“Most people in Burma and Thailand are Buddhists, but there are areas in both countries where Spirit Mediums continue to perform the ancient, animist traditions and rituals that pre-date Buddhism,” writes Allen.
“Although there are differences in the traditions practiced by Spirit Mediums in Myanmar and Thailand, I have combined the images here, as my focus is on the visual mystery of Spirit Mediums when they are possessed, and when going about their daily lives. I am looking at them as human beings who have been part of their cultures for as long as Animism has existed.
In the past, most Spirit Mediums were women, but over time, more men have felt called as Spirit Mediums. Those that live as men, dress as women in colorful, flowing garments, wear make-up, headdresses , and ornate jewelry before, during, and after possession. They must adorn themselves as women for the Spirits. Others live as women fulltime. They would be identified as transgender in the west.
When Mediums are possessed by a particular Spirit, they fall into a trance, and dance for many hours, drinking, smoking, accepting money from the crowd of onlookers who may join in the dance. During festivals when not dancing, Mediums sit in their beautifully decorated tents with altars covered with offerings that may include fruit, flowers, cans of beer, soda, cash, small toys, and statues. People come into the tent to get advice from the Spirit that that Medium channels.”