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Culture: Superstitions in Thai culture

If you’re familiar with Thai culture, you will know that supernatural beliefs, especially in ghosts and spirits, are very prominent. They can be divided into two main groups: benevolent and malevolent spirits.


By Sirinya Pakditawan

Monday 30 May 2016, 12:31PM


Mae Nak Phra Khanong shrine offerings, portraits of the spirit and dresses. Photo: Xufranc.

Mae Nak Phra Khanong shrine offerings, portraits of the spirit and dresses. Photo: Xufranc.

Benevolent spirits are primarily guardian spirits, for instance, the guardian spirit of a village and the numerous territorial spirits which are the spirit of the forest (Chao Pa), the spirit of the hills and mountains (Chao Khao), the rice goddess (Mae Phosop), Kuman Thong (กุมารทอง), the spirit of young children and Mae Sue (แม่ซื้อ), the female guardian spirit of infants. The group of benevolent spirits include guardian spirits, thewada, usually referred to as a collective. A very well-known spirit in Thai culture is the ‘house ghost’, Phra Phum. Every Thai house and building has a guardian spirit that lives in the spirit house placed in front of individual houses.

Malevolent spirits cause trouble to people and aim at harming them. Most often these evil spirits are supposed to be the spirits of people who died violently or accidentally. It is a common belief that if a person dies violently or suddenly, his/her spirit wanders around in this world since it still aims at fulfilling its role here.

However, there are also other kinds of bad spirits like Phi Pop(ผีปอบ), a malevolent female spirit that devours human entrails, Phi Krasue(กระสือ), a woman’s head with her viscera hanging down from the neck) and Phi Krahang (กระหัง), a male ghost that flies in the night, for instance. These spirits have the ability to possess people and can even kill a person and devour his/her viscera. Hence, it does not come as a surprise that the majority of good spirits are referred to as individual ghosts whereas the evil ones are categorised in groups.

Benevolent spirits are supposed to assist and protect the living. In return, the good spirits receive offerings and sacrifices made by people, to please the spirit so that it will help people, implying a sort of reciprocal relationship between the spirit world and human beings. For malevolent spirits, people often make an offering first in order to pacify the spirits. If that does not work, the assistance of the benevolent spirits is needed. Thus, it might also be the case that Buddhist rituals are necessary to pacify them.

It is a general belief that if human beings behave badly and disrespectfully towards a good spirit, this ghost might turn malevolent, making the distinction between good and evil spirits unclear at times.

We could be justified in stating that generally, in Thai culture, spirits and the supernatural are very important. Ghosts are classified by their nature of origin as benevolent or malevolent and some also have their own shrines for worship.

Sirinya Pakditawan is a ‘luk kreung’, or half-Thai, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. She enjoys writing about Thailand, with a focus on culture, art, history, tradition and on the people, as well as a mix of topics concerning Thai popular culture, travelogues and articles about Thai food.

Sirinya’s aim is not only to entertain you but to provide you with information and facts about Thailand, its culture and history that may not be generally known, in particular to the Western world. She has a PhD in American Studies from the University of Hamburg.

To read the original story, and many more, be sure to check out Sirinya’s blog: www.sirinyas thailand.de

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