Who or what is Khiew Tanha? What are Prai? Let's explore the weird and wild world of Thai Barang in this weeks article! Take a deep dive with Sadhu Dah into the occult workings of Thai culture.
E Khiew was a lady who died during pregnancy, two spirits become lost when one is extinguished from their mortal coil. The spiritual power released in death grows 10 fold. Ajarns recognize this and are able to use that energy in miraculous ways. The practice of working with E Khiew Tanha statues and creating them belongs to a classification of Thai Talimancy know as Prai. Variations of Prai, whether they be Kuman Thong, Lok Prai, Nang Prai, Hoon Payon, Chin Atan Panneng, or types of Mai and Nam Prai Oils all belong to Thai Barang (Thai Voodoo).
Before we begin to explore the elements of Barang and why someone would seek out an Ajarn for a talisman such as a Khiew Tanha statue, I think it would be imperative to explain and break down some of these Thai terms that most people in Western culture may not be familiar with. For the sake of time, I'll breakdown the term Prai and many of the other mentioned terms will fall into that category, but we won't get into the specifics of all of them at this point.
Barang- This is a word that comes from Khmer, an Austroasiatic language and the official language of Cambodia. It is a language heavily influenced by Pali and Sanskrit, a lot of the Barang practices come from southeastern Thailand. It essentially translates to "French", but it means voodoo. The Philippines have a very different meaning for Barang, it means any practice that afflicts a person with bugs in his/her body. This usually involves a poppet (voodoo doll), or the use of insects and dead spiders, or snakes. Thai Barang is a bit more Buddhist Animism mixed with amulets and practices similar to how Mexican Curanderos or Native American Shamans serve their communities, though it is considered to be Black Magick, it does not have to be malicious or harmful to any involved, that is the key difference here. An Ajarn will conduct a variety of rituals and gather herbs, powders, oils, and craft various mixtures to work with when they are creating Barang amulets. Usually they include graveyard dirt, ashes from dead bodies, or the chin fat harvested from a corpse to name a few of the more bizarre ingredients. A lot of incredibly specific details go into performing their rituals of empowerment and the end result a lot of times is accruing a spirit for the purpose of bonding with the shell amulet and becoming a potent relic that can be worshipped and worked with. Depending on the type of spirit and purpose they serve depends on the amulet being made and the required materials needed. Any time a spirit is gathered from a graveyard or a freshly deceased body, the family is asked permission, or spiritual protectors and land deities are appeased, the Ajarn will also communicate with the chosen spirit and construct a spiritual contract that ultimately benefits the spirit in their karmic evolution and reincarnation cycle. Often times an Ajarn will encode spell work into a Barang amulet so if it is misused for evil purposes that it will rebound on the individual using it to harm others.
Ajarn- Also spelled as Ajahn, among numerous other variations, it translates to the word "professor". The word Ajarn comes from the Pali word "Acariya" which means respect, Ajarn is a similar term to Sensei from Japanese culture. A Thai Bhikkhu (monk) must disrobe to become an Ajarn as they are not allowed to practice true Barang as a Bhikkhu, but they can still make Buddhist amulets when they adopt the title of Ajarn. The only Barang practices that a Bhikkhu can perform are certain Wicha (specific magical practices) that are not deeply bound in "Left Handed Tradition". They are masters of the occult, an Ajarn is proficient in seeing spirits, working with ritual relics and tools, using sacred ingredients, and often they focus their power to helping humanity for base level desires, or protection from physical danger and spirits. The amulets they make can give charm, attract a lover, ward off bad spirits, bring fortune and prosperity, or prevent accidents and injuries. They use incantations usually in Pali to conduct many consecrations, they may also adorn themselves in Sak Yant (holy spell tattoos), and they may be disciples of other Ajarn, Bhikkus, or Lersi (a hermit sage seer).
Prai- This is a broad term for an amulet housing a ghost, there's various types of Prai spirits and the different types do matter. The way they died, circumstances of how they lived, these are just a couple factors that go into determining the limitations of what the Prai can do for you and how they are to be appeased and what goes into creating a Prai amulet, along with how powerful the actual spirit is. Broadly speaking, "most" Prai used to be human, they have emotions and they feel. If one takes on the responsibility of caring for a Prai spirit then they need to realize it is a responsibility. Improper care for a Prai amulet can lead to bad luck, misfortune, having a haunted home, or experiencing accidents of an unfavorable nature. Genuine Prai amulets are usually passed down from one generation to the next or the spirit itself is taken to a Wat (temple) and a Bhikkhu will release it and cross the spirit. Prai are composed of statues or artifacts containing sacred powders, herbs, corpse oil, coffin nails, forehead bone, hair, or human fat. The purpose of using human parts for the Prai is to give it a shell of physical nature, an anchor point to feel and be human again in a sense. The human parts used typically don't belong to the spirit that will inhabit the Prai amulet. These spirits are used for sex/love appeal, general charm, fortune, gambling, and protection. The amulet is the battery and the offerings given by the owner allow that battery to remain charged while it provides services for the owner of the amulet. The owner also shares their good deeds and merit with the Prai and when the Prai is eventually released and reincarnates it will have a higher and better reincarnation. With time constraints, budget issues, and lack of some formulas being passed down, many Prai amulets today are not as potent as they used to be. Furthermore, it was common practice for a Prai to be worshipped by one person, where as now they will have multiple amulets tied to the same spirit divided between many people. Even with all these people properly worshipping the spirit, the spirit can not keep up with all the demands and it becomes less effective because it is exhausted from all the running around. A true Prai amulet will be devoted to one person and contain one spirit. Sometimes an Ajarn will make special Prai amulets in huge batches containing 59, or 117 spirits so they can be worshipped by many people. Just like people, Prai have personalities and not everyone will get along with you, so even if you bought a Prai spirit there's not a guarantee that it will do your bidding or like you. When buying a Prai amulet, as you can see, a lot of things must be considered.
Hoon Payon- These amulets are supposed to act as a substitute body, the reduce the impact of danger or harm, a Hoon Payon that succesfully receives the danger and harm of its owner will often show cracks or break into pieces after it has served its master to its fullest. The Hoon Payon will bring fortune and direct wealth to the owner and they are made from many different varieties of material. It is common to see Hoon Payon made from soil, metal, bamboo, various types of wood and strings, sometimes they can be soaked in Nam Prai Oil (oils from a dead person's body), but not often. It is pretty rare for a Hoon Payon to be constructed from any type of Prai material and usually is made with just varying Wicha practices and heavily based in spell work, but it isn't too uncommon to come across a Prai/Hoon Payon combination. These amulets were originally created as a "Servitor" (thoughtform with a commanded task) to protect the home from thieves and to take care of the home and rebound Black Magick onto the caster. The Hoon Payon is a perfect example of Thai Barang that is also a Wicha that Bhikkhus can practice and often make for devotees. A Hoon Payon is effectively the Buddhist equivalent of a "Judaic Golem" (a magical guardian created from clay). Sometimes when a spirit is attached to a Hoon Payon when it is a Thai Bhikkhu making the amulet they will attach an Elemental spirit, they can also be created using the collective energies of many disciples in trance and those stored energies are what give function to the amulet and once they are spent, the Hoon Payon will crumble. Sometimes a master will approach an inmate who is on death row and ask to use them as a Prai to power a Hoon Payon upon their death. They will usually agree to this because they don't want to be reborn in "Narok" (Buddhist Hell Realms).
Now that we have a deeper understanding of Thai Barang and the role of an Ajarn, we can appreciate the relevance of E Khiew and what such an amulet can do for a person and why they may be drawn to own such an object and use it in their daily lives. Below is an example for how to care for E Khiew Tanha statues and gives you more context into the understanding of practices that go towards caring for Thai Barang amulets. I will also give an explanation for how the statues are made and the work that goes into them.
To appease E Khiew, give a spritz of lady perfume once a day and make sure she always has a full glass of water set next to her on the altar space. It is not fully necessary, but you can also leave female clothing and jewelry on her altar space as gifts for her. You will need to make merit regularly and dedicate the good deeds in her name. Examples include setting trapped birds or fish free, offering food to monks, giving change to the homeless, or doing volunteer work. The owner of the statue will also use a specific "Katha" (magical incantation) to both activate and keep the statue charged. The Katha is always given by the Ajarn who made the E Khiew as it is an integral part of the initial consecration process.
The way E Khiew Tanha statues are made involve an Ajarn welcoming the spirits of women who died during pregnancy to come and visit their space, they then give the contract terms and begin the work of building the amulet vessel. Materials needed are Jedpong soil, dead jackfruit branches, soil taken from 7 different markets, and Dawkthong herb. The Ajarn will also gather an old matt from a successful market where many obects that were sold used to lay on. The energies of the successful business are imbued in the matt and this is why many who buy E Khiew use them to increase the success of their businesses.