Magic and Sinxay

Magic and Sinxay

In our book the subject of magic didn’t fit in well in any of the four contextual chapters (Buddhism, Lao Literature, Laos and Isan), but was a topic we felt still needed to be discussed. In this post we provide just a small taste of what we’ve written about magic and supernaturalism that we decided to include in our Reader’s Guide at the end of the book.  You can see the topics, including magic, that make up the content of our Reader’s Guide.

  1. The complete Muan Sadok from Sang Sinxay
  2. A list of scenes translated from the original Sang Sinxay
  3. Table matching the six stages in the evolution of the hero’s journey with scenes from Sinxay
  4. A discussion of magic and supernatural abilities in Sinxay
  5. A detailed key to the Sinxay World Map
  6. Discussion questions
  7. Explanation for including redrawn mural details as illustrations

We begin our discussion of magic with the following paragraph,

“Here in the Reader’s Guide we want to take the time to briefly explore the importance of magic and the use of magic and supernatural abilities seen in Sinxay. James Brandon writes in Theatre in Southeast Asia,[1] “A common attribute of Jataka stories, in addition to the fact that the hero is Buddha in a former life, is the great magic power which the hero comes to possess through knowledge of Buddhism.” This is clearly seen in the extraordinary feats that Sinxay employs as he perseveres against all the demons he faces on his quest to free Soumountha.”

[1] Brandon, James. 1967. Theatre in Southeast Asia. Harvard University Press, 133–134.

In this section we talk about the difference between magic and supernatural abilities and especially how at the time Sinxay was written, there wasn’t the differentiation between good and bad magic that we have now. In Sinxay the royal astrologer was an important asset to the king, but having a prediction wasn’t always enough, and that’s when Sinxay and even Koumphan, often would turn to supernaturalism. As we again write on the topic,

“While astrology was useful, it did have its limitations as Baker and Phongpachit write in The spirits, the stars and Thai politics,[1] “… astrology is passive. If people want to ‘improve’ the fortune dictated by the stars, they need some other technique… This takes us into the world of saiyasat, the usual word today for supernaturalism in general, based on a Pali root meaning ‘superior expertise.’ While astrology draws its status from its association with royal power, saiyasat draws its power from its association with Buddhism.”

[1] Baker, Chris and Phongpaichit, Pasuk, 2008, The spirits, the stars, and Thai politics, Siam Society

Part of the saiyasat repertoire are yantras and our featured photograph is of a yantra that was shared with us by Chris Baker, which we have described as a,

“A yantra known as Narai phlik phaendin, where Vishnu overturns the earth, referring to one of Vishnu-as-Rama’s feats of strength with a bow. The animal on the left is a singh (lion), which is synonymous with royalty and majestic courage. On the right is a ratchasi, like Siho, with a lion’s body and the head of an elephant. We believe a ratchasi takes the strength of a singh and combines it with the wisdom of an elephant, while reinforcing the royal connection.”

At the end of this post is another yantra given to us by a forest monk that shows a nyak, who can serve as a protective spirit, in our case the monk told us that we should keep it in the bedroom of our daughter to protect her from an malicious or mischievous spirits!


Photo 1-16

Nyak as protector

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