Hidden among the paddy fields of a remote Thai province lies the home of a wizard.
In a bungalow on the outskirts of a small farming village in Uttaradit in Northern Thailand lives Ketmunee, one of the country’s few remaining ruesi.
The translation of ruesi falls somewhere between “forest sage”, “monk” and “wizard”. A spiritual descendant of the rishi of India – who are known for writing the Vedas, the first scriptures that formed the foundation of Hinduism, and living lives dedicated to searching for enlightenment – Thai ruesi have practices tied to Hinduism and animism, though they are considered lay members of the Buddhist community.
Portrayed in ancient statues and paintings, ruesi were once sought out to heal the sick, protect people against evil, and foretell the future. But after Theravada Buddhism swept the country at the turn of the last millennium, their influence waned, and they gradually faded from mainstream spiritualism.
Today, rumours of black magic, curses and even murder haunt ruesi practices. Most Thais have never seen one in the flesh, only on television, where they are typically portrayed in period dramas as menacing forest sorcerers with sinister powers. But Ketmunee chuckles when asked about these characterisations.
“I don’t watch television, but I am nothing like how they portray us,” he says. “I just like to be alone – to focus on my meditation, to bless the world around me.”
Traditionally, ruesi live an austere life in imitation of the Lord Buddha, so as to gain a deeper understanding of the universe. The priorities of each individual differ: Some act as healers while others do fortune-telling, perform blessings, or sell love potions. Ketmunee chose to spend the past five years meditating in various caves, and only just returned to the modern world, where he splits his time between his house and the nearby forest.
Despite the tattoos, dreadlocks and tiger skins, Ketmunee cuts a serene figure in the wild. Strolling through the forest, he gestures with his staff to various plants, fruits, roots and mushrooms, pointing out which are poisonous and which can be eaten or boiled into tea.
mysterious forest recluses