Firsthand: S’porean man, 71, goes head-to-head with 'spirits' 7 days a week

Emily Williams | March 08, 2024, 03:18 PM



Scrolling through Reddit one night, a post catches my eye.

It's an appeal for advice. A neighbour, writes Immediate_Peace, is having an exorcism.

"It's literally 11pm now and I can hear Islamic recitations [sic] like the ones in Siccin (Turkish horror movie)," he shares.

"F*** man it's so scary. Anyone else experienced this before?"

There are 295 replies to the post. Some commenters share their encounters with exorcisms and possessions in Singapore, while others discuss black magic.

I’m not a spiritual person myself but my interest is piqued. A few days later, I reach out to Immediate_Peace to ask if he'd managed to confirm whether it was an exorcism.

He did. He relays to me the details of the event; the thuds and screaming from the HDB flat, and an ustaz (Islamic religious teacher) shouting, repeatedly: "Bismillah rahman."

The very next day, he met his neighbours and spoke to them about the incident.

"The neighbour himself confirmed with me that it was indeed an emergency exorcism," Immediate_Peace tells me. (He declines to share the specifics for fear of revealing their identities.)

I've only ever encountered exorcisms in the cinema. This got me thinking: do exorcisms really happen in hyper-modern, ultra-pragmatic Singapore?

The answer, as it turns out, is yes.

The exorcist

To find out whether exorcisms occur, the natural first step was to find a practitioner of such deeds.

But when I meet the soon-to-be-retired Master Sanna for the first time, I'm admittedly a little sceptical.

Sanna Holistic House is nestled below an HDB block in Ang Mo Kio. Its glass entrance is flanked by two red lanterns with shimmering gold curtains; but the Master himself is dressed in a perfectly ordinary white button-up and tailored pants, looking for all the world more like an accountant than a practitioner of the Mystical Arts.

Master Sanna holding a spiritual healing lamp. The art of spiritual healing is "almost extinct". Image by Ilyda Chua.

Straight-backed and effervescent, it is nevertheless easy to forget what's really going on here: 71-year-old Master Sanna goes head-to-head with spirits.

At one point, he brings up one of the two times he fought a demon, ever-so-nonchalantly.

The client was a woman in her 70s who, every night for more than two years, felt like her neck was being squeezed.

"The doctor said no high blood pressure, no high cholesterol, everything okay. But every night, she experienced that," he says.

When her son started having bad dreams every night, the family approached Master Sanna for help.

He gave them three cleansing candles, which kept the spirit at bay for a month.

But then it returned — so he decided to take it on himself.

Master Sanna shows me a text message he received from the woman's daughter after he visited the house:

"Good morning master, just want to update you that last evening my mum suddenly felt very worried and said that she heard a voice telling her that I was in trouble so my brother burned one of the candles when the candle was burning, my mum, she say the flame is green colour and that all go back to normal. tonight burn again."

It never came back.

Dealing with the supernatural

The beginnings of Sanna Holistic House were less mystical.

In the 1970s, a long-haired Master Sanna could be found fronting stages in nightclubs across Southeast Asia playing Deep Purple tracks on his guitar.

One night after a gig in Penang, a Burmese monk questioned his long hair, likening it to a woman's. This comment, for some reason, kickstarted his path to enlightenment.

A young Master Sanna playing the guitar and singing on a stage Image supplied by Master Sanna.

After years of learning meditation from monks in Burma, Thailand, and Laos, the young devotee spent five years with a master on the border of Thailand and Burma who introduced him to the spiritual healing lamp — a method of spiritual removal which, he tells me, has existed for more than 1,000 years.

Nowadays, he typically uses beeswax candles handmade by his family instead of the lamp. "They're easier," he explains, citing the mess that comes with handling oil.

It's a tedious process, involving hand-pouring the beeswax, then scribing numbers or symbols on talisman paper.

But the resultant candles can deal with most supernatural entities: anything from bad juju to malicious spirits.

Still, I'm sceptical. I probe the father-son pair with several questions — how does it work? Do you need to be a certain religion for it to work? Have you ever felt scared? Have you ever doubted?

"I'm not [a] magician," Master Sanna says, matter-of-factly. Despite working in a field shrouded with non-believers, the business is no-nonsense and no-frills. If he is a doctor, the medicines he prescribes are candles.

And they're neither highly varied nor particularly expensive. The cheapest (and, according to him, the one that works for most) costs just S$35.

Master Sanna writing on a whiteboard. Master Sanna explaining the science behind his art. Image: Ilyda Chua.

He launches into a long, complicated explanation about how it works. I don't quite follow, but I do get one important detail: you don't need to believe in what he does for it to work.

As we talk, he shows me photos and videos sent by clients. In one, his beeswax candles start dripping with what appears to be blood; in others, they flicker in windowless rooms, or his clients’ limbs violently shake.

All these, he tells me, are submissions from his clients. He shows me an active WhatsApp chat, where current and former clients share their experiences with the paranormal and his candles.

Screnshot of a message from Master Sanna where a client is sharing their paranormal experience. Weeks after our first meeting, Master Sanna forwards me a message shared in his Whatsapp group chat.

In an industry operating behind-the-curtain, this transparency is somewhat perplexing. I'm especially caught off-guard when he tells me plainly that spiritual paraphernalia are little more than expensive trinkets: be it crystals or Buddha pendants.

"The Buddha teaches about the way of life, [he's] not saying 'I protect you'. But people are misled," he explains.

Some people believe that a trinket can help them get dividends on an investment and earn money. "Not true," the master asserts. A trinket cannot, and does not, protect you from the risks of an investment.

He is upfront about what his candles can do. They can get rid of negative energies, spirits, and demons. They don't bring in wealth and luck.

That, Master Sanna believes, is a fool's game.

"You must be honest with [clients], then they trust you more... you bluff them one time and they see," he says.

"As a Master, you hold these [standards] so they can respect you, and they know you're not a ghostbuster who wants to make money only."

The family element

These days, his son, 28-year-old Heng, does most of the manual work.

As his father talks, Heng quietly rolls bits of paper into the beeswax at a desk, moulding them into cylinders by hand. Later, his father will meditate with the candles, imbuing them with ghost-busting energy.

At times, he chimes in. I'm asking about how Master Sanna deals with scepticism, listening rapt as he explains how most of his clients are non-believers, when Heng sums it up in his soft-spoken manner:

"When push comes to shove and you have something affecting you and you can't find any source, you go to temples, churches, everywhere, and nothing seems to work, you come here."

Heng, I later learn, is apprenticing with his dad. More than just helping out with the work, he's studying to one day follow in his father's lofty footsteps as a Master.

Heng making a candle. The candles are made of beeswax, hand-poured by the family. Image by Ilyda Chua.

Despite having studied chemical and biomolecular engineering at polytechnic, he dropped out of school because he "wasn't interested".

At one point, Master Sanna likens himself to a pharmacist or a doctor, prescribing medicines to heal and cleanse.

That would make Heng a junior doctor of sorts — a house officer perhaps, or a resident. I watch him bustle around in his efficient way, chipping in whenever his father struggles to recall a date or a name.

Really, it's not a hard equivalency to make.

Master Sanna, his wife and his son seated on a couch in Sanna Holistic House Master Sanna with his wife Chaloemsri and one of his sons, Heng. Image by Ilyda Chua.

A dying art

Playing with spirits is a dangerous game, and it's a responsibility Master Sanna takes very seriously.

It's also why the only person he has entrusted with his art is his son — despite his methods being "almost extinct".

When learning the ancient art of spiritual healing, the disciple must vow to never "misuse" the power.

In his book, "The Sanna Healing Lamp", he writes:

"The disciple must utilise the ancient art for the good of public welfare and not for selfish gain or to cause harm to others."

It is perhaps good fortune that Heng took an interest in his father's practice. Tall, studious, and dedicated, he grew up alongside the supernatural, sneakily learning ancient Mon-Khmer script used by his father as a primary school student.

Heng rolls candles on a blue mat. Candles are made in batches by Heng. Image by Ilyda Chua.

His older brother, Eddie, has no interest. But Heng always knew he was going to follow in his father's footsteps.

He tells me:

"I knew in the back of my head I was going to do this from young, so I was just prepping myself... until that time came...

"Because I know that once I come into this, it's all the way."

But what would have have happened if Heng hadn't expressed a desire to join the business, either?

"Let it be," the master says, laughing.

"It's lucky he says he wants to pick up my art. So I say, ' I leave it to you'.

But you cannot force a person."

Almost four years into his apprenticeship, Heng is still a year or two away from taking over the reins.

beeswax melting Image by Ilyda Chua.

He tells me:

"In terms of progress, the spiritual art, I think, is my slowest.

So astrology, I think maybe I'm 80 to 90 per cent there.

For Feng Shui, maybe 60 to 70 per cent.

Spiritual, I'm probably 10 to 20 per cent..."

He compares that to his father, whose wealth of knowledge regarding the spiritual field "is immense".

"I still have a lot to learn and witness firsthand."

Top images by Ilyda Chua