In many western countries, the Autumn holidays and festivals of Halloween and the “Day of the Dead” are just around the corner. Although some Southeast Asia countries have adopted these traditions, we would like to share with you some of the magical, supernatural and mythological stories from our destinations to get you in the “spirit” of the season.
Len Dong is a form of spirit worship where practitioners are possessed by female spirits. The belief is associated with an indigenous Vietnamese religion called Dao Ma. While under possession, followers become mediums for various deities. Music, singing and dancing are usually associated with these rituals. Len Dong is still practiced today all over Vietnam and in some Vietnamese communities abroad.
A tradition in Cambodia (and other nearby countries) is to have “magic” Sanskrit-inspired text and images tattooed by traditional magic men and Buddhist monks. The tattoos are said to protect against everything from bullets to bad luck. This custom is believed to be 2000 years old.
Naga are giant snake-like creatures seen in Theravada Buddhist iconography all over the Southeast Asia region. In Laos they are regarded as protectors of the nation. Lao folklore says that the stretch of the Mekong that goes through Laos is home to these creatures and on the 15th day of the 11th month of the Laos lunar calendar, the Naga awaken from meditation and send fireballs from the depths of the Mekong river.
One supernatural belief from Thailand is the Krasue ghost. This ghost has the floating head of a woman with the internal organs hanging below. The ghost wanders in the night looking for blood and organs of animals and humans. At dawn it returns to find its body. Traditional Thai belief holds that women should put thorny branches around the house when giving birth, as the ghost may come and snatch the baby.
On a number of Indonesia islands are practioners of traditional magic, called “Dukun.” They are present in popular culture and in the high mountains of Indonesia’s remote islands. Dukuns specialise in various forms of folk magic including healing and medicine, exorcism, charms and blessings, spiritual communications, and sorcery including black magic incantations and hexes. Despite the varying religions and folk beliefs, many island Dukuns blend their practices with Hindu, Muslim and animist communities.
In Southeast Asian mythology, Kinnaris are depicted as half-bird, half-women creatures who inhabit the mythical Himavanta. Kinnaris have the head, torso, and arms of a woman and the wings, tail and feet of a swan. She is known for her dance, song and poetry, and is a traditional symbol of feminine beauty, grace and accomplishment.
The Mande Burung is an alleged ape-like creature said to inhabit the Meghalaya forests of northeastern India. You may recognize this creature, as some of its close relatives may be found around the world under different regional names, such as the Yeti of Tibet and Nepal, the Ban-manush in Bangladesh, the Yeren of mainland China, and Bigfoot of the Pacific northwest region of the United States and the Canadian province of British Columbia.