Rituals, Symbols, Tradititions, Ghosts, Amulets and Superstition in Thailand
by: Shymli Thakur
Thailand is a must-visit-country to get away from your mundane and monotonous life routine.
With unspoiled beaches, ancient historical sites and breathtaking Buddhist temples, this Southeast Asian country offers a promising gateway.
Taking a closer look at the country we start to unravel the natives’ deep-rooted faith on bizarre superstitions.
Westerners find the ‘Land of Smiles’ intriguing because Thai culture has infinite supernatural beliefs passed down from one generation to another.
While some are guaranteed to send a tinge of shivers down your spine, others will make you laugh till your belly starts to ache.
Even with burgeoning skyscrapers, sophisticated technology, and advanced modernizations, a vast majority of people in Thailand are blinded by old wives’ tales.
In order to get you familiarized with some well-established eccentric credulities in Thailand, I’ve master-crafted a list of good luck rituals and traditions, widespread beliefs and sacred amulets.
Some of the rituals and traditions Thais believe to bring better luck are:
Appeasement of the dead is imperative in Thai culture as they are considered supernatural beings with the power to either make your life easy or extremely difficult. The existence of malevolent & benevolent spirits, which if kept happy will lead you to the best fortunes in life.
Thais believe in paying respect to the lurking spirits in July (month for the ghosts) by visiting shrines and making offerings.
The Holy Thread
The holy thread is tied on the left wrist of the natives of Thailand during a ceremony called ‘Riak Kwan’ which is believed to help one get back to the normal state after a bad incident.
The left wrist is preferred because it is weaker than the right wrist and not very frequently used.
Two Names Superstition in Thailand
Having two names in Thailand is quite an ordinary custom.
One name is used in the official documents and the other one is a nickname which is not very pleasant. ‘Pig’, for instance, would be the pet name of the child.
The reason behind this is to confuse the ghost that may take away cute babies.
The Spirit of the Land in Thailand
Seeking permission of Phra Phum (spirit of the land) to stay overnight at a foreign place is customary in Thailand to show respect to the residing spirits.
This is done to avoid any unwanted happening during your short stay somewhere else.
Also, bright spirit houses are built in a corner of the yard of the buildings to provide a clean place for the land ghosts.
This is one of the ways to demonstrate the utmost respect to them and not make them feel neglected.
Superstition in Thailand: Traditions to Keep Evil at Bay
Thais have an enormous belief that things can go horribly wrong because of the evil spirits and that’s why they carry out numerous traditions to ward off the evils as far away as possible. For this, some of the customary rituals are-
Be Careful How You Use Your Utensils
Thai natives are careful while cooking and handling the utensils because clanking your dish is an invitation to the hungry spirits loitering around. Also, putting chopstick vertically on food is an act that sends a green signal to the spirits to enter your house.
Hide-and-seek gets more fun once it starts to get dark, isn’t it? But not in Thailand! Children are barred from playing the game after sunset to avoid inviting the spirits into the house.
There’s a reason why elders ask us not to stomp our feet in the house because it is not a good manner. Thais avoid the act because they believe that the sound will scare away the good spirits residing in the house who are responsible for the happiness and prosperity of the house owner.
Ward Off the Evil Eye
In order to ward off evil, the natives wear sacred and powerful talismans like holy threads, pious amulets and even wearing sanctified bones of the ancestors. In Thailand, it is usual to see people with one of these to avoid evil eye and malicious glare of the bad spirits.
Lie in a Coffin Superstition in Thailand
To lie in a coffin whilst still breathing may sound absurd but this is one ancient Thai custom that is believed to cast away the bad luck.
Further, it is said that once a person realizes his bad karma when inside the coffin, he will come out as a new person, rid of his ill lucks!
Commonly Accepted Beliefs in Thailand
In Thailand, belief in supernatural legends permeates in everyday life. Many of the old wives’ tales do not really make sense and lack scientific evidence. Still they are cautiously followed by the natives to invite good fortunes and ward off evil.
They have an unwavering belief in the existence of the spirits. Also found in Thailand is the immense reliance on the numbers. Also common are the age-old belief on protective spells and amulets.
You maybe dumbfounded at the endless superstitious notions in Thailand that have their roots in animist beliefs.
Some of them are:
Ghosts and Spirits of Thailand
Many legends in Thailand revolve around good and bad spirits because natives believe that every living and non-living things are inhabited by spirits. It is customary in Thailand to pay reverence to the spirits for a happy, prosperous and long life span. Here we have some of the myths related to the spirits.
1. Who let the ghost in?
If you hear some strange voices calling out your name at night, do not answer. It is a common myth that these voices are ghosts calling out to you and if you respond, you let these spirits into your house. Not the kind of guest you would want to host, isn’t it?
2. Have you ever heard someone call a baby ‘ugly’?
In Thailand, it is not uncommon for people to compliment the baby saying ‘ugly and unpleasant’, which in other nations would be seriously frowned upon.
It’s a preventative measure because one of the folk tales in the country states that ghosts steal away the toddlers who are referred to as cute.
3. Are you haunted by a ghost?
People adhere by the old tradition that a pregnant lady shouldn’t attend a funeral. If she becomes a part of the funeral, the unborn baby she is carrying will be haunted by lurking spirits in the future.
4. Lucky dead!
As weird as it sounds, natives of Thailand believe that if you happen to see someone dead in the dream, it is a good omen and something good is about to happen. It’s probably the reason why people say, ‘Don’t fear the dead.’
5. Have you ever looked in between your legs?
Thais don’t bend and look between their legs for they fear they will come face to face with the ghost. Try it only if you are a daredevil ready to interact with the dead.
Bird and Animal Superstitions in Thailand
The superstitious notions in ‘Land of Smiles’ are very much influenced by birds and animals. This could be because they are thought to have inhuman power to see the spirits or feel if something bad is about to happen.
1. How often does your dog howl?
The protective German shepherd could be howling its lung out for a gamut of reasons.
However, Thais believe that if the dogs cry out loud at night, it is because they have seen a ghost lurking around.
2. Bird’s poop?!?
When you’re about to kick start your day and a bird’s poop lands on your head, the rest of your day is bound to be doomed.
This must’ve been the reason why Thais are either wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella most of the times.
3. Do you have a beehive at your house?
While a majority of you would answer a straight NO. In Thailand it is a good omen to have bees at your abode!
And if you destroy it, then you are kicking your good fortunes away.
4. The Curse of the Owl
The barn owl is a symbol of evil curses in Thailand and if one lands on your terrace, bad events are bound to occur in that house.
People start to be more vigilant about their surroundings to avoid any unfortunate happenings.
5. Did you ever have a snake-y dream?
Getting wrapped by an enormous snake in your dream would be a terrifying nightmare, but not in the ‘Land of Smiles’.
This is actually a prediction that you will soon meet your soul mate and have a ‘happily-ever-after’ life.
In case, you are already in a relationship, the dream means that someone has a huge crush on you.
Thai Tales and Superstition that Tell About People
All around the world, there are interesting beliefs to determine a person’s characteristics and Thailand is no exception.
If you visit the country you will be taken aback by several myths to judge an individual’s traits.
Here I’ve listed some of the most common ones.
1. No singing single ladies!!!
In past, Thai women had the habit of singing while working in the kitchen and they’d often get distracted, ending up burning the dish or cutting themselves while chopping the vegetables.
To avoid these accidents, a trumped-up story came into existence stating: ‘if single ladies sing while cooking then they’d end up getting an old-age boyfriend or a husband.’ This worked wonders because women feared getting married to someone with a huge age difference.
2. Do you have a birthmark?
According to popular Thai belief having a birthmark reveals if you are an old soul or a new one. Babies with distinct marks are believed to have past lives whereas toddlers without birthmark do not have any previous birth.
3. Bald people are not to be trusted!
It is not to one’s advantage to be bald in Thailand because they are thought to be sneaky and flirty. As per this belief the more hair you lose, the flirtier and sneakier you get!
4. Supernatural virgins!
Did you know that virgins have the power to stop rainfall? In Thailand, if a virgin sticks lemongrass into the ground, it is believed that it will not rain that day.
5. Know the sincerity of the person!
All you have to do is pay attention to the tones of the person in a single conversation. If an individual uses several tones while talking chances are he is an insincere person who is not to be relied upon.
Superstition in Thailand – More Much-Believed Notions
Color Superstition in Thailand
Thai people are very specific about the color of the clothes in determining how the day progresses. In fact, a chart has been devised to state what color is auspicious for seven days in a week.
Black is the color that is linked to mourning and funerals, therefore, it is advised not to wear any black attire if you are visiting patients. To be on a safe side you can choose any light and pleasant colored dress or follow the dress code depending upon what day it is of the week.
Number Superstition in Thailand
Numbers hold an integral part of every culture around the world. In Thai ‘9′ is considered the luckiest number as it sounds like a Tai word ‘step’ so natives imply it stands for taking a step ahead.
It might amaze you that the vehicle’s number plate ‘9999′ has already been sold for four times highlighting the number’s significance.
The number ‘13′ is considered bad omen in many countries including Thailand, therefore, this particular number is replaced by the number ‘12A’.
Never on a Wednesday
Wednesday is taken as the day of growth and development so the natives avoid chopping off their hair on this day of the week.
Noodles for a Long Life
Did you know the length of the noodle determines your life span? Thais try not to cut noodles when they relish the dish because it is a widespread myth that longer the noodle, longer is your life span.
Now you know the secret to increasing your longevity.
Never Gift a Handkerchief
Careful with the gift! There are certain things that should not be gifted to anyone because people opine that it might lead to an argument and severing the ties. Handkerchief, for instance, ought not to be gifted if you don’t want to break the bond with a person.
One Step at a Time
While many believe that it is fun to take two stairs at a time while climbing the stairs, Thais stick to the legend that skipping steps means that you will not achieve success in your life. There’s a reason people say, ‘one step at a time’.
Get Your Hands Off My Head!
Patting somebody on the head is a friendly gesture, however, in the ‘Land of Smiles, it is an offensive one.
Head is considered a sacred part of the body so avoid touching people’s head when in Thailand.
The act of sneezing shows that one of the two things- either you are missed by someone or you are the topic of the conversations. It seems the more you sneeze, the more popular you are.
Lucky last bite!
At times there’s a friendly fight amongst friends and relatives to have the last bite if you are sharing the dish. This is because whoever eats it, gets a good-looking partner. Make sure to grab the last bite from next time!
10 Protective Amulets in Thailand
By now you must be aware that Thailand is the country where everything and every action has some myths attached to it. It is but obvious that Thais have several protective spells and amulets to ward off the evil spirits and bad omen.
Here we have a list of amulets and lucky charms that Thais believe in for better fortunes.
1. Buddha Pendant
You will see a majority of Thais wearing a piece of neckpiece with a pendant that has a Buddha image engraved on it.
The pendant has either gold or silver plating and is believed to posses divine power to keep accidents and illness at bay.
2. Jasmine Garlands
Jasmine garlands are put on the rear view mirror of the vehicle. The garland is an offering to the spirits lurking around the streets.
Drivers believe this may help prevent road accidents. Thais believe that paying homage to spirits yields in the safety of everyone in the vehicle.
3. Sacred Scrolls
In Thailand, you will be able to find amulets in the shape of sacred scrolls with inscribed prayers in them.
This is either worn in the form of necklace and bracelet or carried in a bag to become as lucky as possible.
4. Kuman Thong – Golden boy
Kuman Thong (Golden boy) amulets are considered quite common good luck charms that are kept in the shrines with the hope that it will assist in the financial matters.
This talisman has to be taken care of well. If neglected, it is believed to shower the household or business with bad luck.
5. Salika (Magpie)
Salika (Magpie) amulets can be distinguished very easily as it’s a beautiful piece of two birds together. Magpie is, in fact, traditionally recognized as a bird of joy across many cultures, from western to oriental territories.
Having this lucky charm is believed to have mystical power of attraction so is linked to strengthening the relationship of long-distance lovers.
6. Lord Ganesh
Thai culture is influenced to a great extent by Hinduism so you will find the small statues of Lord Ganesh that resemble an elephant in almost all the stores dealing in amulets and lucky charms.
The statue is kept in the shrine to avoid obstacles as Lord Ganesh is the deity of new beginnings whose blessings will keep hurdles aside.
The deep-rooted history states that doves bestow the owner with immense wealth and honor.
Hence Thais believe it to be one of the powerful and effective charms and have gorgeous statues or pendants with them.
8. Langhing Buddha
The statue of Laughing Buddha is famous worldwide for bringing never-ending happiness and abundance to the people.
Natives of Thailand also share this belief and make sure they rub the belly of the statue with an optimistic attitude for it to be effective.
9. Jatukam Ramathep amulet
You can find Jatukam Ramathep amulet in Buddhist temples in Thailand which is said to be one of the most powerful talismans.
You will notice the amulet to have a geometrical pattern with Sanskrit and Thai characters on it that are arranged to bring good luck to the bearer.
10. Kwan Yin
Kwan Yin is the goddess of compassion and one of the most important lucky figures. The natives believe that having this amulet in one’s possession will assist the wearer to get over love loss. The amulet is also a magnet to better luck.
Mystical Places of Thailand
Thais are undoubtedly drowned in superstitious beliefs. They will make attempts to attract better luck by making several offerings they travel to various spiritual and mystical places.
The faith runs so deep in the blood that even if you’re not a native, you’ll start to believe in the existence of divine power in these places. Two places that are mostly visited are-
Koh Hingham Island
1. Koh Hingham is an uninhabited island off the shores in Thailand. Here you will find black and white pebbles that resemble extravagant gemstones.
Old mythology states that the area is protected by a Thai deity, God of Tarutao. If any mortal takes a pebble of the island, he’ll have to face the wrath of the deity in form of bad luck.
Anecdotes state that unheeded warnings have resulted in some bad happenings.
Capture post-card perfect photographs, enjoy the sheer beauty of the island but do not take the pebble as a souvenir.
Wat Rakhand Khositaram – Temple of Bells
2. Wat Rakhand Khositaram (Temple of Bells) in Bangkok is visited by thousands of natives and tourists. This place is thought to have inexplicable power. It is showered on the people who worship in the temple.
Individuals who pray and make an offering here become popular. They eill enjoy the good reputation that is as far-reaching as the sound of the bells.
This article was written by: Shymli Thakur