On the Thigh, Write the Enemy’s Given Name

Issue 41 by Kathryn Stam

On the Thigh, Write the Enemy’s Given Name

Caveat Lector (Let the Reader Beware).

There may be dangerous rocks in this lake. There may be swift currents. The water looks smooth, but the chasm is unfathomable and the path is precipitous (Sandberg, 1894).

I suppose you are curious about how to subdue your enemy. I mean, to really quash and quell them. Is that right? First, you’ll want to think about your enemy. What do they look like? Sound like? Smell like? Meditate on that for as many deep breaths as you need to visualize their fierce and loathsome visage. All right; listen here, [Enemy]! When you are a corpse, tying a rope to your neck, we will drag you like a dog outside the gates of the city. (Cuevas, 2011).

Recite: “Enemy (Kem. raks. a jah. jah)! ” (Cuevas, 2011).

Apologies, Reader. I seem to have gotten ahead of myself.

In this installment of Enemy-Slaying 101, we will review one compelling way that ancient Tibetans used to rile up their rivals; they draw an effigy (a likeness of someone despised). The indigenous ritualists are still the world’s experts on this method. Hundreds (or maybe thousands) of years of uninterrupted transmission of wisdom on effigies and adversaries. I thought it might be helpful if I chose a simple example, just to illustrate how to slice the life force from your foe. I introduce you now to Bui. She knew my husband Suthin from high school, the one they attended in a little Thai town in the Northeast.

Hark! What is that noise? An avalanche is rolling down into the gorge below (Sandberg, 1894).

We were all living in Thailand — me, Suthin, his two children, and his mother — when it happened. Bui killed my stepson Nook on August 16, 1997. She stole my husband gradually before and after that. If I am being honest with myself, it was not technically Bui’s fault. In attempting to win favor from my husband, she gave my stepson a motorcycle. It was the day after the four of us moved back to Thailand after two years of living in the U.S. It was a brand-new motorcycle, black and red, with a seat of flames. It was a gift for his 16th birthday. I told anyone who would listen that it was a bad idea — colossally bad. I was always full of comments about what was risky and what was not, and they didn’t match with what the people around me assessed as dangerous. “Night buses and fermented fish sauce-scary!” I said. “Widow ghosts are scary,” they said. “Not motorcycles. And he will be careful.” Suthin said everyone needs a motorbike in Thailand. And it’s bad manners to refuse a gift. But a week later, Nook was in an accident and he was dead and Suthin and I were in a car going to identify the body at the police station. With her. I asked her to wait for us in the car. Otherwise, she might have stolen my husband right then and there, at the morgue. Instead, she waited a few weeks. Or he waited a few weeks. I waited a few weeks before I was sure that it was real.

Actually, Bui’s theft of my husband may have not been entirely her doing. I have come to understand that I may have jumped to some unwarranted conclusions on that particular point as well. I used to like saying it; it rolled off the tongue in just the most delicious way. “She stole my husband...” I felt ashamed that he didn’t love me enough to remain faithful, but I blamed only her. I did not reveal to anyone my first move, ten years earlier — flirting with him, getting to know him, letting him know that I was interested. By the time I figured out his marital status, murky as it was, I was already hooked. I had swallowed the idea of him along with entire length of fishing line and leaded sinker. As high as I climbed in my love for this man was as low as I crashed when he was taken. I sank into a wobbly friendship with him, our son a reason more than any other. However, my rage against Bui the home wrecker continued unabated. My anger against her kept me from feeling all that I had lost.

“Enemy (Kem. raks. a jah. jah)!

But later, the details mattered less. After Nook died, Suthin sought solace in alcohol, playing cards, and hanging around with his friends until all hours of the night. Bui was there for all of that. I was home with the baby. When I finally asked my husband directly if he was having an affair with Bui, he said yes. He had excuses. I asked him if he was going to stop seeing her and he said, “I don’t know.” And from there, my frayed Thai life continued to unravel. I was home in Syracuse again with our son within a few weeks, leaving everything I had built and known for much of a decade (the 90s).

“Enemy (Kem. raks. a jah. jah)!”

For twenty years after that, I thought mainly of how I could crush Bui — the same way she did to me. From afar, all I could do was call her telephone late at night and hang up when she answered. I wanted her to endure my alphabet of pain: axed, butchered, crushed, dismantled, effaced, flogged, gutted…Leveled. Nullified… Ravaged, razed, ruined…Shattered. Trounced. Whacked. Walloped and whomped. Zapped. If only I had known that I could rid myself of her by bringing the pain close instead of pushing it away.

Now a sixty-year-old woman, Bui is still the manager of a Nissan dealership, and twice a widow to cancer. Long ago though, she was a family friend, I suppose. She used to invite us over to her townhouse on weekends to hang around and watch music videos. She cooked hot pot (soup) on the stove, or grilled chicken outside. She made us somtom (raw papaya salad), one spicy one with bla daek (fermented fish sauce) for them, one mild plate with peanuts for me. We sat in a circle on the floor to eat. My legs always fell asleep so we would laugh and joke in Lao, “Bui, it happened again. Kon ouan nang yang sri bau dai dok (you know chubby people can’t sit like this).” Her three daughters called me Ya (auntie) and asked for help with their English. I remember her first husband too, although he rarely paid much attention to me. He liked to watch soccer and then go outside to smoke Thai cigarettes and drink cold Heinekens with my husband. They looked like brothers — Khmer protective tattoos on their upper arms, black hair starting to grey at the temples, bald spots no one mentioned. Still sweating from a spicy meal, Bui’s husband and my husband would pull their tank tops up to their underarms and stand patting their light brown bellies, like farmers.

There is a hole in the boat! Tie the boat fast. The oar is broken. (Sandberg, 1894).

As I said, what really matters more than the specifics is how effective the recipes are for destroying her! How do we summon the soul of the enemy and separate her from her protector spirits? How do we draw the linga (effigy) that will render her hideous and powerless?

I want help. Give me your hand. I am not equal to this task. (Sandberg, 1894).

I wanted to destroy my enemy, but I hadn’t the right tools. I knew just who might, though. First, we must summon her putrid soul. The Bön priests would have chanted. The soul has been [successfully] summoned, if you become frightened, develop goosebumps, or feel pity. Draw two spikes to lacerate the life force. Write the sacred syllables of the gods. Draw four cuts on the four limbs. Draw four immutable spikes…inside the heart. On the thigh, write the [enemy’s] given name. When… the sun fades to black… that is the time to draw the linga (effigy) on birchbark. Take away the enemy’s fortune (Cuevas, 2011). Dissolve her soul into the seed syllable that is scribbled on the parchment.

I remember Suthin’s goofy laugh. His funny impersonations of his mother scolding him, chasing him out of the kitchen with her broom, swatting him with a rolled-up Thai Rath (Thai Nation newspaper). I miss the way he played with his children. The older ones, the baby.

Write [in] ink mixed with poison and blood. Draw the navel. Draw the head. Draw the limbs and think about giving it form just like [the real enemy]. Write the [syllable] “Ah” at the heart. Imagine [the enemy] seized by a greenish-yellow planetary demon.

I think of the life that we craved. The little house. The rice fields. Flying kites with our son in the warm winds of the Thai winter.

On the forehead [of the effigy], write the [name of the enemy’s] clan or town. Imagine [the clan or the town] being destroyed by demons (Cuevas, 2011).

I think of Suthin’s skin. The scar next to his right eye from a bike accident. The smaller scar on his eyebrow from a dog bite, both scars shiny and brown. I remember his hairless arms and his hairy legs. His long torso. I remember his flat feet, feet of Roi Et, feet of Laos, feet of his farmer father. His second toe that was longer than the first, which he thought was unlucky.

Bui’s linga (effigy) should look like a living being [who is] weary and exhausted, tied up with [leather] cords and constrained by iron chains. A lone [figure] frightened and trembling, dried up and emaciated.

As I mix the six stains that are truly vile — snot and spit, feces and urine (Cuevas, 2011) — I think of how this man was not mine to kiss. He was married to Amornrat at that time.

I remember his deep brown eyes. His wrinkles. His raspy voice and his laugh.

Warm the ink over a fire [until] soft and smear it on the linga (effigy). Meditate on Padmasambhava (the Lotus-Born Second Buddha). Recite “Enemy!” One hundred times.

In one hundred flashes, I remember that someone else loved him this way long before I did. After I stole him, I am sure that Amornrat cried a thousand nights of tears over him. I am sure she tried to summon my soul and spit on it. She told him as much.

My enemy is not where I was ransacking the past searching constantly for her in swamps and ill reservoirs of black. Imagine the linga (effigy) as a …living being. Recite: “Enemy! ram. raks. a jah. jah.” The effigy is infused with heat, wind, flesh, bone, and mind. After this ritual, Soul Flesh [of the enemy] is finished wandering! Soul Flesh is finished, thum. thum. Attach the collar bones of a crow and an owl to the linga (effigy) and wave it [around]. (Cuevas, 2011).

He himself. Vow Breaker!

Enemy?

Desire was my downfall, followed by fury. On the thigh of the dusty papyrus effigy, I shall write my own given name.

This concludes today’s course in introductory enemy destruction, from the perspectives of some ancient Tibetans and a middle-aged woman living in Utica, New York. As the instructor of this course, I ask you to consider the ancient ones and their lives. I leave you with these questions: What hurt them? Deer fights or landslides? What caused them anxiety and fear? Did they steal each other’s husbands? Did they design the rituals and stories in these proportions purposely — as 90% metaphor, and only 10% camphor and the hair from the back of your enemy’s head?

I imagine a mirror that reflects back at me all that has occurred, but more clearly than I saw it the first time through. Bui is evil and also good. And she is neither evil nor good. Like all babies, Suthin was conceived and there were tiny sacred letters in his blood too. By imagining my enemy drawn in feces on a harmless scrap of wood pulp, I feel a shift. I do not veer but I bend. Towards Suthin’s first wife, who is, after all, like me. I try to imagine her shouting “Enemy!” “Enemy!” “Enemy!” like she did that day she came to accuse me of stealing her husband. She was right, and she was not right. I am a flawed and perfect human — a perpetrator and a martyr. She was everything, she was nothing. We — the three of us who loved Suthin (his three wives) — loved, fought, and grieved over someone who is now ashes in an urn. Above the abbot’s forest dwelling rises the summit of the hill. From there, one can see rice paddies, rows of eucalyptus. Mango trees and clumps of bamboo around. There are small huts for farmers to rest in shade during the hottest hours of day and guard their crops from thieves at night. From there on top of the hill, one can see farmers on motorbikes puttering along village paths, their sidecars ferrying burlap sacks of charcoal to market.

Note to readers: The italicized text comes from translated ancient (8-11th C.) Tibetan texts.

References:

Cuevas, Bryan (2011). “Illustrations of Human Effigies in Tibetan Ritual Texts: With remarks on specific anatomical figures and their possible iconographic source.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 21 (1). 73-97.

Sandberg (1894). Handbook of Colloquial Tibetan: A practical guide to the language of Central Tibet. Calcutta, India: Thacker, Spink, and Co.

About the Author

Kathryn Stam

Kathryn Stam, Ph.D., is a professor of cultural anthropology at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, NY. She teaches about cultural diversity and conducts research about Asian studies, statelessness, and resettled refugees. She is currently writing a memoir about her cross-cultural life.