Known briefly from 1970–1975 as the Kymer Republic and
Kampuchea, Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country that has
been particularly and negatively affected by the rush to modernize
and secularize since World War II. It is a land rich in occult
history and lore, a heritage at essential conflict with the recent
course of political history. In the tremendous upheavals
following the Vietnamese war, many customs, traditions, and
beliefs have been disrupted. Although the 1976 constitution of
Cambodia granted freedom of worship to a people traditionally
following the Theravada Buddhist faith, refugees report that
religious practices are not permitted in the general political
change to Marxist-Leninist ideology. The famous monument,
Angkor, the capital of the ancient Khmer Republic, is now representative
of the Buddhist religion. This temple, which exists
second to the Pyramids in occult importance, was dedicated to
the Hindu god, Vishnu, and is now considered, since 1992, a
World Heritage site. The horrific excesses of the Khmer Rouge
under the Pol Pot regime graphically dramatized in the film
The Killing Fields (1984), represent one of the more horrific
chapters in all of human history. In 1998 Cambodia’s borders
became open to international travel.
In the past, magic was mixed up to a surprising degree with
the daily life of the people. They consulted sorcerers on the
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. CAMBODIA
most trivial matters and were constantly at great pains to discover
whether any small venture was likely to prove lucky or unlucky.
There were two kinds of magical practitioners, the à
thmop, or soothsayers, and the kru or medicine-sorcerers. Of
these, the latter enjoyed the highest reputation as healers and
exorcists, while the former were less respected, dealing in
charms and philters for the sake of gain, or in evil incantations
and spells.
The outcast kru, however, could be ministers of destruction
as well as of healing. One of the means used to take the life of
an enemy was the old device favored by sorcerers. They would
make a wax figure of the victim, prick it at the spot where they
wished to harm him or her, and thus bring disease and death
upon the individual. Another plan was to take two skulls from
which the tops had been removed, place them against each
other, and secretly place them under the bed of a healthy man,
where they were believed to have very evil results. Sometimes
by means of spells the kru would transform wood shavings or
grains of rice into a large beetle or worms, which were said to
enter the body of the victim and cause illness, or even death.
If the person thus attacked happened to possess the friendship
of a more powerful sorcerer, however, a stronger magic could
be obtained, and the original sorcery blocked. The more harmless
occupations of the wizards consisted in making philters and
amulets to insure the admiration of women, the favor of the
king, and success at play.
The evil spirits, to whom were ascribed the most malicious
intent, were called pray, the most fearsome variety being the
khmoc pray, or wicked dead, which included the spirits of
women who died in childbirth. From their hiding places in the
trees these spirits were said to torment inoffensive passers-by
with their hideous laughter, and shower stones down upon
them. These practices were, of course, calculated either to kill
or to drive the unfortunate recipients of their attentions insane.
Among the trees there were also supposed to be concealed mischievous
demons who inflicted terrible and incurable diseases
upon mankind.
Those who suffered a violent death were also greatly to be
feared. From the nethermost regions they would return, pale
and terrible, to demand food from human beings, who dared
not deny it to them. Their name, beisac, signifies ‘‘goblin,’’ and
they were believed to have the power to inflict all manner of evil
on those who refused their request. So the average Cambodian,
to avert such happenings, used to put his offering of rice or
other food in the brushwood to appease the goblins. The pray
generally required to have their offerings laid on the winnowing
fan that enters so largely into Cambodian superstition.
The werewolf, both male and female, struck terror into the
hearts of the people. By the use of certain magical rites and formulae,
people could be endowed with supernatural powers,
such as the ability to swallow dishes, and thereupon change into
werewolves. Women who had been rubbed with oil a wizard had
consecrated were said to lose their reason and to flee away to
the woods. They retained their human shape for seven days. If
during that time a man underwent the same process of being
rubbed with consecrated oil, followed the woman to the woods,
and struck her on the head with a heavy bar, then the Cambodians
claimed she would recover her reason and return home. If,
on the other hand, no such drastic remedy was to be found, at
the end of seven days the woman would turn into a tigress. In
order to cure a man of being a werewolf, one should strike him
on the shoulder with a hook.
The Cambodians believed that ghosts issued from dead bodies
during the process of decomposition. When this ceased the
ghosts were no longer seen, and the remains changed into owls
and other nocturnal birds.
Most hideous of all the evil spirits were the srei ap, or ghouls,
who, represented only by head and alimentary canal, prowled
nightly in search of gruesome orgies. They were known by their
terrible and bloodshot eyes, and much feared, since even their
wish to harm could inflict injury. When anyone was denounced
as a ghoul she was treated with great severity, either by the authorities,
who may have sentenced her to banishment or death,
or by the villagers, who sometimes took the law into their own
hands and punished the supposed offender.
Astrology was also widely practiced in Cambodia. Astrologers,
or, as they were called, horas, were attached to the court,
and their direct employment by the king gave them some
standing in the country. At the beginning of each year they
made a calendar, which contained, besides the usual astronomical
information, weather and other predictions. They were
consulted by the people on all sorts of subjects, and were believed
to be able to avert the calamities they predicted. In modern
Cambodia, the Songkran, or astrology festival, is still celebrated.
It is not surprising that in such a country, where good and
evil powers were ascribed so lavishly, much attention should be
paid to omens, and much time spent in rites to avert misfortune.
The wind, the fog, and the trees were objects of fear and
awe, to be approached with circumspection lest they send disease
and misfortune, or withhold some good. For instance,
trees whose roots grow under a house bring bad luck to it. Bamboo
and cotton plants were also dangerous when planted near
a house, for should they grow higher than the house, they
would wish, out of a perverted sense of gratitude, to provide a
funeral cushion and matting for the occupants.
Animals received their share of superstitious veneration. Tigers
were regarded as malevolent creatures whose whiskers
were very poisonous. Elephants were seen as sacred, and particularly
so white elephants. Monkeys they would on no account
destroy. Should a butterfly enter the house, it was considered
extremely unlucky, while a grasshopper, on the contrary, indicated
coming good fortune.
Angkor Wat. httpce.eng.usf.edupharoswonders
Forgottenangkor.html. June 16, 2000.