Ritual Tattooing and the Creation of New Buddhist Identities

An Inquiry into the Initiation Process in a Burmese Organization of Exorcists

in Religion and Society
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ABSTRACT

The Manaw Seittokpad congregation, an organization of Burmese exorcists with headquarters in Bago, presents some unique features, such as a rigorous registration procedure during the initiation process. Exorcism is linked to superhuman figures, or weikza, at the center of a religious domain often characterized as a form of Buddhist esotericism. Based on observation of rituals during this congregation’s annual conventions in Bago, the initiation process is analyzed with reference to an anthropological understanding of rites of passage and religious conversion. The article shows how undergoing these rites induces healed patients to enter a specific community formed by the members of the congregation. Furthermore, the acquisition of a new ‘truly’ Buddhist identity is understood as a process equivalent to an ‘internal conversion’. Finally, the contrastive use of ritualism is seen as a way to construct the practice of exorcism in the weikza domain as a specific ‘path’ within the Burmese religious field.

Contributor Notes

BÉNÉDICTE BRAC DE LA PERRIÈRE is an anthropologist specializing on Burma, where she has regularly conducted field research since the 1980s. She has authored Les rituels de possession en Birmanie: Du culte d’Etat aux cérémonies privées (1989). With Hiroko Kawanami, she co-edited a special issue of Asian Ethnology entitled “Power, Authority, and Contested Hegemony in Burmese-Myanmar Religion” (2009). With Guillaume Rozenberg and Alicia Turner, she co-edited Champions of Buddhism: Weikza Cults in Contemporary Burma (2014). She is presently researching current changes in the Burmese religious field. E-mail: brac@cnrs.fr

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