강신 (降神)

(The Advent of Neighbor Gods)

 

This photo series entitled “The Advent of Neighbor Gods” was photographed from 2013 to 2015 in Phuket Town in Phuket, Thailand, during what is normally known as the “Vegeterian Festival”, but is more accurately a Taoist religious ceremony called the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

During the nine-day festival, followers honor gods deified in the seven stars of what is commonly known as the Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear), and in two additional stars that are invisible to the naked eye. It is believed that that during the festival, specific Chinese Taoist gods possess the bodies of devotees called Masongs.

Masongs actively promote peoples’ happiness during the festival, personally offering them good wishes to help them maintain their lives. A Masong believes that his or her own life is already finished, but the spirit of the god possessing them allows them to maintain their life in order to help others and to do good.

Through this series, I want to show that these gods are not beings who are distantly removed from people, but are in fact intimately connected  to them. Masongs are very ordinary people, like officers, market sellers, small business owners, and workers in Phuket Town. And even though Phuket Town is modest in size, there are thousands of Masongs there.

The way the Masongs pierce their cheeks, tongues, and skin with sharp tools can look very horrible, but these practices are within their human bodies’ capacities. It sometimes seems surreal, and sometimes seems to manifest supernatural powers.

The Masongs never speak of salvation or deliverance. They will just chant a spell for a sick person, or give some candies or fortune stings to children.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is simultaneously a festival and a traditional ceremony, frequently both real and surreal.

Today, Phuket Town is the world’s largest center for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. And because there are many large Chinese shrines located close to each other there, the shrines take turns to allow each of them to conduct every ceremony, making the festival grow in prosperity each year.