Informing the Spirits Ceremony

Informing the Spirits Ceremony (Buwong Suwong)

The enduring belief of the Thai people in the unseen, the spirits which inhabit all places and which have to be kept happy or, if necessary, appeased when they are angry, is mentioned several times elsewhere in this book. There are visible signs of this redolent animism, which coexists quite happily with the dominant Buddhism in the little spirit-houses, which are to be found in the corners of many gardens and elsewhere. Looking like little pagodas elevated on a “bird-table”, tiny offerings of food and drink will be presented to the occupants, who likewise are informed of any major happenings in the lives of the people in the “big house”.

A much more sumptuous and elaborate version of this tradition is the Buwong Suwong ceremony, which must be held prior to the Annual Homage-Paying Ceremony and Initiation as a Teacher ritual. (In the case of the Initiation as a Trainee Fighter rite, which can be regarded as a personal contract between teacher and newly accepted student, not involving the spirits of teachers past, it is an optional requirement.) The ceremony is performed by Brahmin priests who inform the spirits of what is about to take place, ask their permission to proceed and also invite them to attend if they are so inclined.

A special banquet is laid on for the spirits, the menu varying according to a whole range of factors, including the favourite dishes of the particular deity to whom a special appeal is being made. A pig’s head, chicken, desserts and fruit are typical offerings, along with candles, incense sticks, flowers and other gifts. The important factor is that, once it has been determined which form of Buwong Suwong the ceremony is to take, there is no room for personal choice in the offerings provided: an exact list has to be followed with no omissions or deviations.

After waiting a suitably respectful time – perhaps about an hour – to enable the spirits to eat their fill, the human participants in the rites can partake of the feast, which, having been tasted by the spirits, is now full of lucky portents.

Now that the spirits have been made aware of what is to happen and their favour has been sought through the edible offerings, the main ceremony can proceed as planned. The precise details of all the ceremonies differ according to the traditions of the Muay Thai training camp/teacher involved. Invariably, however, all the ceremonies are very powerful and moving, making, as intended, a permanent impression on the participants’ minds and helping to stiffen their resolve.