilst the baby was there, it seemed beautifully well behaved to me i.e. curious, smiling, quiet, not crying … perhaps the new name was working already! As I mentioned previously, the couple were believers so this name change potentially could change their perception of the child’s behaviour.
At the end of the process we also contributed money and for the two hours we were there, he made a pretty tidy sum, especially based on Thai standards. As you may be able to tell, I had my scepticism, however I didn’t feel it was my place to challenge him and I felt what I donated was fair exchange for the experience.
The Shaman’s Cave
There were a few other things which didn’t quite fit my perceptions of a shaman visit such as:
- The two TV sets on the left side of the room – one of which was playing afternoon programmes for the entirety of the event even though I had suggested that seeing as meditation was encouraged, wouldn’t peace and quiet be useful in this experience and the TV be switched off.
- The other technology under the TVs (DVD & VHS players, amp, speakers etc) again didn’t quite match my perception.
- The mother lady lying at the back of the room watching the TV was outside what I’d imagined and when she started smoking, she was very kind to provide us with an ash tray too should we also want to partake.
- On the topic of smoking, it was novel when the shaman lit up a huge cigar-type cigarette too whilst on his perch, and the snacks he ate from a bag he had nearby did seem a little unfocused to me.
All in all I was glad for the experience which reinforced what I’ve been studying recently. Many of us have fantasies about life, people, experiences, our partners and ourselves which in the light of day are nothing like the reality.
For me this experience was more of a sham-man than a shaman, however as I mentioned previously and completely in line with studies of placebos, for those who wholeheartedly believe what this man has to say, there could be some real value.
Focusing on past life explanations is at least a safe way of avoiding responsibility of future behaviour, however I have heard that he has provided creams and potions to help people and I just hope that people take at least some responsibility for the outcomes they buy in to.
Suffice it to say I won’t be going back and I encourage any of you who have a guru, shaman or master you follow, to investigate the reality of who they are, not just the fantasy.