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Fire Walking, And The Mah Song

- Hannah

Just imagine. A scene seemingly out of the past; it’s almost as if everything in front of my eyes has jumped right out of my history book. The fire sends flickering sparks up to join the stars. It is immense, a huge pile of wooden chips blackening slowly as flame dances in and around the cracks between them. It’s obviously been burning for quite a while. The heat is intense. It warms the air significantly up to fifteen feet away. I am surrounded by a crowd of Thai men, women, and children, all spotless in clean white outfits. Loose fitting pants, a baggy t-shirt, the dress code is simple, and signifies purity.

The sound of drums and cymbals reverberates through the air.

The drummer at the largest drum pounds away furiously, filling the square with a thunderous heartbeat of its own. The sound is so intense, that the ground shakes and the beat becomes a part of your very soul. It stirs the crowd into an intense state of excitement. The adults shift slightly from side to side, restraining themselves; but the children are not yet restricted by social requirements. They dance wildly up and down the street, setting off firecrackers and screaming their delight.

I was the only tourist there, and the locals found my actions as interesting as I found theirs. It’s not everyday that a non-local comes to witness a small town’s participation in the Vegetarian Festival. Normally, farang make their way up to the tourist towns instead. Of course, I’m not a normal farang.

The Vegetarian Festival is primarily a Chinese tradition, and as the Thai population is approximately 35% Chinese, it is celebrated in Thailand. But for some reason, Phuket is the only region that actually takes part in the celebration. Although it is called the Vegetarian Festival, it has very little to do with vegetables. During the festival, the mah song pierce themselves with all manner of things, from candelabras, knives, and umbrellas, to fruit and swords. According to Wikipedia, the title mah song refers to the people who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. They are put in a trance, so that when they’re bloodying themselves the pain is lessened.

I am here tonight to see the mah song walk on a bed of red-hot coals. The fire is raked out into a seven foot long mat of burning coals. The mah song emerge from their time in the temple, during which the priest has called the gods to enter their bodies. They dance out to the fire, heads shaking back and forth wildly, eyes rolled towards the heavens, and sweat pouring off their bodies. A series of guttural exclamations pour from drooling mouths, and many feverish hands place their prayer papers into the fire. A few whip themselves enthusiastically, and one slices the skin of his back open. One by one, they proudly march across the bed of hot coals, to race howling back into the temple, where the priest will take them out of their trance once more, returning them to a normal state of mind. As for me, it is time to head home, back to the world of comparative sanity and rationality in which I belong.

Have any of you ever seen fire walking? 

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