Unlike most people here in the Land of Smiles, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra hasn't ever really been concerned about Thailand's current political tension. When asked to comment he told reporters; "Be patient with the headache-inducing situation until July 2. Mars moving closer to Saturn causes the headache. When Mars leaves, the situation will ease." Like many powerful businessmen, Thaksin Shinawatra is a firm believer in astrology. For Westerners, the fact that such a prominent political figure could base his judgements on astrology and the predictions of a fortune teller is surprising and even a little unsettling. However, in Thailand decisions are often influenced by astrology, magic spells, superstitious beliefs and charms.
It is often reported that the Thai military regularly travels as a group to visit certain monks who are believed to have the power to predict the future. In the months before the military coup of 2006, there were widespread rumours that Cambodian monks specialising in black magic were regularly visited. Feng shui was also used as a military weapon and certain Bangkok landmarks were relocated in order to utilise positive energy flows.
Believe it or not, astrology and the supernatural heavily influence the daily life and decisions of a large number of Thai people. Take 35 year old Nam is a lecturer at a well known Bangkok university. Highly respected and admired, Nam told me that; "I always consult a fortune teller before making important decisions." In fact, she confesses that she seeks the advice of the mystic man for all sorts of occasions, such as before going on a date, moving house and even cutting her hair.
And Nam is by no means alone in this practice. There are thousands of superstitious beliefs and practices that make up daily life in Thailand, and whether we fully embrace them or not, they can offer an important insight into the culture and mind set of the Thai people.
Many Westerners who choose to make Thailand their home and marry a Thai person may be quite familiar with such practices. First of all, a well respected monk or fortune teller will be consulted to determine the most auspicious day to get married. This process can actually be a lot more complicated than it sounds. Certain days are unlucky, depending on which day you were born.
So what should people born on specific days avoid?
Here goes... If you were born on a:
- Sunday, avoid doing anything auspicious on a Friday.
- Monday, avoid doing anything auspicious on a Sunday.
- Tuesday, avoid doing anything auspicious on a Monday.
- Wednesday, avoid doing anything auspicious on a Tuesday.
- Thursday, avoid doing anything auspicious on a Saturday.
- Friday, avoid doing anything auspicious on a Wednesday.
- Saturday, avoid doing anything auspicious on a Wednesday at nighttime.
A couple of years ago, two good friends of mine planned to get married. Unfortunately, the English man had no idea which day of the week he was born on or the time of day, which can also influence which day is suitable. He finally calculated that he was born on a Monday, which meant that a Sunday wedding was definitely out. His girlfriend was born on a Thursday, so Saturday was also void. Tuesdays are generally bad days for weddings and the monk had warned against Wednesdays and Mondays. That meant that the only available days to make the match were Fridays and it was several months before a suitable date could be found.
- If you make jokes when eating a ghost will steal your rice
Another auspicious occasion is the choosing of a Thai name. Most people consult an astrologer or monk to select a name that will bring the child good fortune, health and happiness.
When choosing the name, the monk or astologer will ask the child's day and time of birth. He will then consult a book and/or star chart to find out which letters will bring good luck if used in the name and which will bring bad fortune. Many people strongly believe that their name is connected to their fortune, and it is not unusual for someone who has experienced particularly bad luck to change their name.
The third main occasion when Westerners may come across Thailand's special connection with superstition and astrology is in the building of a new house. The good days for starting to build a house are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, although take care to also consider the day when you personally should not undertake a special task. Sundays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are considered to be bad for starting construction.
It is worth remembering that you should not make merit in your house or have a haircut on Wednesdays, and Fridays are considered inappropriate days for funerals.
Ghosts play a role in most cultures, with certain ghost stories being retold for hundreds of years. Although practically everyone has their favourite ghost story which they love to tell, most Westerners no longer have a strong belief in ghosts and stories are told in a very tongue-in-cheek manner.
However, many Thai people still have a strong belief and fear of ghosts. Many of my Thai friends claim to have seen at least one ghost and can recall a large number of ghost stories in vivid detail.
Here are a few of the beliefs concerning ghosts:
- A ghost will enter your house if you stand in the doorway
- A ghost will curse you if you sing while eating
- You will see a ghost if you bend down and look between your legs
Never say a baby is cute because a ghost will come and take it away.
As I have said, there are literally thousands of beliefs and superstitions in Thailand. Here are some I find particularly interesting:
- Do not look at naked people because your eyes will become swollen
- Do not throw money away because you will lose your finger
- The moon contains a rabbit
- Bite your shoes before you wear them for the first time to prevent them from biting your feet
- Your finger will fall off if you point at a rainbow
- Do not taste food with a large serving spoon because it will make your child ugly
- Bad luck will come to a house if you enter through the window
Another thing most visitors to Thailand notice is that many people wear amulets. Amulets are special Buddha images, often gold-plated and worn around the neck. They are believed to possess a variety of sacred powers such as the ability to protect the wearer from accident or ill-health.
Stalls selling amulets can be seen on virtually every street or market place. However, authentic Jatukam amulets should only be bought from particular temples and the monks who reside there. The amulets are blessed by monks or priests and often three or even five are worn together on a piece of cord. Never wear an even number of amulets as it is considered unlucky.
You should avoid touching a Thai person's amulet as it diminishes the amulet's powers. Also, avoid wearing the amulet in the toilet as it will no longer be sacred.
So there you have it. Astrology and the supernatural have a firm place in Thai culture and anyone wishing to truly embrace the culture must explore, accept and perhaps even embrace these beliefs as well.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!