The latest issue of Bizarre magazine has a great article about therianthropy, the act of a human turning into an animal.
They talk about Thailand's "wai khru" festival, where hundreds of men show off their "yantra" tattoos. These tattoos have pictures and text describing an animal that is the spirit guide for than individual. Want more wisdom? Get a tattoo of a "ruusii", a local type of monkey. Want to be a better lover? Then you need an image of a lizard.
But this festival isn't just a tattoo show. Instead, after a brief ceremony, the participants start to inhabit the animal pictured on their skin. I'll let the magazine describe it:
Things get going early and, by 7 a.m., when the yantra-tattooed policemen, firemen, muay thai boxers and taxi drivers arrive, it's already scorching hot. Fierce-looking men start shaking, concentrating on the significance of their tattoo, along with the importance of the moment. Then, their eyes roll into the back of their head, and their chests begin to heave up and down as they suck large lungfuls of air. In on time, they're grunting and twitching, possessed by the spirit on their skin. Some brave men run razor blades over their flesh or push daggers along their backs without drawing blood, to demonstrate the power of their special ink.
Those with many tattos morph from one animal inked on their skin into another and wai khru is like Noah's Ark in a hurricane. Photographer Cedric Arnold, who has lived in Thailand for seven years, and took the pictures on these pages, saya that some of the men with tattoos of crocodiles or snakes are easy to avoid, as they're just squirming around on the ground. But his favorite is those in pig tatts. "They got their noses right into the dust and started snorting it up," he says. Cedric saw one man with a tiger tattoo - a design made popular 200 years ago by assissins who wanted fearless protection - begin to roar, claw up his hands and leap into the crowd. "It was terrifying," said Cedric. "Inexperienced spectators got mown down and two or three photographers who'd come to shoot the ceremony were crushed."
Muscled volunteers form a human barrier near the stage so that the monks don't get dragged into the frenzy, but their most crucial role is to bring the animals back down to earth. To release the yantra-tattooed men from their trace, the volunteers have to jump into the furor, rugby-tackle the leapers, squirmers, and wrigglers, and rub their ears. And straight after getting a good ear-rubbing, men who'd been frothing at the mouth and cutting themselves up in the moshpit stand up and calmly walk back to their seats. The temple abbot makes a short speech and his acolytes, using hosepipes decorated with bamboo stalks, power-bless the crowd by spraying everyone with holy water. By 11 a.m. the show's over and the energized but sore crowd heads home.