Accepted paper:

At the Intersection between Exorcism and Sorcery in a Burmese Esoteric Congregation: How to Give Moral Sanction to Destructive Rituals


Niklas Foxeus (ERG, Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

In an esoteric congregation in Burma, founded in 1950s by a person believed to be the world emperor, the members perform destructive rituals in which the boundary between exorcism and sorcery seems to be blurred. The aim of this paper is to discuss the issue of how to define such boundaries.

Paper long abstract:

In the period following the achievement of independence in 1948, Burma was plagued not only by civil war and general socio-political turmoil but - as many Burmese believed - also by violent attacks from evil spirits, sorcerers, and witches. Besides these disturbances, a Burmese esoteric congregation viewed western ideologies, politicians, wrong religions and their adherents, and a variety of remnants of the colonial era as targets that should be eliminated by its destructive exorcism rituals, with the aim of purging the world and universe at large from dangers to save Buddhism from extinction. Due to the intention of protecting Buddhism from dangers and hostile forces, the members consider the destructive exorcism rituals to be morally justified. Such rituals could, moreover, be regarded as effective means to alleviate social tensions in a situation marked by anxiety and instability under the military dictatorship, as well as providing the members with a sense of empowerment in the face of perceived dangers to themselves as individuals and a community, and to their religion, nation, and traditions. The esoteric congregation's ritual violence seems to make the boundary between exorcism and sorcery somewhat ambiguous. The aim of this paper, based on fieldwork in Burma, is to discuss - on the basis of Burmese notions of exorcism and sorcery - how to define the boundary between morally justified and immoral ritual violence.

panel W065
Occult economies in Asia: malevolent magic and supernatural aggressions