A flood has trapped a youth soccer team in a cave in Thailand, prompting parents to plead mercy from the spirit of a mythical princess.
The team’s 12 members, all aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old-coach became trapped in the cave Saturday after practice and have remained their since. Local legend holds that the ancient spirit of a princess who killed herself inside the cave now holds sway over the area and the surrounding mountains, leading parents and other community members to leave offerings and pray to the princess’ shrine in hopes that the spirit will release their boys safely. (RELATED: Marines Are Guzzling Cobra Blood In Thailand Because Apparently That’s How They Train For War)
“I don’t know what upset her. But we will make an offering to please her,” Naruemon Saowake, a local, told The Associated Press. “I hope she will be kind and let the boys come home.”
Saowake and her friends made their way to the statue of a woman in pink named Jao Mae Nang Non, roughly translated as “The Reclining Goddess,” to present an offering of sweets, fruits, soda, and boiled eggs. Other visitors have come to the shrine over the past four days to burn incense, light candles, pray, and leave offerings of their own.
Thai government officials warn that the boys’ time is running out, as they have been trapped in the cave for over 72 hours. Constant rain and flooding have frustrated attempts at underwater rescue and helicopter searches for other entrances. A force of 1,000 soldiers, navy, government officials, and volunteers are working at the site. The U.S. government also sent experts to aid in the rescue attempt.
The cave in which the team is trapped, Tham Luang Nang Non, and the mountain, Doi Nang Non, share the goddess’ name as well. Thai belief holds that all places have guardian spirits, and that these spirits stand in the liminal space between life and death, presenting both potential threat and potential reward, and must therefore be respected.
“We all believe that all places have guardian spirits, places like mountains, caves and houses,” Runchanok Nganjit, a local of Mae Sai district where the cave is located, told the AP. “We may not see them, but they can see us so we need to respect them when we go into their places.”
The legend pertaining to Jao Mae says that a princess fell in love with a stable boy. She then became pregnant and the two decided to run away and hide in a cave. When the stable boy left the cave to find food, the princess’ father’s army found him and killed him. Overcome with grief, the princess stabbed herself to death inside the cave. The story says that her blood became the water that washes in and out of the cave and that her body became the surrounding mountain.
Locals believe the spirit of the princess now guards the cave and that the team is trapped within because the spirit has somehow been angered. The fact that they are trapped in a cave is also central to the local’s belief concerning the emergency. Caves, according to Thai beliefs, are not only sites guarded by spirits, as is believed of all places in Thailand, but are also sites that emanate raw power, which those brave enough to enter the caves may cultivate. When a spirit takes up residence in the cave, it tames and controls that power.
Edoardo Siani, a cultural anthropologist at Kyoto University, said Thai belief in the power of caves is why so many shrines are found in or near them.
“The reason why you find offerings and even shrines built inside caves throughout Thailand is that people try to appease the spirits or the gods that may inhabit the caves, and who have already domesticated that power,” Siani told the AP.
Belief in that power is also the reason that monks and other ascetic practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, or animistic religions sometimes enter caves to meditate or pray for extended periods of time. It’s also the reason why Thai people believe the princess became the guardian spirit of the cave.
“Because she has killed herself in it, she has indeed become part of that otherworld, and, very much like the cave itself, she has become simultaneously attractive and scary,” Siani said.
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