Ghost Mothers

Kinship Relationships in Thai Spirit Cults

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 Princeton University andrewjohnson@princeton.edu
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Abstract

This article examines the process of building kinship relations between Thai spirit devotees and violent spirits. I examine three spirit shrines on the outskirts of Bangkok: a shrine to the ghost of a woman killed in childbirth, a shrine to a cobra spirit that causes accidents along a busy highway, and a household shrine to an aborted fetus. The devotees to whom I spoke actively sought out such places known for death in order to ‘adopt’ or ‘become adopted by’ the spirits in those locations—an action that, I argue, allowed for a renegotiation of the devotees’ position vis-à-vis accident and trauma. I suggest that becoming a spirit’s ‘child’ forms a mutually dependent relationship that allows for the domestication of forces outside of oneself.

Contributor Notes

Andrew Alan Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University and Guest Researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark. He writes about Thai popular religion, non-Western urbanisms, precarity, and migration. His work has been published in numerous journals, including American Ethnologist and Cultural Anthropology. He is the author of Ghosts of the New City: Spirits, Urbanity, and the Ruins of Progress in Chiang Mai (2014).

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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