SEAP Brown Bag Talk: Tom Patton, PhD Candidate, Cornell - "The Wizard King and His...

My paper explores the relationships that develop between women of Myanmar with vijjādhara saints (Burmese: weizzā / weizzā-dho) and the consequences of such connections for the everyday lives of these people. My ethnographic research seeks to uncover the beliefs and practices that have developed around saints, whose cults, visible throughout the country, attract large numbers of female devotees from all walks of life. The economic, medical, and political changes that have been taking place in Myanmar over the past twenty years are reflected in the relationships Burmese Buddhists form with sorcerer saints and in the content found in popular Burmese Buddhist magazines and devotional literature. This paper specifically explores how Burmese women understand these saints to be working in their lives for purposes of healing and increasing their social and economic prestige during this prolonged period of instability in the country. For example, drawing upon ethnographic and textual research, I show how being possessed by a weizzā and carrying out his bidding can be seen as a creative yet culturally sanctioned response to restrictive gender roles, a means for expressing otherwise illicit thoughts or feelings, and an economic strategy for women who have few options beyond traditional wifely or daughter roles. In this sense channeling weizzā saints provides a set of symbolic resources and ritual strategies by which these women are empowered to work on themselves and the world around them.

Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Kahin Center 640 Stewart Ave.
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