The purpose of this Laotian ceremony is to to call escaped spirits back to the body, an animist tradition that is very important for Lao people before major events such as weddings, births, travel or when welcoming friends, to bring good luck.
A baci ceremony is an old rite dating back to when the people of Laos practiced mainly animist traditions. It even predates Buddhism’s influence. As a result, the baci is not associated with a specific religion. The baci, or su kwan in Thai, means a “calling of the soul.” In this ancient belief, every person was a union of 32 different organs or spirits. When these spirits were out of balance or when some of them had wandered away from the body and gotten lost, it could result in illness. The practice of the baci ceremony is a calling of the spirits to return to the person’s body so that they can be healthy and happy. Once all of the spirits have returned, strings are tied around the wrist to hold the spirits in place and prevent them from wandering away again. A baci ceremony brings good luck to the person, or people, being honored and it has now become a national custom in Laos.
A baci ceremony can be practiced for many different reasons and at almost any time of year. It is common to hold a baci ceremony for events you want to celebrate such as a wedding or birth of a child. It may also be held as a house warming or to start a new business. When guests arrive you may want to welcome them with a baci ceremony as their spirits may have been lost during the journey. The Laos New Year is another popular time to hold a baci ceremony.
During troubled times, a baci ceremony may be given to help improve a outcome. If someone has been sick, it is believed that their spirits may be out of balance or that some have strayed. This is true not only for physical ailments but also for mental health struggles. If a mother has had an especially hard child birth, a baci can help reunite all of her spirits that may have left her during labor. Families often hold a baci after there has been a death. In this case, it is held to honor the spirits as well as help the family become unified again.