Friday, 21 September 2007

The Magic Lottery Tree

We’ve just visited a village temple near Sangkha to see its amazing magic tree.

A little while ago, as I understand the garbled story from several unreliable sources, a local man had a dream that there was a spirit trapped in the mud of a nearby swamp and that it was begging to be rescued. Somebody went and waded into the swamp and discovered that hidden from the eyes and memory of the oldest villagers was a huge object several tens of metres long. They had no idea what it was.

Truly a sprit was there though and must be rescued as soon as possible. Excavators and diggers were hired, but the powerful forces of the swamp were evil and were reluctant to give up the captive spirit. The machinery suffered damage and the rescue attempt at first was frustrated,

Eventually a huge tree trunk a thousand years old was pulled out of the swamp and then taken to the village temple where a month or so ago it was installed in state under a pavilion of wood and corrugated iron, clothed in a long silken shroud. This is now a place of pilgrimage and when we went today there were probably more than a hundred people there paying homage to the spirit of the tree.

In the temple are food sellers and a stall selling joss sticks, yellow candles and lotus buds for five baht; a veritable industry has sprung up around the new magic tree. It’s a big thing in every way and the visitors, mainly women and children are huddled reverentially, touching, examining, even hugging the massive, hoary old tree trunk.

In front of it there are mats on the ground for people to pay their devotions before altars covered in offerings that pilgrims have brought. Half way along there’s a hole in the trunk which is full of water that drips down into a large pot and the old women are collecting it in containers and rubbing it on their skin. At one end there’s a root that forms an arch and an old lady who looks blind and can hardly walk is repeatedly and painfully going down on all fours and crawling through the hole. It’s obviously the thing to do for a miracle cure.

Most strange of all is that many of the women have talcum powder with them and are rubbing it painstakingly on the smoother parts of the tree and peering closely at the whitened surface. Cat explains to me that tomorrow is lottery day and this is why so many people have come to consult the magic lottery tree. They’re looking for impressions of Thai numbers, using the talcum as a sort of finger print dust to highlight them.

Cat always explains this sort of thing to me with a detached objectivity, giving few hints of her own opinions. This time though she added that Naam’s Mama had visited and found some numbers, winning six hundred baht the very next day. Perhaps this was proof of the power of the spirit of the log!

I’m pretty sure Cat thinks it’s all a load of nonsense but then when you’ve been brought up with some strident beliefs it’s hard to cast them away without even a backward glance. Anyway, it could be worth giving it a try, just as traditionalists in England who buy life insurance and go to church as well.

My own thought is that maybe the spirit of the tree is powerful and the folks asking it for favours are not entirely wasting their time and talcum powder. Frankly though, I’m not sure I’d bother with a spirit that can manage only a lottery win of six hundred baht!

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