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

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.

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