Author Interviews/Guest Bloggers

Graveyards, Ghosts, and Odd Sensations in Bangkok with Author Morgan A. Pryce.

Image of Thai cemetery copyright Morgan A. Pryce

This month sees the release of Among the Headstones, an anthology of graveyard tales, edited by Rayne Hall (see details below). I’ve ordered my copy, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

We’ve been fortunate so far to have author, Lee Murray, on the blog, where she discussed the macabre act of body snatching, and the inspiration behind her story.

This week, I have the honour of hosting author, Morgan A. Pryce, who shares with us some of the burial rituals of Thailand, as well as one of her own experiences with the paranormal. Her story for the anthology of a mythical creature from Thailand, sounds fascinating. Thank you, Morgan, for sharing and being with us today.

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What are Thai funerals like? The pre-burial rituals in Thailand are exciting, entertaining, and creepy.

You get the meditative chant of monks, happy reunions with people you haven’t seen in ages, and of course the inevitable food boxes, and the cremation itself – especially if you are lucky enough to attend a cremation under royal patronage and get to experience the handing over of the flame as it is delivered from the palace.

Some traditions are downright gruesome, such as the fluid used for cremation that turns the body green. Or the custom that some of the deceased forego immediate rebirth and offer their dead bodies to be displayed in a part of the temple for monks to meditate over their decay as a memento mori.

If the deceased person’s ashes aren’t solemnly and beautifully scattered over a river or the sea, the urns are usually placed inside little niches in a wall surrounding the temple or a sacred space around a bodhi tree, the symbol of the path to enlightenment. These niches are sealed with a marble plaque that displays a photograph, a name and the dates of birth and death. And that’s it.

But then there are the old Chinese and Christian graveyards.

According to local tradition, these cemeteries are naturally haunted by all sorts of ghosts, ghouls, and spirits, the benevolent kind who may help you with lottery numbers if you ask nicely, or the not-so-nice kind who might just as well eat you alive, suck you dry, at the very least scare you to death, or drive you mad.

It’s perfectly normal to see one.

Small wonder I feel at home in this country…

You see, in “enlightened” Europe, it is usually best to keep certain things to oneself so as not to be instantly branded a nutcase. It is quite different here in Thailand where people far more likely to consult a soothsayer, a tarot reader, or a monk with supernatural powers than they are to visit a psychologist or a therapist, and where spirits and ghosts are considered a natural part of life who may be consulted for anything from murder to fertility issues to lottery numbers.

How did I find out?

Purely by chance, almost 25 years ago.

One day, I was in my office, which also doubled as my Department’s library at that time. I had started working at my university only a month or so earlier, it was the semester break, hardly anyone was ever on campus, and I barely knew anyone there. I quite liked having the place almost to myself as it gave me the time to sort my books and prepare my first semester: what texts to choose? how to teach my first all-Asian class? And then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman. She was standing in front of one of the book cases, running her hand over the spines. I turned around to see who it was and to introduce myself to my colleague – but nobody was there.

Later that day, I told my Head of Department who had the desk next to mine. Playing it cool, I told her about the incident and laughed it off, thinking I must have imagined things, probably a late aftereffect of jet lag, not quite being accustomed to the tropical heat or something. To my surprise, she was entirely serious and asked if I could describe the person I’d seen.

“Yes,” I said. “She was a rather small lady, very slim, very elegant, wore a black dress,” and so on, down to a particular hairstyle that I now know is that of a lady at the royal court. My boss looked at me, and said, as matter-of-fact as can be: “Ah. You met Ajarn Dussadee from the Spanish Department. She used to come into the library, she loved to look at the books.” And she’d recently died of cancer.

She advised me not to tell my colleagues. “If they know that our office is haunted, they may not feel comfortable here anymore.”

About Morgan A. Pryce

Morgan A. Pryce is a writer and academic who has been living in Bangkok for the past twenty-odd years. In her writing, she covers just about any genre where things get weird and/or someone dies. Although she loves her students dearly, her urge to erase ancient villages (and the odd galaxy) may have its roots in suppressed classroom trauma.

In the anthology Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard Morgan tells a story about a Thai krasue, a mythological creature with the head of a woman whose body consists of floating guts.

About the Book  AMONG THE HEADSTONES: CREEPY TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD

This anthology, edited by Rayne Hall, presents twenty-seven of the finest – and creepiest – graveyard tales with stories by established writers, classic authors and fresh voices.

Here you’ll find Gothic ghost stories by Robert Ellis, Lee Murray, Greg Chapman, Morgan Pryce, Rayne Hall, Guy de Maupassant, Myk Pilgrim, Zachary Ashford, Amelia Edwards, Nina Wibowo, Krystal Garrett, Tylluan Penry, Ambrose Bierce, Cinderella Lo, Nikki Tait, Arthur Conan Doyle, Priscilla Bettis, Kyla Ward, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul D Dail, Cameron Trost, Pamela Turner, William Meikle and Lord Dunsany who thrill with their eerie, macabre and sometimes quirky visions.

You’ll visit graveyards in Britain, Indonesia, Russia, China, Italy, Bulgaria, Thailand, USA, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and you can marvel at the burial customs of other cultures.

Now let’s open the gate – can you hear it creak on its hinges? – and enter the realm of the dead. Listen to the wind rustling the yew, the grating of footsteps on gravel, the hoo-hoo-hoo of the collared dove. Run your fingers across the tombstones to feel their lichen-rough sandstone or smooth cool marble. Inhale the scents of decaying lilies and freshly dug earth.

But be careful. Someone may be watching your every movement… They may be right behind you.

Purchase Link:  mybook.to/Headstones

The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 99 cents until 31 January 2022. (After that date, the price will go up.)

The paperback is already published.

31 thoughts on “Graveyards, Ghosts, and Odd Sensations in Bangkok with Author Morgan A. Pryce.”

  1. I enjoyed this guest post! Thailand sounds wonderful. How nice it must be not to worry if everyone thinks your crazy just because you see ghosts.

    1. Thanks Priscilla, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s interesting to learn how other cultures view death. And yes, it would be a great relief to know you’re not alone when it comes to ghosts!

    2. Thank you! 🙏
      Yes, I agree, it is amazing and very refreshing how hi-tech and the supernatural are both accepted as completely normal facets of life. It’s a very relaxed attitude that “us Westerners” might to well to remember as well, I think.

    1. Thailand sounds like a fascinating place. It was good of Morgan to share it with us. 🙂

      1. Thank you for making it possible for me to ramble on a bit about this aspect of life in the Big Mango, Debbie. It’s an absolute honour to be here, I greatly appreciate it 🙏🙏

      2. No, you didn’t ramble, it was fascinating. It was my pleasure, Morgan, and it’s been lovely to meet you! I look forward to reading your story. 🙂

    2. And I’d never have thought about this without you, Rayne. Many thanks for inspiring me! 🙏

  2. How fascinating, thank you for sharing both the customs of Thailand and your own ghost story! I’ve never been to Thailand (or anywhere near, for that matter), so I’ve heard of the local beliefs only a few times and in passing. Are the traditions you mentioned still common? I love the one about the placement of urns, it sounds almost poetic to me. The one about being displayed in a temple – not so much. But that’s the beauty of different cultures, I think, which makes it all the more interesting to learn.

    1. Yes, I think the placement of urns and the bodhi tree is lovely! It’s good to hear about the traditions of other countries. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

    2. Hello Lana!
      Thank you for reading and your kind comment! To your question: absolutely, these customs are very much alive and common place. I have lost count of the number of funerals I’ve been to over the years and depending on the status of the deceased, there are slight variations. But the traditions I mention here are very much alive today. My only problem with the placement of the urns: they are so close together, what if you don’t like your neighbour? – But I suppose that would be another story 😊

      1. Haha, you’re right, perhaps the only way out would be to haunt some of your family members to move you somewhere else! Who knows, maybe that’s why so many ghosts like to come back to the living.

  3. Do we really need to witness body decay to remind ourselves of death? I am sure there are healthier ways to do it. Anyway, I have always been a carpe diem person. So it is the monks’ problem.
    Thanks for this interesting post, by the way.

    1. Yes, that particular custom is rather creepy. I wouldn’t fancy it either! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

    2. Hello, Meryem7Turkmen!
      It does sound like a gruesome custom, doesn’t it! I do suspect, though, that it might have something to do with the life of the Buddha – born a prince and raised in the happiness of a palace, he realised there was more to life when he finally left the palace and encountered an old person, a sick one, and a corpse for the first time in his life.

      A family member of one person who offered their body to be displayed (the corpses are prepared, so they look similar to mummies), explained that the person receives great religious merit for their sacrifice, because until they are cremeated and the funeral rites complete, they cannot be reborn. In this case, the person concerned was an elderly man who said not to cremate him until his wife passed away – that way they could be reborn together and meet again in their next lifetime. And while he was waiting, he would serve as a memento mori to the monks and do some good even in death.

      Like you, I was shocked at the thought at first, but I find this story quite touching!

      1. Thanks for the explanation, Morgan. In terms of the story, that custom makes sense and I think sounds very sweet!

      2. Sacrifice really makes everything more meaningful, more worthy.

  4. Wow, nice interview! It’s interesting to know more about Thailand’s traditions and rituals when it comes to burials. Thank you for sharing, I’ve learned a lot by reading this post! I wanted to visit Thailand in the near future, and see it firsthand!

    1. Thanks, Jayvel, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope you get to visit Thailand one day soon! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

    2. Thank you, Jayvel 🙏

      There’s a lot to see and discover – let’s hope travel will be easier again soon!

  5. I’m interested to know more about your short story in the anthology, what was the inspiration behind it? How do you incorporate Thai culture on your stories?

  6. Hello again, Jayvel –

    Great questions, thank you 🙏!

    The inspiration – other than Rayne’s invitation that got the wheels turning in the first place – is twofold. As I mentioned in another comment, I have been to a lot funerals over the years, so I’m quite familiar with the ceremonies. What has always struck me is the social aspect – especially those food boxes! So as there wasn’t really much if a spooky cemetery to describe, I decided to focus on the ritualy pre burial. But what I lacked was a plot!

    Funnily enough, I came across a newspaper article as I was researching something completely different. This article was about the sighting of a krasue in a field not too far from where I live, and the mayhem that ensued – the poor farmer who owns the field kept telling everyone it was nonsense, there was no krasue! But people kept coming and trampling his crops looking for it.

    So I decided to make a krasue the “heroine” of my story, but how could I bring her to a cemetery?!

    The solution, of course, was the link between the funerary rituals and the krasue: food! A krasue is always looking for (rotten) food, there’s plenty of food during the rituals… so what if “my” krasue were to frequent a temple to take care of her needs?

    And this being a story for cat-mum Rayne, there just had to be a role for a hero cat as well 😆

    And this basically answers your last question too: I take what I know and encounter, and I try to “play” with it, asking the eternal “what if”, and seeing how I can twist it, whilst still making sure I treat the culture with the respect it deserves.

    Uff, that was a long answer – I hope it wasn’t TOO long 😆

  7. It is quite informative to read about the Thai Burial Custom. The varied forms of the burial rites that exist holds attention.

    1. Some of these customs are both lovely and creepy, but still quite fascinating. Thanks for stopping by, Marvellous. 🙂

  8. It seems that the Thai funeral rituals are vastly different from what we have here in Turkey, but considering the amount of people choosing the soothsayers over actual doctors, I guess ignorance really is universal^^

    1. Hi Talha,

      thanks for reading and for your comment! I agree, while different cultures develop different rites and traditions, there are others that seem universal.
      Personally, though, I would not necessarily describe the habit of consulting a soothsayer as ignorance. Thai friends, including renowned academics who anything but ignorant, have taken me to various soothsayers over the years, it’s a sign of trust and friendship to share soothsayers with a foreigner so was quite happy to tag along and see what this is all about. What I found fascinating was that more often than not the questions asked revolved around everyday things such as career choices, choice between which new apartment to move to, how to deal with a family crisis etc. These soothsayers, if you strip away the trappings, thus function very much like a life coach. Especially if they are monks, I’d rather describe them as spiritual advisors, and as someone who was raised Catholic, sitting down with a trusted priest and talking things over, certainly is a familiar concept.
      Now, whether these soothsayers can actually see the future or are just really good at reading their “clients” is on a different page, but I do see the use of having someone you consider wise at hand for advice and just that extra piece of confirmation. It’s much like “yes, I’ll go to the doctor, but I’ll have the back-up of my soothsayer just to make sure”.
      One funny note: I asked a couple of my friends and students “but what if you get an answer you don’t like?” To a person they all said, with a bright smile: “Oh, then I’ll just go to another one until I find one I like.” So… like many things I have observed in Thai culture, most people are quite pragmatic and no prediction is set in stone 😀
      On a more serious note: I am based in Bangkok, so naturally it’s the attitude of the Bangkokians I am describing here. The soothsayers I met, I should also add, are definitely not to be confused with witchdoctors, which I understand do exist in Thailand as well. I haven’t come across one, yet, however, so I’ll leave that area well alone.
      I absolutely agree with you, though: definitely go talk to a doctor when you have health issues!

    2. It is really hard to change the customs espacially when they have religious backgrounds. I agree with the ignorence part when these traditions contradict science, but I think the innocent ones are there to encolor our lifes.

  9. It’s really interesting how the department head reacted like an everyday thing to a ghost incident. I probably couldn’t get it together for like a week or something. The difference in our cultures is bigger than I thought, very interesting…

    1. Yes, I liked that and can only dream that those of us in the west were to take a similar approach. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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