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Animism and Superstition in Thailand

Animism and Superstition in Thailand

The dominant religion in Thailand (by approximately 90-95%) is Theravada Buddhism. Animism – the belief that spirits and supernatural forces inhabit/control the material universe, however, also plays an important role in Thai society, as does superstition. Many acts of Animism are mistaken as Buddhist practices by visitors to Thailand; in reality, the Thais probably devote as much time to Animist practices as they do to Buddhist ones. A good example of animism in Thailand is the spirit house.

Thai ‘Spirit House’
Most homes and businesses in Thailand have a ‘Spirit House’. A ‘Spirit House’ is a miniature house/temple, usually erected on a pole – like a bird table, outside the home or business. The main function of a ‘Spirit House’ is to provide shelter for spirits  (in the hope that the spirits will inhabit the ‘Spirit House’ and not the home or business). There are a few different types of ‘Spirit House’ in Thailand but the most common ones are ‘San Jao Tee’ & ‘San Pra Phoom’.   ‘San Pra Phoom’ is a ‘Spirit House’ for a guardian angel that protects the family home or Business; ‘San Jao Tee’ is a more general type of ‘Spirit House’ that is provided for the ‘spirits of the land’. Daily offerings of food and drink are placed in ‘Spirit Houses’ all over the country to appease spirits that could cause all sorts of mischief in the home or business if left neglected. Although the ‘Spirit House’ has its origins in Animism, Buddhist Monks are often consulted to ensure the ‘Spirit House’ is placed in the most auspicious location.

Spirit House outside my mother-in-law's house in Buriram
San Pra Phoom ‘Spirit House’ outside my mother-in-law’s house in Buriram, northeastern Thailand

Superstition in Thailand
Thai people are a superstitious lot and there are many rules that should be followed to ensure that bad luck is minimised, good luck is maximised, and ghosts (phi) stay out of homes and lives. The following are 10 common examples of Thai superstition.

  1. Your baby is ugly… do not make remarks about someone’s baby being lovely or cute, spirits may steal a good looking baby but they won’t steal an ugly one – lie and call the baby ‘ugly’.
  2. Left eye twitch, right eye twitch… Left eye twitch = bad luck, right eye twitch = good luck (or is it the other way around?)
  3. Hearing strange voices at night… If you hear strange voices calling you at night, don’t answer – it could be a ghost, and by replying you are inviting them into your house.
  4.  Thai people and rainbows… no matter how beautiful, don’t point at a rainbow or your finger may fall off.
  5. Snake… if you dream of a snake that wraps itself around your body, soon you will find your soul mate.
  6. Pregnant women and funerals… do not go to a funeral if you are pregnant – Thai people believe that the ghost of the dead person may haunt the baby once it is born.
  7. Lizards and leaving your home… if you hear a house lizard just before you are about to go out – don’t go; Thai people believe that the lizard is warning you of impending danger outside and that you should stay home.
  8. Dog barking at night… If a dog barks after midnight it is probably barking at a ghost.
  9. Haircut… don’t get your hair cut on a Wednesday or bad luck will ensue.
  10. Seeing ghosts… If you want to see a ghost, bend over and stick your head between your legs and look behind you.

In modern day Thailand some of the above superstitions aren’t taken as seriously as they used to be but many of them are, especially by older people in the rural regions of the country. Thai people, however, are very superstitious and most of them – even young people – believe in ghosts.

Animism and Superstition in Thailand

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