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Power and sensibility: Two healers in northern Thailand
This paper compares two different healers in northern Thailand to explore how magical efficacy depends on the specific practitioner as a person. It describes the process of becoming healers, the characteristics of their healing practices, and the villagers’ actions after the healers were no longer able to practice. One of the healers had been a Buddhist monk, which was thought to strongly influence his magical power, while the other had no such experience. The former specialized in exorcism, as only those who have been monks are allowed to conduct the ritual. In contrast, the latter was often asked by villagers to use his magical skills to identify the causes of illnesses, because he was recognized as having an extraordinary sensibility in this practice. The power of the former monk was thought to weaken as he returned to secular life. When this healer was no longer able to practice, the villagers’ transition to another healer was smoother than in the case of the healer who was good at diagnosis. The relatively high replaceability of the healer who had been a monk was related to the fact that his knowledge and ability were based in religion as an institution. It was also related to his literacy, since the other healer’s skill, embodied without verbal representations, was more difficult to replace. This paper also refers to the healers’ ‘half-serious’ performance based on social agreement, which differentiates magical practitioners from artists.