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At a local resort in Pu Langga,Pong District, in Phayao province we came across a spirit ceremony known as a life prolonging ceremony in the late afternoon. The couple had been experiencing some bad luck. It may be that their spirit had been scattered during a bad fright, serious illness, perhaps precious livestock had gone missing or someone had cast a spell on them. To know if they were in this type of situation, the shaman of the area advised them to toss two pieces of carved bamboo on the ground. If the two pieces fell open to the exposed side, it was an omen that a spirit ceremony should be held.

It was decided to request the shaman or totally knowledgeable ones to perform a ceremony on their behalf. The shaman would cleanse themselves by eating only vegetarian food for three days previous to the ceremony. They should be sanitized and  free from bad breath and body odor. The couple were required to buy several baked chickens to be presented as offerings to the emperor spirit.

Not only are cooked chickens and fruit offered to the spirit world, the ceremony calls for the use of colorful red, white and gold paper to build an attractive “bridge” appropriate for the spirit to come to earth. The emperor’s presence is all important so the supplicants can seek guidance. Reading age old Chinese texts, the shaman implore the heavenly emperor spirit to come to earth to take an interest in the affairs of the world, and to influence the fortune of the living couple who request continually looking after them in the daily worldly existence.

The couple sat meekly next to each other on short stools while holding in their hands a long piece of cloth that had five knots in it. Every so often they would together pull the material straight and one of the knots would unfold. They were releasing the bad luck represented by each knot.  

Becoming an all knowing shaman demands many years of studying Chinese language, herbal medicine concoctions and omen interpretation. Each year the council of elders will pick two or three gifted 6 or 7 year old boys to serve as noviatiates. One week before the council meeting, the boys will follow a vegetarian diet. Initially, the boys should show signs of being gifted such as being able to hold a flame without flinching or being burned. And very often the shamanwill be found in families for many generations. The Chinese have been great record keepers of traditions alternative practitioners through the generations.

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