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Spirits and Ghosts in Thailand

Posted by Claudio on April 26, 2010 in Living in Thailand |

Do you believe in Ghosts? Are you convinced invisible Spirits are at work when something unexplainable happens in your life? If you do, you are not alone. Many people do and in Thailand, it’s even the norm to believe in Ghosts and Spirits.

The following video is a funny commercial which uses ghosts to sell their product and also gives some insight into the many different spirits that are said to exist in Thailand:

Thais often wear one or more amulets around their necks. Different amulets have different powers: Some are worn to attract members of the opposite sex, others are worn to protect against weapons.

Amulets are worn to protect a person and keep bad spirits away. Monks are quick to point out, however, that an amulet is worn only as a reminder of Buddha’s teachings and not as a protection. Most large trees are said to have spirits living inside and old trees are particularly respected. Spirit houses are placed in front of homes, so that the spirits have a place to stay without invading the living quarters. Food, drinks, flowers, and incense is placed on these spirit houses as offerings to the spirits living there.

There are some well known spirits and ghosts in Thailand:

Phi Ton Mai (ผีต้นไม้)

Ghosts that reside in trees. These can be benevolent or malevolent spirits. You will often see trees in Thailand wrapped with colorful cloth. It means that a spirit inhabits that tree. There is often a certain spirit associated with a certain type of tree: Nang Mai (นางไม้) is a female spirit inhabiting a tree; Nang Takian (นางตะเคียน) is located in hopea trees and Nang Tanee (นางตานี)  is found in banana trees.  To protect forests against logging, some monks ordained trees and wrapped them up with a thin orange cloth. These trees then became sacred, making it impossible for Buddhists to harm the trees. Sometimes, however, officials used another monk to defrock the tree.

Kuman Thong (กุมารทอง)

A baby spirit. The first story related to Kuman Thong was found in the Thai book “Khun Chang Khun Paen” (ขุนช้างขุนแผน). The way to get this spirit is quite horrible: one must get a dead fetus and burn it in order to obtain a small body. Then dark incantations are cast to insert black magic inside. The Kuman Thong spirit is supposed to warn and protect his owner in case of danger. The owner must also feed and protect it.  Nowadays, this spirit is made of wood and often represents a little child with a hair topcut. If the owner doesn’t take care of his Kuman Thong, power disappears from the statue.

Phi Pop (ผีปอบ)

An evil spirit that lives inside a witch and leaves her body during sleep. Before the witch can die, they have to find somebody who will inherit the spirit by consuming some of the old witch’s saliva. These ghosts are powerful and fearful. If they succeed in possessing someone, they eat his or her intestines. The origin of Phi Pop comes from an old legend: Once upon a time, a prince who was fond of magic found the way to enter people’s bodies and take control of them. Once the prince said magic words and entered into the body of an animal. His servant, listening to those words, repeated them and entered the body of the prince. As a result, he became the prince. The real prince, entering the body of a bird, rushed to tell the truth to his wife. She then destroyed the servant’s body and challenged the false prince to enter the body of an animal. Then the real prince re-entered his body, but the servant was not able to re-enter his own body. From this time on his spirit goes from one body to the next, eating its intestines.

Phi Am (ผีอำ)

An evil spirit sleeping on people’s chests. When somebody has difficulty breathing, Thai people say that a Phi Am spirit sleeps on his or her chest. To defend against this ghost, men in some northeastern villages put on lipstick before retiring to bed, in the believe that these female widow ghosts are women and won’t harm other females.

Phi Kraseu (ผีกระสือ)

A malicious and very dangerous spirit which manifests itself as a beautiful woman. It floats through the air because it has no lower body. It appears as a length of intestines suspended from a lovely woman’s face.

Phi Tai Hong (ผีตายโหง)

A most fearful ghost. These spirits died a violent death. The velocity of their death surprised them. The most fearful of all is Phi Tai Hong Tong Klom (ผีตายโหงทองกลม), the spirit of a pregnant woman. This ghost is more powerful, because it has the power of two people. Thais are really afraid of these ghosts. Even today, the belief is still strong in Thai society. Some ghost stories are often based on women already pregnant and abandoned by their husband or boyfriend. After committing suicide, the ghosts of these women could be seen wandering and looking for their mate. Some people still believe that an undertaker should use needles to sew up the mouth of the diseased; a death ritual believed to prevent the spirit of a person who died young and in a violent manner from haunting the living.

Phajanak (พยานาค)

A mystical snake living in the Mekong river. People living close to Mekong river, especially in the North East of Thailand, have a strong belief in the Phajanak. Thai and Lao people avoid swimming in the Mekong due to the threat of this spirit. It grabs the legs of people swimming and brings them under water to be used as servants. Some villagers have seen a Phajanak coming from the Mekong, rolling around a tree. In 1973, a strange fish was caught by American volunteers in the Mekong river. It was 23 feet long! Reality mixing with old tales…

There are many more spirits and ghosts recognized by Thai people. For a more extended list, check out the website Ghosts of Thailand.

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