The Ghost of Mae Nak
I recently watched a Thai ghost film called “The Ghost of Mae Nak” and decided to do some research on the legend behind the film, during which I found it interesting to note a slight similarity between this legend and “The Black Lady of Bradley Woods” despite the stories coming from different continents!
During the 19th century a young married couple lived along the banks of Phra Khanong canal in Bangkok. They were very much in love and both were admired by their neighbours and family, in the case of the husband, Mak, for his handsome looks, strength and upright character and his wife, Nak, for her beauty, charm and devotion to her husband.
Their happiness was disrupted when Mak was conscripted into the Thai army and sent to fight in the wars, leaving his heavily pregnant wife alone. Mak was seriously wounded, and although he recovered, he had no way of knowing that Nak and their child had in the meantime both died during a particularly difficult childbirth.
When Mak returned home he found his wife and young son waiting for him and continued to live happily for a while. Worried neighbours tried to inform Mak that Nak and the child were ghosts but he refused to listen. One day, however, when Nak was cooking she dropped a piece of fruit and stretched her arm to a great length to recover it (Thai ghosts are believed to have phenomenally elastic “bodies”). Mak, seeing this, realised the neighbours were telling the truth and decided to try to flee that night.
That night Mak fled into the city. When she saw he was gone, Nak set off in pursuit, unable to bear losing her husband. Mak fled into a temple, which Mae Nak couldn’t enter (it being holy ground).
Nak was grief stricken and blamed the neighbourhood folk for informing Mak that she was dead. She began haunting the area until her spirit was eventually caught and bound in an earthenware jar before being thrown into the Phra Khanong canal.
The neighbourhood was safe for a time, before an old man found the jar while fishing, accidentally freeing Mae Nak’s spirit. She again began terrorising her former neighbours until a monk once again trapped Nak’s ghost inside her forehead bone which was then bound up in a waistband. The monk explained to Mae Nak that she would again be united with Mak in the afterlife and promised to release her if she agreed to cease haunting the area. The waistband containing Mae Nak’s forehead bone is believed to be in the possession of the Thai royal family.
The legend of Mae Nak is still very popular in Thailand and there is a shrine dedicated to her at Wat Mahabut temple, where women come to pray and make offerings, asking Mae Nak’s help for an easy childbirth or to have a son, husband, boyfriend or brother avoid military service.
by P A McHugh