Part-time wizards and sorcerers flourishing in democratic Myanmar

Josh Robbins
burma myanmar wizard

Wizards, witches and soothsayers are flourishing in Myanmar, six years after a military junta handed over power and religious freedoms returned to the south east Asian nation, formerly known as Burma.

Most Myanmarese practice a cross of Buddhism and spirit worship. There is a centuries-old tradition of wizards, or weizka, being used to cure illnesses and change fortunes with the help of supernatural beings.

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They have been free to work their magic openly since 2012 after half a century of oppression at the hands of a military regime. Now more and more people are joining the ranks of the weizka.

"Ever since the Burmese censor board was dissolved there has been an explosion in these kinds of magical manuals," said Thomas Patton, an expert on Southeast Asian magical practices at Hong Kong's City University.

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"I would argue they are one of, if not the, most widely-read genres in Myanmar," he told AFP.

Win Win Aye, a part time sorceress from Thalyin, claims she has cured at least 20 people of poor health and bad luck by summoning Buddhist spirits.

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She explained how she channelled supernatural beings through herself when treating others, saying: "I know when they have possessed me. When I want to say something my mouth can't form the words, the person who possesses me says what he or she wants."

She practices magic part time and does not receive any money for her work.

The weizka were forced underground after the army seized power in 1962, although AFP reports that the generals were themselves highly superstitious and terrified at the prospect of a supernatural reprisal.

Patton said that when the military were peacefully replaced by Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democratic forces many Myanmarese held the spirits and the weizka responsible.

"People always looked to these magical saints or wizards or sorcerers to help them bring peace and democracy," he said.

"Now that has happened a lot of these people believe that 'wow, this magic really does work.'"

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