Nats? Nats, not gnats. Gnats will be in Georgia soon enough. What are these “Nats” and what planet do they come from?
Nats are nature spirits that pre-date Buddhism in Burma, but are now worshipped along with Buddhist traditions or at least acknowledged and placated by people who also practice Buddhism. They are spirits of mountains, of lakes and trees, of birds, but also the spirits of people who died violent or premature deaths, otherwise known as “green ghosts” in Burma– spirits who suffered traumatic deaths and therefore cannot leave this plane. There are countless nats, but they were consolidated by an 11th century Burmese king into a more manageable pantheon of 37. Many families or communities may honor and tend to additional nats, however. Many of these are local nats they feel must not be ignored.
Nats are very powerful, and easily disturbed. They appreciate receiving offerings. In fact, if you are not attentive to them, they may cause mischief, or worse. When a large number of traffic accidents take place on a certain stretch of road, a shrine may be built to the Nat thought to be causing the problem, in hopes that the accidents will stop.
Nats can also be helpful to those who honor them. Shrines to Nats are commonly built in homes, at crossroads, and at central worship sites. People offer them gifts, food and drink to keep them happy and helpful.
If you’d like to set up your own Nat shrine, or just enjoy a beautifully carved figure and the interesting cultural and religious traditions they represent, have we got a Nat for you! At least, we will soon. After many years of not being able to find good-quality Nat figures in Thailand, where they find their way from Burma or Myanmar, several of our vendors had wonderful examples, so we gathered quite a few. We are very excited about the quality and affordability of these Nat figures and look forward to sharing them with you.
When they arrive and are unpacked, we will post the stories of these particular Nats ( as we can determine) and their photos.
In the meantime, to put you in a “natty” mood, you may want to read Amy Tan’s novel Saving Fish From Drowning or the amazing memoir by Pascal Khoo Thwe called From The Land of Green Ghosts (A Mingei Book Club selection from last year. Both are available at Mingei and both are fascinating views into Burmese culture, and Nats.