This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
The Nine Emperor Gods is a nine-day Taoist event, celebrated every year across Southeast Asia during the ninth months of the lunar calendar. In Phuket, Thailand, it's honoured as Tesagan Gin Je or the Vegetarian Festival.
According to the festival's legend, a Chinese group occupying these parts once fell prey to a deadly epidemic. But upon adopting a vegetarian diet and praying to the nine gods, the group were cured. In commemoration, people today adopt a vegetarian diet and adhere to the festival's 10 principles. These include abstaining from sex, alcohol, and dressing only in white clothing.
And then there is the impaling. Photographer Giselle Nastassia traveled to Phuket last September to experience the festival. Her images capture these masong—those who pierce their cheeks, tongues, and bodies. By inviting the spirits of the nine gods to possess their bodies, it's believed the gruesome body modification rituals draw little blood and leave few scars.
The common belief is the impaling helps the individual obtain pure peace of mind and good health. Locals also told Giselle that inflicting pain on oneself takes away the sins of the community and transfers them to the individual. An altruistic act, if you will.
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