FOLK BELIEFS (SUPERSTITIONS), ASTROLOGY, FORTUNETELLERS AND BELIEFS ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL IN THAILAND

FOLK BELIEFS (SUPERSTITIONS) IN THAILAND

Thais are very superstitious. They often visit fortunetellers before making important decisions such as buying a house, getting married or moving. Many people keep sacred amulets, and take seriously lucky numbers and lucky colors. Even taxis are well stocked with amulets, plastic statuettes of bodhisattvas and smoking joss sticks.

Most Thai houses have small "spirit houses," that look like dollhouses, where flowers and charms are offered daily to the spirits that live on the property. Before a house is built the land must be cleansed of spirits by a professional spirit exterminator. Many Thais carry with them some kind of charm or amulet, often blessed by holymen or astrologers who are also consulted for most important decisions. To exorcize demons water is spit all over the victim by a holyman.

Good luck is often viewed in terms of lucky stars one has to protect oneself and supply of boon—good karma one was earned in previous lives—and sometimes merit one has earned in this life. When supplies or stored good karma and merit start to run low, Thais believe, one’s luck begins running out.

Buddhist charms made from bone, ivory and stone are big business in Thailand. Thais believe that wearing such objects around their necks and hanging them from their rear view mirrors ward off evil spirits. It is widely believed that the older the material used for amulet the greater its power. Visitors to Thailand can also get caught up in the kingdom’s beliefs about luck, karma and the supernatural. In 2005 a German tourist returned a stone he took from an Ayutthaya temple, blaming the theft for three years of bad luck.

So many stewardesses for Thai Airways gave birth in 2000--the year of the dragon is an auspicious time--that the airline has had to recruit new attendants.

See the Separate Article: GHOSTS, SPIRIT HOUSES, AMULETS, CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM IN THAILAND

Things Regarded as Superstitions in the West Are Serious Matters in Thailand

A posting on American Expat in Chiang Mai reads: Fortune tellers, mystics, monks that have a 6th sense, ghosts and astrology are important elements in daily life for a Thai, and they should be taken seriously here. In the West, people often snicker at predictions from mystics, and are quick to classify them as charlatans feeding on the ignorant. Thai people, however, take such predictions very seriously, and prophesies that actually happen reinforce them. All Thais, including high-level business people, politicians and even scientists respect and value the words coming from this quarter, and they are offended at the typical reaction of scoff from outsiders. I have learned when in Thailand that it is best to show respect for these things that may seem a bit looney to a modern American or European. [Source: American Expat in Chiang Mai, December 19, 2011]

“My Thai wife is well educated and has lived in the US for a couple of decades, and would be considered a modern worldly naturalized American citizen, but she still leaves all our closet doors open in our bedroom to allow the ghosts to move freely in the night. Ghosts are a regular part of the Thai lifestyle, with a spirit house in the yard of almost every home or business. These spirit houses provide a place for the ghosts to reside, as an alternative to wandering about the house causing mischief. [Ibid]

Before cutting down a tree in Thailand it is customary to ask permission from the guardian who lives in that tree. To do this, they leave an axe lying against the tree over night. If the axe is still upright in the morning, permission has been granted. Most large trees are thought to have spirits living inside them, and old trees are particularly respected. For centuries their belief in ghosts stopped Thai people from knocking down too many trees.

Different Folk Beliefs, Customs and Superstitions in Thailand

Offering to trees: According to ghostsofthailand.com: It is believed that some spirits and ghosts inhabit trees, and as a result you may see a tree which has been adorned by flowers, garlands and have suitable gifts left at the base such as toys if the spirit is that of a child. The size of the tree also corresponds to the power of the ghost, a huge tree will have a very powerful ghost residing in it. Sometimes most of the offerings left at a tree are images of Buddha which have been damaged. This is because it is considered unlucky to have a damaged image of Buddha in your home and the base of a tree is a good place to put them. [Source: ghostsofthailand.com

Zombie Oil: Nam Phi Thai Hong lotion is made by placing a candle under the chin of a woman that died in childbirth, the resultant oil is collected and used as a powerful love potion that when administered to the recepient will make them fall head over heels in love with the person who administers it. However, as with most things connected to the black arts, it can come with a heavy price - it makes the the recepient smell like rotting fish. [Ibid]

Haircuts: It is considered extremely unlucky to have a haircut on a Wednesday, most barbers will open on a Wednesday but they will refuse to cut your hair but will still provide other services such as shaving or ear wax removal. If a child cries too much they may have their head completely shaved except for one strand of hair. At a later date the head is shaved including the longer hair and this will result in the child stopping crying. [Ibid]

Fingernail Clippings, Sneezing. Itching and Spillage: It is considered unlucky to cut finger and toe nails at night. If you sneeze it means someone is talking about you If you knock over or spill a plate of rice then something bad will happen to you that day. An itchy palm means money is coming your way. An itchy backside means rain is coming. [Ibid]

Babies: A newborn child will be given a nick name as well as their official name, the child will be referred to by their nick name so to confuse ghosts that may prey on the child if their real name is used. A newborn child will often have it's hair shaved completely off within the first few weeks of being born, the rationale behind this is that the hair will grow back thicker and stronger. It is considered bad luck to say a baby is cute or good looking, Thais will therefore often say the baby is ugly even when they do not think so. [Ibid]

Snakes, Lizards and Plants: If a snake crosses the path of a single woman then she will soon get a new boyfriend If a jinjok (small lizard) makes a noise when you are exiting through the door of a house you will have bad luck. Similarly, if a jinjok falls onto you from the ceiling you will have bad luck. A plant should not be tended by a woman who is menstruating as it will die

Thai Numerology and the Solar Eclipse in 1995

The Thai life is calculated in 12-year-cycles. The later birthdays (60, 72, 84) are particularly big occasions. The number eight is regarded as unlucky, especially if it appears on a car license plate. Holders of such license plates are encouraged to make temples donations to dispel the negative energy . The number 9 is especially valued in Thailand. It means progressive. The number 3 is also lucky.

Before scheduling an important event Thais often consult with fortunetellers to make sure it is not held on an inauspicious day and ideally is held on an auspicious one. The 15th day of the waxing moon is considered auspicious.

Thais and Cambodians and other people in Southeast Asia believe that eclipses are caused by Rahu (the God of Darkness) who swallows the sun or the moons. To appease Rahu people go to temples and make offerings of rice, chickens, cakes, bottles of alcohol, candles, black incense sticks to statues of Rahu. When an eclipse occurs they drive Rahu off by making as much noise as possible with bells, firecrackers, clapping and shouting.

During the solar eclipse of 1995, Thais were told that they had to make offerings of eight black objects to ensure that the sun returned. The prices of black items such as coffee beans, jewelry with black gem stones, sticky rice and block joss sticks skyrocketed with the increase in demand. Shortages of black chickens developed, causing the price to jump from $4 to $28 for a plump charcoal-colored bird. One Bangkok market said the demand for black chickens leapt from a dozen or so a day to hundreds a day. A food vendor told Reuter, "I couldn't afford a black chicken so I offered the Rahu some Khai Yiwma (a black fermented egg dish) after the guru told me it would be acceptable."

Also Solar Eclipse Under Cambodia

Superstitions and the Supernatural in Modern Thailand

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: “Those who might have predicted a few decades ago that the rise of science and technology would eventually blot out Thailand’s longstanding preoccupation with the supernatural can walk into one of the country’s thousands of 7-Eleven convenience stores. Amulets meant to protect and bring good luck sell next to breath mints. Horoscope books are mixed in with instant noodles and junk food. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, December 28, 2010]

“There are YouTube channels devoted to fortune telling, home-shopping television shows hawking amulets and computer programs like “Feng Shui Master,” which is advertised as helping divine the future of gold prices. Luck Rakanithes, once a private dispenser of horoscopes, now runs a call center empire in Bangkok with a room full of fortunetellers who offer horoscopes and lottery advice to about 60,000 callers a month for 50 cents a minute. [Ibid]

“Advice and inspiration for choosing lottery numbers in Thailand ranks very high among favorite conversation topics. One regular story on the evening news features villagers coming across potential lottery numbers like apparitions. Recent examples: a five-legged cow and stillborn Siamese piglets, attached at the chest, with eight legs, three ears and one head. Potential winning number: 5-8-3-1. “We still have our ghosts, we still have black magic,” said Todsaporn Jamsuwan, the co-founder of Holy Plus, told the New York Times. Holy Plus makes “spirit houses, the ubiquitous miniature structures that resemble dollhouses and serve as dwellings for protective ghosts. [Ibid]

Fortunetellers in Thailand

There are lots of astrologers, fortune-tellers and soothsayers in Thailand despite its Buddhist leanings. Fortunetellers in Thailand include paahn or Brahmans, who carry out life cycle rituals; diviners, who are concerned with spiritual afflictions; guardian spirit mediums and intermediaries; and exorcists.” Many Thai fortuntellers and astrologers are Buddhist monks. Methods include special wheels used in determining names, palm reading and numerology.

According to the blog Thailand Life: Fortunetellers (maw du ) are engaged to give auspicious names to a baby according to his exact birth calculations. Weddings, investments, travel, car purchases, building construction, traveling and other significant decisions in life, are all directed by the fortuneteller. There are many forms of fortunetelling: palm reading, star charts, playing cards, physical features, spirit mediums and high - tech computerised fortunetelling. Fortunetellers can be found in many places—under the shade of the trees like the tamarind trees around Phramane Ground, next to the Grand Palace, in the markets, in the hotel lobbies and plazas, etc. Most can be identified by small altars with offerings of flowers and lighted incense dedicated to various deities who have given them with the skill and knowledge of this art.” [Source: Thailand Life]

Millions of people in Thailand still regularly consult maw du — ‘doctors who see’ — to gain insight into everything from love and health to careers and money. Tens of of millions of dollars is spent on fortunetelling, amulets and astrology in Thailand each year. The fortunetelling business is considered recession proof. According to the Kasikorn Research Center in Bangkok people in Bangkok consulted fortune tellers three times in 2008, in the midst of the Lehman Brothers crash, an increase from twice a year earlier in the decade. Many people are taking classes to learn how to be fortune tellers. Some fortunetellers make house calls. Others use computer software to record hand prints so that palm readers can refer to them periodically to make fortunes over the phone or with e-mail.

Thai kings kept official court astrologers for centuries, and the tradition has survived into the present day, with prime ministers and generals employing personal fortune tellers to determine auspicious dates for elections or coups. Varin Buaviralert, one of Thailand’s most famous fortunetellers, was consulted by former Prime Minister Thaksin and his wife and the man who overthrew Thaksin, former army chief Sondhi Boonyaratglin. In April 2008, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej lashed out at Buaviratlert for predicting the fall of his government. Suriyan Areywaongsopon, another well-known fortuneteller and television personality in Thailand, claims he is a medium for The Hindu god Ganeesh.

Some of the most respected and well-paid fortunetellers go into trances and cut their tongues with knives and stick skewers into different parts of their body and show off their support for guardian spirits in competitions. They are paid large sums of money not just to offer protection or predict the future but to actually intervene with fate and change the course of events.

High Place Given Astrology and Fortunetelling in Thailand

James Hookway wrote in the Wall Street Journal: in 2012 people “lined the streets wherever Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra goes to get a glimpse of her official car's license plates. In recent months they twice have corresponded with the winning numbers in the national lottery. Top politicians and military leaders, meanwhile, regularly seek out fortunetellers. One of the most sought-after seers is an elderly woman who lives across the mosquito-infested border in Myanmar and who goes by the name of "E.T."[Source: James Hookway, Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2012]

Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As the head of Thailand's Securities and Exchange Commission, Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala is one of the country's most powerful policy makers. But his true passion isn't GDP growth or inflation rates. He's co-author of an English-language book of prophecies called "Know Your Future," which uses the Thai zodiac to predict, among other things, an al Qaeda terrorist attack in 2014 and an Obama reelection victory in 2012. A major government figure dabbling in astrology would raise eyebrows in many countries (think former First Lady Nancy Reagan ). But in Thailand, where ghosts are real and no important decision is made without consulting a fortune teller, Thirachai's interest is commonplace. "Astrology is very prevalent in Thai life. It's almost a given, and politicians are no exception," he said in the SEC's offices in a high-rise in the city's embassy district, with the soaring skyline visible behind him. [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2011]

Thailand’s deep political and societal tensions and complex social problems created by Thailand's dizzying economic development have caused Thais to turn to fortunetellers for answers and comfort. Meanwhile, politicians at the highest level, eager to gain an advantage over their rivals, employ personal fortune tellers to give them strategic advice. In a 2008 study, the Kasikorn Research Center estimated that Bangkok residents spent 2.5 billion Thai baht (about $81 million dollars) on fortune telling services, and that nearly 40 percent of the capital's residents bought books or magazines to study the subject. The Bangkok-based International Astrology Association, one of several such groups here, counts more than 50,000 members, and its classes on topics such as palmistry and face reading are regularly full. [Ibid]

Narongrat Phootirattaya, a teacher at the association, said he had seen an explosion of interest among young people in recent years. "They have a lot of problems now, and they need astrologers to help them solve these problems. In Thailand, people don't go to a psychologist. They go to an astrologer," he said. In interviews here, many said it helped people make sense of the world or solve their problems. Others said it's a bridge to the past and part of Thai identity. [Ibid]

Former Prime Minister Thaksin was a known devotee of the supernatural. When his substantial popular support began to wane in advance of the coup that deposed him in 2006, he enlisted the help of astrologers to turn the tide. In one notable example, one of his advisors took him on a tour of 99 temples in the country's spiritually rich northeast in a bid to increase his metaphysical power, according to Thailand experts Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker. [Ibid]

Samrit Klaoklieng is a man the political class regularly calls on in search of an advantage. He counts three of the country's former prime ministers, including Thaksin, as past clients. On predicting the outcome of elections in 2011 he told the Los Angeles Times; "It's nearly impossible to know, because I would need the birth times of all of the candidates," he said. Still, he's been busy dispensing advice and readings to his political clients, who want to know, above all else, whether they'll receive enough votes to be part of the country's new government. For Samrit, though, the real mystery is who his next big client will be. "I've been the personal astrologer to three prime ministers," he said. "What I want to know is, who will be the fourth?" [Ibid]

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: “Newspapers in Thailand frequently carry rumors and stories about politicians holding secret ceremonies to remove bad luck. In a book published two years ago, a renowned Thai fortune teller recounted his consultation with one of the country’s powerful generals, Sonthi Boonyaratglin. They met in January 2006, a time of political impasse, and Warin Buawiratlert, the fortune teller, told the general, “There must be a coup.” “Who is going to do it?” the general asked. The fortune teller, who told the general he was the reincarnation of an 18th-century warrior, replied: “You.” Nine months later, on what some considered the auspicious day of Sept. 19, Mr. Sonthi fulfilled his fortune — and overthrew the government. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, December 28, 2010]

Astrology and Fortunetelling on Television in Thailand

Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Technology has driven much of the industry's expansion. A generation ago, fortune tellers set up shop in ramshackle storefront parlors, where they gave face-to-face readings one customer at a time. Today, the most prominent ones preside over far-reaching media empires, starring in TV shows and running websites. Quite a few have become famous and wealthy. [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2011]

One of the biggest is Hutta Lekajit, a 41-year-old former monk who is the marquee attraction of The Miracle Channel, a satellite station devoted to the supernatural. On a recent evening, Hutta, wearing a pink pinstripe shirt and white leather loafers, welcomed some guests to his office at a media complex on the outskirts of Bangkok. With its mismatched vinyl chairs and desks strewn with computer equipment , the office could have been the home of a tech startup. As half a dozen editors cut and spliced footage of the show in cramped cubicles, Hutta picked through stacks of fan mail and discussed his twice-weekly show, in which mostly poor Thais go on air to tell him about their problems. "People come on my show if bad things are happening to them, like divorces or debt. They get very emotional when they talk about these things. But I help them solve their problems," said Hutta, who smiles frequently and has a baby face that makes him look 10 years younger than he is. [Ibid]

Hutta said "Hutta Kit" attracts a million viewers a week and is the fourth-rated cable program in Thailand. Strangers regularly recognize him on the street, and he makes what he calls a "comfortable" living. It's a far cry from his life as a monk 20 years ago in an austere cave temple, where he learned to meditate and hone what he calls his unique power, the ability to see the future while staring into the flame of a burning candle. [Ibid]

While Hutta's working methods are decidedly low-fi, he has embraced the power – and limitless reach – of modern communications tools. Viewers can watch his show through satellite, local cable or the internet. He also has a popular Facebook page and uses text-messaging to reach Thais in rural provinces with poor internet coverage. " The technology is great because I can help poor people who couldn't otherwise afford a reading," he said. [Ibid]

Hutta also has a radio show, a column that runs in three Thai newspapers and a popular website (www.huttajit.com). He told CNN he “realized his abilities 18 years ago as a monk during a six-month meditation stint in a cave. One day, a holy relic inexplicably dropped from the cave ceiling. Hutta says he immediately gained the ability to write ancient Khmer symbols — with his left hand, no less, despite being right-handed. Today, he says he can read fortunes based on signatures or the sound of someone’s voice. He sees top celebrities and politicians and earns up to 10,000 baht per session, though he says he gives all of the money from one-on-one consultations to Buddhist charities and keeps only money from sponsors who fund his various media endeavors. [Source: Joel Gershon, CNN September 10, 2009]

Fortunetelling Call Center in Thailand

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: “Luck Rakanithes, a fortune teller who started out two decades ago dispensing horoscopes the old-fashioned way (face-to-face in a corner of an obscure Bangkok hotel) now runs a call center with a room full of fortune tellers sitting in cubicles and wearing headsets as if they were selling credit cards or offering tech support. They dish out celestial advice for 15 baht, or 50 cents, a minute. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, December 28, 2010]

“There are only two things that people are really, really interested in: sex and fortune telling,” said Mr. Luck, whose name, he says, only coincidentally corresponds to the English word for good fortune. At the headquarters of his multimillion-dollar fortune-telling empire, Mr. Luck shows a visitor his computer servers and sound studio, where he records weekly horoscopes and advice on lottery numbers for the 60,000 or so callers who pay for the service each month. [Ibid]

Mr. Luck is the son of rice farmers but has been so successful in his fortune-telling business that he is literally surrounded by bullion. During an interview in his office he held a large alloyed bar of gold, silver and copper in his lap and stroked it like an emperor might pet a lapdog. [Ibid]

“People still queue up for famous fortune tellers. They trust that it will be more human,” Pichit Virankabutra, the curator of an exhibition on ghosts that drew 120,000 visitors at the Thailand Creative and Design Center in Bangkok, told the New York Times. Online fortune telling is cheap and easy, Mr. Pichit said, but “if you can connect with someone in person, it’s better than a cold computer keyboard.” [Ibid]

Fortune-telling in Bangkok

On the fortunetelling scene in Bangkok, Joel Gershon of CNN wrote: There are a range of maw du in the city: Palm and face readers; those who interpret tarot or playing cards; zodiac astrologers; handwriting decoders; and other sixth-sense seers. High-end fortune tellers command prices as high as 10,000 baht per hour, though on the street it’s possible to book a fortune telling session for as little as 40 baht. The highest concentration of maw du in Bangkok are located around Tha Prajan pier off the Chao Phraya River. Here, dozens of maw du meet with clients at cramped makeshift stands inside a covered market area on the rickety pier. [Source: Joel Gershon, CNN September 10, 2009]

Bangkok's fortune-teller plaza has the city's highest concentration of seers. Banchobe Thepphachan has worked in a remote corner of the Tha Prajan ‘fortune-telling plaza’ for six years. He earns up to 1,000 baht per day, and says about 80 percent of his customers are women, the majority of inquiries he receives relating to love and romance. Cases aren't always straightforward. Banchobe recalls the time he had to tell a disappointed lesbian threesome that his cards revealed one of them would soon need to exit the relationship. [Ibid]

Across the river, in the winding Wang Lang market, people line up to see 52-year-old Pa-ob Prabnarong. She charges 150 baht per person, though if a customer asks about the fortune of another person, she charges an extra 150 baht, a fee structure that can earn her up to 10,000 baht per day. Pa-ob says she is often asked how her clients’ children will perform in school, or what day might be best to get married, buy a car or take a trip. She admits that occasionally she gets something wrong or doesn’t have an answer, recalling the time when a woman wasn’t sure which of her two boyfriends got her pregnant. [Ibid]

Describing a prediction that was sort of correct Gershon wrote: When Noi Jular, a 48-year-old clothing factory owner, visited a Bangkok fortune teller, she was warned that her 20-year-old daughter, a student at Chulalongkorn University, was in danger of suffering a serious car accident. Noi insisted that her daughter not drive and hired a chauffer to shuttle her around. As it turns out, the driver got into an accident while the daughter was in the back seat of the car, though no one was seriously hurt. This was the first time the daughter had been in an accident in her life, and the fortune teller revealed that had she been driving, the damage would have been much worse. “Maybe it was a coincidence, I don’t know,” Noi says. “But the prediction was probably real.” [Ibid]

Thai Fortuneteller Sued for Scaring Away Tourists with His Prediction of Doom

James Hookway wrote in the Wall Street Journal: Shortly before New Year 2012, a video clip of 73-year-old Thai soothsayer Thongbai Khamsri circulated on YouTube in which he revealed that his young son, Suthat, had warned years before that a massive dam in eastern Thailand would collapse. According to Mr. Thongbai, his son had also predicted other disasters. What really gave the prophecy a ring of truth among some Thais was Mr. Thongbai's disclosure that Suthat had accurately foretold his own death at the age of five, nearly 40 years ago, before going on to list a series of cataclysms. [Source: James Hookway, Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2012]

Faced with that kind of revelation, many Thais panicked, landing Mr. Thongbai in hot water—and in court—for scaring off tourists from annual New Year celebrations at the dam and hurting the local economy. Mr. Thongbai was convicted of causing a public alarm, fined $17 and told to keep his mouth shut. His conviction, though, has flung Thailand's fortunetelling industry into uncharted territory, pitting the country's age-old traditions of soothsaying against a modern-day world of Internet video-clips, tabloid television shows—and lawsuits. "Our country is changing, and fortunetellers need to adapt and choose their words more carefully," said Pinyo Pongcharoen, president of the International Astrology Association in Bangkok, who is himself a lawyer. Clicking through a series of astrological charts on his laptop computer, he grumbled, "If we don't, more of us are going to get sued." That's got some top fortunetellers worried. They fear that seers such as Mr. Thongbai who warn of catastrophic events need to tone down their language before the government steps in to regulate the industry, as the country's military leaders did in the 1960s. [Ibid]

Astrologers, who use dates and times and the movement of the planets to make their prophecies, are especially annoyed. Kengkard Jongjaiprah pops up regularly on television talk shows to state that astrology is a science. He says seers such as Mr. Thongbai who base their predictions on visions or other supernatural phenomenon should be ignored. "They are just making things up and selling their predictions," Mr. Kengkard, wearing a leopard-skin pattern hat, said in one recent TV appearance. [Ibid]

Some professional seers, such as popular TV astrologer Luck Rakanithes, say fortunetellers need to be free to reveal whatever is in the stars, whether the authorities like it or not. Like a handful of other prognosticators here, Mr. Luck has embraced new technology, giving readings by telephone text messages and employing a stable of call-center agents to talk customers through their astrological tables. Other commentators wondered what would have happened if Mr. Thongbai was right. "Would he still be prosecuted, or would he be a hero?" asked Atiya Achakulwisit, an editor at the Bangkok Post newspaper. [Ibid]

As for Mr. Thongbai, he said he didn't quite see this controversy coming. Shortly before Suthat died in 1974, Mr. Thongbai said his son made a series of strange pronouncements, as well as foretelling that he would soon pass away. After their son died, Mr. Thongbai and his wife, Sunthana, grieved for years before a number of disasters across the world made them wonder about the boy's pronouncements. When an earthquake rocked northern Japan last March, Mr. Thongbai says he realized he had to speak up. With the help of a computer-savvy Buddhist monk and a local businessman, he made a video that the trio loaded up onto YouTube. Within days the clip went viral in Thailand. [Ibid]

Visitors from cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai continue to trek up the winding dirt road to the tin-roofed retreat Mr. Thongbai built at the top of Hidden Hill here to pray before Buddha statues and paintings of Suthat. Mr. Thongbai says the prophesy could still come true because Thailand's New Year falls in April, although he says he hopes it will be proven wrong. "It's true that some people think I'm crazy, but I don't care," Mr. Thongbai said, pounding a bright-red mixture of betel nut and tobacco to chew on later. "I'm just like the postman delivering the news." Mr. Thongbai, who worked as a driver and now does some fruit farming, says he isn't spreading his son's prognostications for money, so "I have no reason to say anything that isn't true...Knowing the future has brought me nothing but trouble. [Ibid]

Monks as Fortunetellers

In Thailand Buddhist monks act as fortune tellers and spiritual advisors. Temples offer fortunetelling, astrology and lucky charms and accept donation in return. Almost every wat has a monk that tells fortunes. Senior monks receive money for blessing amulets and other religious icons. Some people accuse them of enriching themselves through this practice.

Bad thoughts are washed away by fortunetellers with sacred water mixed with flower petals. In some temple rituals, supplicants crawl towards monks on their hands and knees and then kneel before the monk while he blesses them with holy water and then had them a small leather or cloth pouches that contain tiny Buddhas.

Describing an exorcism ceremony presided over by Buddhist monks before the opening of Suvarnabhumi International Airport outside Bangkok, AP reported: “ 99 monks and Brahmin priests were called in to perform a ceremony at the new facility east of Bangkok... Buddhist monks apologized to the spirits and asked them to ward off all bad luck...Chotisak Aspaviriya, head of the Airports Authority of Thailand, said the ceremony was staged to apologize to the spirits of the land for any offenses committed during the construction of the airport, along with the spirits of animals who died on what was once swampland infested with snakes and other creatures. The monks and priests also asked the spirits to grant them use of the airport and ensure its prosperity. Despite their adherence to Buddhism, Thais are still deeply worshipful of animist spirits and Hindu deities that have nothing to do with the formal religion. [Source: AP, September 2006]

Ex-Monk Fortuneteller Arrested on Sex Charges

In July 2012, Wassayos Ngamkham wrote in the Bangkok Post: “A former monk has been arrested on charges of luring schoolgirls into having sex with him in exchange for performing superstitious rites that were supposed to enhance the girls' beauty and charm. The parents of four girls, aged 13 or 14, filed a complaint with the Anti-Human Trafficking Division on June 25 saying their daughters were sexually abused by a man claiming to be a fortune-teller and a practitioner of black magic. [Source: Wassayos Ngamkham, Bangkok Post, July 2, 2012]

The former monk charged with the crimes—57-year-old Songwut Charoenkhunchai— had been in the monkhood for 14 years and had learned astrology from a monk before starting up a black magic and fortune-telling business of his own. Police say Mr Songwut used his practice to lure in female students, claiming they needed to perform certain rituals to get rid of their bad luck or correct their kam kao (indecent deeds committed in previous lives) to remove hindrances to becoming more beautiful. [Ibid]

The abused girls are students at a school on Phutthamonthon Sai 3 road in Nong Khang Phlu area. Not far from their school in a two-storey building is the Samnak Mor Doo Natthar (“House of Fortune-Teller Natthari”) run by Songwut. Police investigator Pol Col Chittaphop said Songwut had been running Samnak Mor Doo Natthari in Nong Khang Phlu for more than 10 years and said his customers included female students of many schools in the area The girls would follow their friends to Mr Songwut's house after learning from them that the black magic practitioner could help increase their charms. [Ibid]

After securing a court warrant for the arrest of Mr Songwut, Pol Col Chittaphop's team conducted a sting operation, using a female police officer disguised as a customer to keep a watch on him and gather more evidence of wrongdoing. When the female officer was certain that Mr Songwut performed beauty-enhancing rites that corresponded to the accusations against him, she signalled for her colleagues to raid his house. "He was arrested in front of three female students who were queuing up for the rite," said Pol Col Chittaphop At his house, police said they found nude photos, sex toys, condoms, lubricant gels and pornographic DVDs. They also found white clothes used when performing the rites. [Ibid]

"I think what I've done is not wrong," Police quoted Mr Songwut as saying. "I don't lure or force them [to have sex]." Police say Mr Songwut claims he let the girls decide themselves whether they were willing to take off their clothes. As for having sex with the girls, police quote Mr Songwut as saying that the acts were performed in accordance with "the science of the rite", aimed at bolstering the power of the magic. [Ibid]

Pol Col Chittaphop accused Mr Songwut of luring girls into sleeping with other men. Mr Songwut allegedly acted as a broker, delivering the girls to his customers for between 3,000 and 4,000 baht. "His customers ranged from businessmen to police and soldiers," Pol Col Chittaphop said. Police say Mr Songwut confessed to wrongdoing after undergoing an overnight interrogation by police. He faces rape and human trafficking charges. Having sex with girls below the age of consent of 15 years is considered statutory rape according to Thai law. Police are now on alert for other fortune-tellers offering similar services. Pol Col Chittaphop has told officers to keep an eye on fortune-tellers operating near schools. [Ibid]

Ninja Attacks in Thailand

In 2003, two plainclothes policemen were beaten and stabbed to death in southern Thailand by a mob that believed the two men were ninjas. Rumors had been circulating that ninjas were in the area and they were causing misfortune, killing people and raping women.

The two men, who had just been assigned to the area, stopped at a café and had a coffee and asked for direction. Word got out that strangers were in town and they were accosted by a mob. The men managed to flee through a rubber plantation and seek help from a village head. The headman tried to protect the men but ultimately he was unsuccessful and the mob attacked and killed the men. Similar incidents had happened in the late 1990s in Indonesia.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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