Magical spells are a booming business in Myanmar

MIN KYAW THEIN is just 26, but he has a commanding presence. In his home in a suburb of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, he sits cross-legged on the floor in front of a shrine festooned with tea lights, flowers and magical diagrams. His family and students gather round and listen intently as he explains how he acquired his powers, among them the ability to cure illnesses, boost profits and repel knife-wielding assailants (with his mind he turns the knife back on them).

Mr Min Kyaw Thein is one of a growing number of devout Burmese Buddhists striving to master occult techniques. Interest in magic has soared in Myanmar over the past few years, says Thomas Patton, author of “The Buddha’s Wizards”. For centuries many Buddhists have believed that extreme piety can confer special powers. Supernatural hermits, after all, help the Buddha himself in the scriptures. In Myanmar weizza, or wizards, are also thought to have protected the faith during periods of calamity, such as during British colonial rule. Today it is common to see shrines to the most powerful weizza in pagodas, where they are venerated for their spiritual purity and their devotion to those in need.

But until recently those purporting to be latter-day weizza had been banished to the margins of...

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