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The missing rice goddess

A lesson about respect and sincerity


Published: 21 Sep 2021

Time taken : ~10mins

Across Southeast Asia, rice is an essential resource, used as a staple food as well as goods for sale. As such, there are many spirits and gods associated with rice, found in countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. In Thailand, there are people who believe in Mae Phosop, sometimes also called Mae Khwan Khao, the rice goddess. She is believed to be the “soul” or “mother” of rice, and thus the common belief is that one cannot live for long without consuming rice. 

Read the following story inspired by the many tales of Mae Phosop from Thailand, then enjoy hands-on crafts with our activity sheets! 

A long time ago, there was a man in Northern Thailand who owned many rice fields in the village he lived in. He was a very prosperous man as his rice fields yielded a large amount of rice every year. 

He gave special thanks to the goddess of rice, Mae Phosop, for his prosperity. Every year, right at the beginning of harvest season, he would perform a special ritual for her. He would invite the spirit of Mae Phosop into the rice barns where he stored his harvest, and provide offerings for her as a way to invite her to bless the fields and provide a good yield of grain.  

Mae Phosop was very happy with this man’s kind offerings and continuously blessed him with bountiful harvests year after year. However, the man had a wife who grew jealous of how much attention and offerings he gave to the goddess. 

“How dare he treat this goddess better than she treats his own wife,” she fumed, as he watched the man enter the rice barn to perform the ritual once again. She waited until the man finished the ritual, before going into the barn herself. “Curse this goddess who’s taking his attention away from me!” 

Mae Phosop heard this curse from afar and was very hurt by it. She did not know what she did to deserve such a mean-spirited comment. Upset, she fled to a stream at the edge of a nearby forest, seeking out her friend, a freshwater fish. 

The fish saw the visible sadness in the goddess’ eyes. “What’s wrong?” it asked. 

Mae Phosop proceeded to tell the fish about the woman who cursed her, then proclaimed, “I want to be far away from humans! I do not want them near me if they are going to treat me like this.” 

The fish looked up at the goddess in sympathy. “I know a place where you can hide from the humans. It’s a place they will never be able to find!” 

Mae Phosop looked at the fish in joy, nodding her head vigorously. The fish proceeded to swim along the stream into the forest, a place so deep into the dense woods that no human could possibly find them. 

At first, the village did not notice the absence of Mae Phosop. It was only during the next harvest season where they noticed that their yield was poor, and the rice fields were not flourishing as before. A few years went by, and the village people became more frantic, trying all they could to bring back Mae Phosop by preparing bigger offerings and holding the rituals more frequently. They even sent a group of villagers into the deep forest to look for Mae Phosop, all to no avail.

Several years went by. By then, it was not only the single village that was suffering, but the whole country. After all, Mae Phosop was the mother of rice and harvest, so her absence was felt by everyone. People began to starve, filling their stomachs with whatever seafood and greens they could find, as they could not rear livestock without grains. They were unable to satisfy their hunger, and also became malnourished.

As the situation became more dire, the fish in the stream decided to seek out the goddess from her hiding place deep in the forest. “Mae, you have to return to the village now! The humans are suffering badly. The next Lord Buddha will soon come into the world too, and Buddha needs you in order to fulfil their duties!”

Having spent so much time away from the humans, Mae Phosop had almost forgotten about the woman’s curse. The goddess decided to return back to the village out of sympathy to the many who were suffering.

At the village, the humans wept upon seeing Mae Phosop emerge out of the forest, shedding tears of relief. Mae Phosop addressed the humans, saying, “I promise to stay and bring abundant harvests to all. In return, I ask that you treat me with respect. I do not need big offerings or long rituals, only that you be sincere when you ask for my blessings.”

The humans agreed readily. During the next harvest season, the rice crops were bountiful and the villagers in particular were extremely happy and thankful, holding rituals even after the season ended to thank the rice goddess, Mae Phosop.

Illustrations by: Li Chun

Enjoyed the story? Get hands-on with the story-related crafts using our activity sheets below!