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Spirit of mythical princess looms over Thai cave crisis

Relative of 12 young soccer team and their coach pray for found believed to be missing in a large cave, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand.Rain is continuing to fall and water levels keep rising inside a cave in northern Thailand, frustrating the search for 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been missing for nearly four days.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — Along a muddy mountain path not far from the entrance to a flooded cave where 12 young members of a Thai soccer team have been missing for four days is a shrine to a mythical princess whose spirit is said to inhabit the caverns below.

A steady stream of visitors come to kneel down, light candles and incense and pray in front of a statue of a young woman wearing a pink traditional outfit, surrounded by flowers and other offerings.

For days, the wish has been a simple one: Please let our boys come home.

The youngsters aged 11-16 have been missing since their 25-year-old coach took them to the sprawling cave on Saturday after a practice match. Rescuers led by elite navy divers have been frustrated by incessant rain and flooding that has slowed their search of the kilometers-long (miles-long) underground complex.

The statute is of Jao Mae Nang Non — which roughly translates as the reclining goddess — and her name is shared with the cave, Tham Luang Nang Non, as well as the surrounding mountain, Doi Nang Non.

Her legend, and in turn how her spirit came to linger in the cave in Chiang Rai province’s far northern Mae Sai district near Myanmar, is similar to dozens of other tales across a country whose belief system and folklore are heavily influenced by Brahmin, Buddhist and animist traditions.

Rain is continuing to fall and water levels keep rising inside a cave in northern Thailand, frustrating the search for 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been missing for nearly four days. (June 27)

It also speaks to the spiritual and mythical significance that caves hold in the Southeast Asian nation, where the ordeal of the young soccer players has spawned an outpouring of media coverage of ghost stories and supernatural explanations for the incident.

The legend goes that in ancient times a beautiful princess fell in love with a stable boy and became pregnant. Knowing their love was forbidden, they fled and eventually settled in the cave to rest. When the stable boy went out in search of food, he was caught by the princess’ father’s army and killed.

Distraught, the princess stabbed herself and bled to death in the cave.

The legend says it is her blood that became the water that flows through the cave, while her body is the surrounding mountains, said to look like a sleeping woman.

Runchanok Nganjit, a student and native of Mae Sai, said she has heard the story of the princess since she was a child and that local residents believe her spirit now guards the cave.

“We all believe that all places have guardian spirits, places like mountains, caves and houses,” she said. “We may not see them, but they can see us so we need to respect them when we go into their places.”

She said she believes the princess’ spirit is playing a role in the disappearance of the boys but she isn’t sure how.

Caves throughout Thailand have shrines, many of them Buddhist, and often bear stories about the Buddha’s travels in the region and how he pacified fearsome giants or spirits, said Andrew Alan Johnson, an anthropology professor at Princeton University and author of “Ghosts of the New City,” about development and tradition in northern Thailand.

In the myths of the northern region, there is a link between danger and caves and the idea that these dangerous female spirits, or Jao Mae, can also help humans who can appeal to them, he said.

“The Jao Mae of caves seem to suggest something constant about caves in the human imagination,” he said. “Here are spirits who stand at the bridge between life and death — indeed, if we think of women as those figures that are able to bring life into the world, it’s unsurprising that these spirits are for the most part female — dwelling in these liminal spaces. They are places of danger, but also of possibility.”

Edoardo Siani, a cultural anthropologist at Kyoto University who specializes in Buddhism and power in contemporary Thai society, said caves in Thailand are thought to hold a special kind of power that those who enter can accumulate.

He said this is why ascetic religious practitioners like monks and hermits sometimes go to meditate in caves. It’s also the genesis for the shrines and offerings.

“The reason why you find offerings and even shrines built inside caves throughout Thailand is that people try to appease the spirits or the gods that may inhabit the caves, and who have already domesticated that power,” he said.

As for the tale of the reclining goddess, “because she has killed herself in it, she has indeed become part of that otherworld, and, very much like the cave itself, she has become simultaneously attractive and scary,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, as the rain poured around them, Naruemon Saowake and her friends made their way to the Jao Mae Nang Non shrine with an offering that included soda, boiled eggs, fruit and desserts.

“I don’t know what upset her. But we will make an offering to please her,” she said. “I hope she will be kind and let the boys come home.”

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  • GOOD NEWS!

    Thomson Reuters, July 3, 2018, “Found alive on 10th day, Thai boys’ cave ordeal not over as rain threatens: Boys may have to learn to use diving gear to escape”.

    Muktita Suhartono and Richard C. Paddock, “‘Now the real work starts’: Soccer team found after 10 days in Thai cave, but getting them out poses huge challenge: Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn has cautioned that the 13 are not out of danger yet”, The New York Times, July 2, 2018.

  • Oh no …

    “Man working to rescue Thai boys trapped in cave dead from lack of oxygen, authorities say”.
    – Associated Press, July 6, 2018.

    “Thai rescuers fight water and oxygen levels in cave as diver dies: 12 boys and 1 adult still trapped in partially flooded cave”.
    – Associated Press, July 5, 2018.

  • I know you mean well, but if those are my kids in there and our family comprises of fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation, and you discourage me and others from being “hopeful if none of [the other] parents turn to Jesus for help”?

    I’d reevangelize you and your loved ones in a heartbeat. And may none of you ever end up in such caves one day with God & Jesus; who knows.

    Now get on your knees with me on mine and intercede for those Thais!

  • I did not say all parents have to pray to Jesus. I am saying if some parents pray to Jesus then Jesus will be in their midst.

    Abraham prayed to the LORD for Sodom:
    “And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sake.” (Genesis 28)

    The LORD Jesus answered back seven times, He will spare them if there are a few who are willing. Amen. That is not a LOT to ask for.

  • CAVE-TRAPPED BOYS’ LETTERS TO WAITING PARENTS OUTSIDE: “I’m doing fine, but the air is a little cold but don’t worry. Although, don’t forget to set up my birthday party. … Mom and dad, please don’t worry, I am fine. … Get ready to take me out for fried chicken. With love.”***

    HERRNHUT TO WAITING PARENTS OUTSIDE: “Pray to Jesus then Jesus will be in their midst. … If [He does] find [any] righteous within the c[ave], then … He will spare them all [but, mind, that’s if and only] if there are a few who are [in] metanoia and pray for [His] miracle. In Jesus name.”

    HPO TO HERRNHUT: Got it. So if those 12 young boys and their soccer coach come out alive, your godly judgment with the mind of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation, is: “Jesus will [have] be[en] in their midst [but only because] a few [parents will have been in] metanoia and pray[ing] for [His] miracle [and] in Jesus name [to boot. Otherwise, no. No can do].” Remind me never to go evangelizing with you in Thailand one day.

    ***Source: The Associated Press, July 7, 2018, “Coach of Thai soccer team stuck in cave apologizes in letter to parents filled with boys’ messages of love: Authorities waiting for 2 groups of volunteer divers to arrive later Saturday, Sunday to start removal process”.

  • The soccer coach who led his young team into a Thai cave was once a Buddhist monk — and his expertise in meditation is likely being put to good use, his aunt says.

    May be their Buddha or goddess can wake up in time if not even one parent cry to Jesus.

  • Good news!

    – “Four boys rescued from Thai cave but rest must wait as air tanks are replenished”, The Telegraph, July 8, 2018.

    – “Four Thai soccer players rescued from cave with next phase of operation set for Monday”, Washington Post, July 8, 2018.

  • More tearfully good news!

    – “Last 5 trapped in Thai cave to be brought out at the same time”, Reuters, July 10, 2018.

    – “Eleventh person rescued from Thai cave on third day of operation”, Reuters, July 10, 2018.

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