This is a particularly interesting study of Phii Borb, conducted by a Thai psychiatrist. What is interesting is that he takes it totally seriously, and even states:

'Phii Pob is not merely a legend, but it is an actual occurrence in the area where I worked'

Note that there is no single system of English-Thai transliteration, so the account contains a different spelling of 'Phii Borb'.

Psychiatric Study of Phii Pob  I *

Sangun Suwalert ,M.D., D. Psych. *


  1. Sources of Information

Love spells magic spells casting love spells. While performing duty as a member of Medical Services Department Mobile Unit Fourth Group , 1967,the writer workrked under the supervision of Dr.Chamroon Siriphan ,Director of Lamphun Hospital ,covering the area of Amphurs (District)  Amnatcharoen ,Phana and Lerngnoktha , in Chagwad (Province) Ubokrajathani . The population of these three Amphurs (Districts)  is about three hundred thousand . In his capacity as the only psychiatrist on the team , the writer  happened to become interested in a grop of symptoms very often referred to by the villagers .This symptom was encountered during the night  of the first day of arrival at the Class  I Health Station at Amphur (District) Amatcharoen ,when a 30 – year – old female patient  was brought in with symptoms of confusion. The relatives gave history of first suspectin g that she had been possesed (entered) by aphii pob ,(spirit), for which reason  they  had called in a spirit doctor  tko drive off the spirit ,before coming to see a physician , but since the ghost refused to depart she was brought in for treatment . The patient had low fever and she was treated symptomatically and given Meprobamate. She improved  and returned hame after a two – day stay .It was the that this reporter decided to plan a detailed study of that which is called phii pob. What is it  ,actually ? Why is there a belief in this sort of thing all over ? At least this study will attempt  to reflect the concept of and belier in phii pob (spirits) (as held by those in the northeast of Thailand)

This belif strongly resists extinction ,and it probably obstructs modern medical treatment .The data about phii pob (spirits ) presented here were colected in one month ‘s time fromo monks , patients , government officials ,spirit doctors (moo phii ) people woho had been possessed by phii pob (spirits) et cetera. The information  reported in the following paragraphs was collected in converations ,as distinct from formal interviews.

Whai is phii pob?

            Phii Pob is not merely a legend ,but it is an actual occurrence in the area where II worked , and continues to occur at the present time . It is said that phii pob is non – substatial .Nobody can definitely describe its shape . Some people say that it is in a shape of black dog , or a monkey but other shapes may also be attributed to it .It exists in the body of ordinary people . I have been unable to trace or find ands  data about  when it first came to exist. The villager simply said that it has eixted  since olden times , p to the present .Phii pob can come in being at anytime and can also become extinct  at any time . I  will explain in detail about this mechanism of coming into being and becoming extinct.

            Phii pob is one sort of spirit (phii ) which originates in a living person ,and  conceals itself in body of  that person (the originator.) There are two ways in which  a person can become a source of phii pob : first  , it may originate in the person himself , or second he may inherit it form his ancestors.

1. Originating in the person himself :

            The source  of phii pob originates in those persons who study the magical arts .(sajasaed) ,magical spells (katha ) ,which consists of many kinds  , such as the katha (spell)  for prosperous trading the katha (spell)  for enabling one to speak cleverly (katha   linthong –spell for golden tougue) , and magical  love arts (sa –ne- jaa-faek : love magic which may make the person desire seual intercourse with the opposite sex , or may only make the sexual organ of the person of   attractiv) . The study  of this  kind of magic love art (snejaafaek) makes it increasingly easy to become an originator of phii pob .After he has finshed his study of these magical arts ,he goes back to earn his living as an ordinary  person , or perhaps he becomes a teacher in this special field of magic.

            Almost ever teacher of magic will have certain restriction against doing  certain things , wich is called kalam in Northeastern Thai . These restrictions procribe the eating of certain kinds of food ,the accepting of fees for teaching , going underneath a clothesline or indulging in some other inappropriate acts . As time passes ,some students tend to forget these restrictions ,and it is then that the phii pob originates within them ,although the originating hosts of phii pob may or may not be aware of it . It is most certain that the phii pob hiding in a person will leave the body of that person to possess another .When it is driven  out ,the possesed host can identify and make known who the origintor of the phii pob really is . Usually  a  originates only one  phii pob ,but many informants confirm that it is possible for that person to originates many phii pobs .Usually the phii pob is of the same sex as the orginating host ,but it can posses (enter )both male aand female persons .

2.  Ingeriteed from ancestors:

The orginating host will grow old and eventualy die ,but phii pob does not die . It will  go on hiding in the children of the host (usually the elderst child of the same sex ,that is ,the father ‘s phii ob will choose the eldest son and the mohter ‘s the  eldest daughter. )  If the originating host has no children ,then the phii pob will hid in a close relative .This kind of phii pob is called pob chue.

How phii pob possesses an individual:

            From what I havee told , a person will be possesed by a phii pob when he has had an argument with the originating host , but it can also coccurs when there has been no argument . A person or aninmal can be possessed by a phii pob in four ways :

1.      Possession  in time of sickness (as a sort  of complication of the illness ) ,which usually occurs in a man or woman at menopause or at the age of involution : about 45 – to  50 year old women ,or 50 – to  55 – year old men (but it can also occur during the trasition from teenager to adult ,according to dr. Phon) . It is beliebed that the phii (spirit) will eat away at  viscera (kidneys ,liver ,intestines ,etc.) until the individual finally dies.

2.      A phii pob can also possess a boy or girl  under ten years of age .Children who are possessed  will talk irrelevantly . It is believed that mmost children who are possessed by phii pob will die.

3.      A phii pob can possess a domestic animal, but they  have to be large animals ,such as cows ,buffaloes ,horses etc., and it will cause sudden to those animals.

4.      Phii pob  can enter people who have had no previous symptoms :generally these are women between the ages of  18 and 40  .The possessed host will usually identify the originating host . This is called  “ook pak”  (to speak out) in Northeastern Thai .Phii pob  can also enter men , but you see this commonly than in women .the phii pob will enter and stay  for anywhere between about 20 minutes to three hours . The villagers think this depends upon the skill of the moo phii , the spirit doctor who drives out spirits .This  fourth aspect is important ,and will be discussed later ,in the second report.

Symptoms of possession by phii pob :

            The early  symptom before being possessed by a phii pob is the symptom of “myn”  or “chaa” (numbness  in the limbs) ,followed  by falling down and at this time there may or may not be convulsions .Most people woho are possessed by phii pob will become unconscious some will become rigid and wil have to be forced to lie down or to sit , fists clenched , eyes red .After remaining in this state for a time,some of  of the possesed hosts will answer questions with some confusion , although some will be able to speak relevantly.

            There are many ways in which a phii pob can enter a person .When I asked about this I was told that there are 5 most popular parts of the body which the phii pob can enter: (1) arms and hands , especially the fingers; (2) feet ;(3) eyes;(4) nose ; (5) nipples .There are five categories of symptoms which may be indenfified after a person has been possessed by a phii pob;

1.)    making noises ,shouting out ,screaming at the top of one’s voice ,”som cry out like phii (spirits) Somme only weep”;

2.)    Tensing or spasm usually all over the body, fists clenching .These symptoms will remain for only a short period;

3.)    Shaking may follow the symptom of spasm. This shaking may not occur in some cases , in which case the only symptom may be spasm;

4.)    Timidity or shyness : the possesesed one does not speak or face the others. Sometimes when the possessed person laughs his  face will take on an expression similar to that of the originating host ’ s;

5.)    The possesessed host may speak out ,called in Norheastern Thai “ook pak” .This is the most  important symptom because the possesed host will tell who the originating host is what the aim of the possession is ,whether the aim is good or bad ,or whether it just happened that the phii pob is passing  by this village .This symptom of speaking out will depend on the ability of the spirit doctor(moo phii) .If the spirit doctor is expert or very skillful ,he will have  the patient talking relevantly.


The role of spirit doctor (moo laj phii ) and the  villagers

            Usually moo laj phii (doctor who drives out spirit) is a person who has specially studied magic and medicinal herbs(wann jaa), rattan canes  and also many other techniques for driving phii out as quickly as possible .The techniques used are different from each other.Khatha (spells) used for this procedure are usually selected from pali or Sanskrit .The first Ehing moo laj phii (spirit odctor) doss when he med the patient is blow khatha (paw khatha ). The khatha ( spells )  are blown  three times onto the kramom (the top or crown of  the head ) of the possesed host to see how strong  the phii (spirit) is .Then the moo (spirit doctor ) will prick parts of the patient ‘s  body , especially the bifurcations of the body such as the bifurcations between the fingers or toes , the arm –pits ,groin ,breasts or in the sexual organs .While pricking ,the moo (spirit doctor ) will  say  his khatha (spell) at the same time . When he comes to he point  where the possessing  phii pob (spirit ) is lovated , the  patient will cry or moan out loud ,expressing his pain . Then the moo will ask question as wll the relatives and neighbours.

            When they are satisfied with the answers,the moo (spirit doctor) then drives of the phii and remains with the patient for a  while to make sure that the pphii pob does not return to possess the patient again , for this does happen very often . When it is certain that the phii pob has really gone , the spirit doctor then conducts a protection ritual which is done by tying the wrists and ankles with sacred thread (dai sai sin ) and that is the end of  the treatment.

            There are many kind of phii (spirit ) which may commonly possess people .A skillful spirit doctor will be able to differentiate each type.




Characteristics of possessed host

Phii pob

-  smile shyly,look moo(sirit doctor) in                             the face

Phii thai or than (spirit form heaven)

-    chop sanuk (love to have fun ) singing and dancing

Phii ban pha burut (ancestor spirit)

-   acting big , afraid of no one , never turning away when being stared at

Phii cak sin saksit (spirit of sacred things)

-  Quietly superior



Dr.Sa-ngun  Suwanlert  : Phii pob,Spirit possession with ,the view point of psychiatrist (1986)   page 269-277