A reluctant healer answers a higher calling to help the sick. MAJORIE CHIEW is fascinated with his soldiers – pet spirits kept in little bottles.
FORMER transport operator Lee Chai Yen was chosen to be a medium when he was in his 20s. His first trance experience shook him up so much that he recoiled from it.
“It was not my choice career. In fact, I refused to be a medium initially,” recalls Lee, 52, now a full-time medium and temple caretaker.
Sporting a beard, Lee looks more like a calligraphy master than a medium. He ushers me into his study for the interview. Here, he sees clients who come for consultations on matters concerning fate and fengshui when he is not in a trance.
“My whole body ached for a week after I had gone into a trance for the first time. I did not even know what happened. My friends told me about it when I regained consciousness,” Lee recounts.
In 1971, Lee had accompanied a group of four friends to a temple in Kapar, Klang. They had wanted to be mediums but were unsuccessful.
“We arrived at this small temple run by an elderly couple. For about an hour, my friends attempted to go into a trance but failed. They then persuaded me to give it a try,” recalls Lee.
The temple caretaker, an old man, told me: “No harm in giving it a try. Maybe your destiny lies with God.”
Upon hearing those words, Lee burnt some joss-sticks and placed them in the urn. He sat on a chair facing the altar and closed his eyes.
“After about 20 minutes, I saw a bright light approaching me. I was scared. I felt as if I was going to leave this world. When the light reached me, it entered my body. That was when I went into a trance. When it was over three hours later, I did not know what happened. I was exhausted and suffered aches all over my body.”
During his second trance experience, he said Tai Sing Ya (Monkey God) possessed him. “My friends asked for numbers from the deity who predicted that only two persons would win. The prediction came true,” says Lee.
One night, Kuan Tai (the God of War) appeared to Lee in a dream and told him that he needed him to save lives. Lee told the deity he was not interested in being a medium and would like to concentrate on his career. The deity reminded him that even if he refused to answer his calling, he would eventually tread the path.
After Lee turned his back on Kuan Tai, he met with numerous obstacles along the way. After three years, a frustrated Lee had another dream in which Kuan Tai appeared to him. “The deity told me it was not too late to change my mind, and that if I was committed to changing lives, my livelihood would not be affected.”
In 1977, Lee became a part-time medium and treated the sick who came to see him. These days, prior to going into a trance, he will drink holy water (containing ashes of a burnt paper talisman) and pray to the deities on the altar to invite them to take over his body. Any one of the main deities – Lao Tze, the Monkey God, Kuan Tai and Chai Koong (the Beggar Monk) – can enter his body and Lee has no say over who will possess his body.
Lee can enter into semi-trance or deep trance. “In a semi-trance, I can hear requests made but I have no control over myself,” he explains, adding that in deep trance, he is unaware of the goings-on. People seek Lee for various reasons: to cure illnesses, prosper in their businesses, ward off evil or for exorcism.
Lee was candid about the relationship between mediums and pet spirits.
“Some black magic practitioners keep the Five Devils to invoke powerful pet spirits to battle with evil spirits. The Five Devils are kept in five miniature wood coffins and each one needs to be given a name. These pet spirits are usually kept in a hidden place,” says Lee.
A popular pet spirit from Thailand is the Kumanthong, said to be the legendary son of a general. The spirit is represented by a woodcarving of a figure immersed in fragrant oil in a bottle.
Some guest relations officers also keep pet spirits to boost their business. Some of these pet spirits are like their children and they have to buy toys or offer milk to appease them, says Lee.
Other than deities, Lee also keeps pet spirits to do his bidding. Three-quarters into the interview, I noticed pet spirits (each bottle has a woodcarving of a figure submerged in oil) on an altar next to the entrance of the study. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked Lee if those were his pet spirits.
He nods and tells me: “I rely on the deities to go into a trance but I also need the services of pet spirits to fight evil, especially in cases involving charms and exorcism.”
Lee claims that he was called in to exorcise the spirit of an old man dwelling in a certain house. Three other mediums had failed to drive out the stubborn spirit. The occupants of the house were constantly falling sick, and Lee says he had to engage in a fierce battle before he could rid the house of the vengeful spirit.
He also claims that there was an occasion when he was flown to Ireland to exorcise some ghosts in an old castle. He was hired for the job after other ghostbusters had failed. He says that he succeeded in single-handedly driving out the spirits.
So where are his pet spirits? I asked. Are they in the room?
“They can be anywhere; they can even be here if I summon them,” he tells me. I did not feel my hair standing on end, so I guess they must be resting in the bottles or out to do Lee’s bidding.