Yesterday a sangha brother who has spent time in Burma told us about nats, which are something like Burmese elves. They are regarded as both protectors and tricksters, and they are recognizable by their stylized, pointed ears. I believe the handsome fellow in the photograph is a nat.
I understand that nats were worshiped in pre-Buddhist Burma. An 11th-century king who made Buddhism the official religion of his kingdom tried to ban nat worship, but this was so unpopular the king allowed nat observances to mix into Burmese Buddhism. Today people who want to ask a favor of a nat can make an offering to the appropriate nat (there are 37 of them) at a Buddhist temple.
Sometimes we talk about cultural beliefs and practices found attached to Asian Buddhism that are not likely to make the transition to the West. And at first I thought nat worship fit that category nicely. But then I read about the nat festivals.
There is a big nat festival in Taungbyon about this time every year. According to one account, festival goers enjoy several days of music, dancing, drinking, theater, all-night parties, probably some more drinking, and spirit possession. I don't know about the spirit possession, but perhaps we shouldn't dismiss nat worship too hastily.