This article examines the relationship between an important local spirit cult and the construction of Isan political identity in Chaiyaphum province, northeast Thailand. Isan subjectivity has largely been studied through social or political-economic lenses. This study looks, however, at the spiritual experiences and ritual performances that crucially manufacture a local version of personhood. The spectacular annual performance of social memory and historical commemoration of Phaya Lae is constitutive of political identity for the people of Chaiyaphum province. I argue that the rituals surrounding the Phaya Lae cult enable the people of Chaiyaphum to perceive their subjectivity as Thais via the integration of the deity into the historical imagination of the state. I argue further that such local performances of spirit cults sustain Thailand as a ‘ritual state’ in which power and prestige are maintained by ritual enactments both in everyday life and ceremonial events. Through mediumship, the periphery draws charisma from the central Thai state and in turn ritually sustains the potency of the centre.
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