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Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand

Mariette Pathy Allen | Thailand

Prem, a transgender woman and one of the most respected maa khii in Thailand

While both Burma and Thailand are profoundly Buddhist cultures, spirit worship is extremely common, and in many ways the two belief systems live in harmony. The belief in spirits goes back many centuries prior to widespread belief in Buddhism. These countries, once unified politcally and geographically, share similar customs and beliefs. In both countries, spirit mediums continue to perform the ancient, animist traditions and rituals that pre-date Buddhism.

As intermediaries of the spirits, they can bestow good or evil. In Burma, they are called nat kadaw and in Thailand maa khii. Because people both worship and fear the spirits, this requires them to pay homage (and money) to the spirit mediums for their intercession and good fortune. As intermediaries of the spirits, and for their good deeds, mediums are respected in the community by those who believe in the spirits.

—Eli Coleman, PhD

Mariette Pathy Allen has been photographing the transgender community for over 30 years. Throughher artistic practice, she has been a pioneering force in gender consciousness, contributing to numerous cultural and academic publications about gender variance and lecturing throughout the globe. From activism to inner explorations, her work presents thebroadest available imaging of the incredible diversity of those daring souls whose lives are committed to exploring the gender frontier.

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