The Lost Wizards of Thailand (คุณฤาษี คุณเป็นใคร)
Ruesi (also known as Lersi, Pra Rasi or Rishi in India) is a type of jungle preacher or itinerant healer from Southeast Asia. The Ruesi have been wandering through the Southeast Asian wilderness for hundreds of years and still work their magic for those in need of their help.
Originally the term Ruesi (derived from the Indian „ṛṣi“, or “rishi”, which means “seer” but also “hermit”) was used to describe a fortune teller, shaman or medicine man who lives secluded in the wilderness and spends his time in deep meditation or in the production of medicine. The culture of the Ruesi, like that of Pahuyuth, goes back to a time before the spread of Theravada Buddhism.
According to tradition, many Pahuyuth Free-Warriors and Free-Warrior veterans also retreated to the jungle as Ruesi. There they were protected from political, social and religious persecution and made a living as itinerant healers, masseurs or spiritual healers. Such a Ruesi also plays an important role in the “Story of Gauw”. It is used as part of the Pahuyuth martial arts training to teach the teaching methodology.
It is said, that the Ruesi, among other things, had the ability to leave their bodies, to predict the future, to create magical tattoos (Sak Yant) and amulets, and to be able to talk to animals. However, these abilities are less to be attributed to medicine than to the fields of knowledge of Saiyasart or Yaan Meditation.
Due to their eremitary and modest lifestyle and modern social developments, the Ruesi are now almost forgotten. At present, the number of still active Ruesi in Thailand is estimated at around fifteen to one hundred.
The typical image that most Thais associate with the Ruesi comes mainly from historical dramas and TV shows. There they are usually portrayed as menacing forest wizards with uncanny powers. The Ruesi, depicted in old statues and paintings on the other hand, were once visited to heal the sick, protect people from evil, and predict the future. Over time, however, the Ruesi and their knowledge gradually disappeared from mainstream spiritualism.
Nowardays, however, these “wizards of the forest” are experiencing a kind of renaissance. After living in the shadows of the jungle for centuries and much like the contemporary Pahuyuth Free-Warriors, some Ruesis are now beginning to adapt their practices to the present day and make their knowledge available to the public via the Internet.
In this way, more and more non-Thais are now learning about the existence of these unique forest sages, which means, that there is a slight chance that the traditional teachings and the culture of the Ruesi can be preserved for future generations.
A particularly noteworthy result of these developments is the documentary film The Lost Wizards of Thailand by Francis Wilmer, Harry Virtanen and Chonlada Lynn Bennett, which offers a unique insight into the life and mindset of today’s Ruesi.