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Halloween Round Up: Phi Galore!


Innsmouth Free Press just announced the pre-sale for Bryan Thao Worra’s new book of poetry, DEMONSTRA, which will begin shipping in December. Until November 16th, you can get it for $8.50 instead of the usual $10 and shipping. This is for the standard edition, not the deluxe edition which was only available to the kickstarter backers.  That version is also anticipated to begin shipping in December.

In our first year at Little Laos on the Prairie, one of our first posts was about the phi known as Ghong-Goy. This year, Bryan’s going to share some of his notes from researching phi to give you some chills before Halloween kicks into full swing. Many of these ghastly spirits appear in his new book!

Phi Dip ຜີດິບ: All month long, we’ve been treated to the Phi Dip thanks to Saymoukda Vongsay’s play, Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals. In Laos, Phi Dip is the general catch-all term for the undead who have physical bodies, such as zombies and vampires, as opposed to incorporeal entities such as banshees and poltergeists.  It is very rare to encounter them, because so many Lao are traditionally cremated. It’s uncertain whether or not they would know Muay Lao in the event of a Phi Dipocalypse. Alternate terms might include Phi Zom or Zomphi. They’re rare enough in the traditional literature and folk tales that there’s no certain way to put one down.

Zomphi-1 BW

Phi Kasu ຜີກະສື: One of the most terrifying spirits of Laos and Southeast Asia, Phi Kasu, is known as Phi Krasue, in Thailand, and Arb  in Cambodia.  This spirit has a similarity with a ghost from Malaysia called the Penanggalan or the Puntianak. The general legend is that at night, the woman’s head detaches with the entrails intact and floats off in search of a victim. Sometimes she wears a shawl or talks to humans from behind a wall so they won’t notice her condition.

Phi Kowpoon ຜີເຂົ້າປຸ້ນ: In one legend from Laos, there’s a humming little ghost girl who sells noodles next to a banyan tree.  The most widespread version of her story suggests that she was murdered by another noodle seller. While she is not known to be evil, travelers are advised to compliment her on her soup even if it’s cold and to leave a good tip.

Phi Phed ຜີເຜດ: Hungry ghosts who frequently return from the underworld during Boun Khao Padab Din and possibly other occasions looking for meals offered by families and their former communities. They absorb the vapors of the offerings. They fear light and can only return to the earth during a new moon. The Phi Phed are considered dead but not yet reborn. Many suffer torments in hell related to misdeeds in their life. Commonly, “birds” tear flesh from their bodies while the Phi Phed vomit constantly and are forced to consume feces and other vile substances. They are given forms in the underworld such as huge, swollen but empty bellies and needle-thin necks, with mouths unable to fit even a single grain of rice. Some whose karmic crimes are particularly terrible are reformed as a hybrid cross between humans and animals, as a symbol of their loss of humanity. In other cultures, the Phi Phed may be known as a preta, peta, pyetta, gaki or yidak. Generally, these phi are pitied more than feared.

Other phi documented by Lao folktales include Phi Ban ຜີບ້ານ, who are the village spirits and typically oversee the whole territory. Phi Fa  ຜີຟ້າ and Phi Thaen ຜີແຖນ are spirits of the celestial realms and the sky. Phi Tonmai ຜີຕົ້ນໄມ້ are tree spirits. General nature spirits are typically categorized as Phi Thammasat ຜີທັມະຊາດ. Phi Hai ຜີໄຮ່ and Phi Na ຜີນາ are spirits who empower and guard rice fields. Phi Taihong ຜີຕາຍໂຫງ are spirits of the violently killed and not to be trifled with. Phi Borisat ຜີບໍຣິສາດ are nameless evil spirits.

For some travelers, it may be helpful to note some of the hundreds of Thai phi that have been classified so far. The Phi Ngu ผีงู is a spirit that may appear as a snake, human or combination of the two. The Phi Phong ผีโพง is a male Northern Thai ghost connected to frogs. The Phi Dip Chin ผีดิบจีน is the Thai term for Jiangshi 殭屍 or hopping ghost, hopping vampire that is so prominent in Chinese communities. The Phi Poang Khang ผีโป่งค่าง has a form of black monkey who sucks the big toe of those sleeping in the jungle. In Laos it may likely be found in Bokeo province. The Phi Am ผีอำ squats on a victim’s chest at night.

Scholars note that many of the phi defy traditional classification. It’s also difficult to determine what you’re dealing with because some of the ghosts powers and motivations have been known to change.  Because many can change shapes and imitate or possess other entities, dealing with them can be a frustrating process without the assistance of specialists.

But what are some of your favorite phi you’ve heard of?


  1. Pingback: Hallaoween Style 2015! | Little Laos on the Prairie

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