Thai Buddhism is impregnated by ghosts stories coming from Buddhist legends. But it is also impregnated by ghosts stories and beliefs coming from ancient religions (Hinduism, Brahmanism) present before Buddhism in Thailand. There is a belief into two kinds of Thai ghosts and spirits :
Ghosts linked to the Nature and its elements (air, earth, fire and water)
ghosts linked to Buddhist beliefs and legends
Thai people are really afraid of ghosts ("PHI" - ผี). No joke should be said about them otherwise they might come. Anyway numerous Thai magazines about ghosts and spirits are available in Thai bookshops.
Spirits and nature
ศาลพระภุมูมิ or "SAN PHRA PHUM" means "the house of spirits".
Every Thai house has a house of spirits. The spirit house size is related to the owner's house. The biggest it is, the biggest the spirit house shall be. Every morning the owner of the house shall feed the spirits. It was mandatory to install a spirit house when building a new house. In fact the house is made for the spirit of the land. It calms the spirit and assure good blessings for the owner of the house.
Everywhere in Thailand, spirit houses can be seen. Food, drinks and also little figurines representing servants, dancers, elephants, cars are given to the spirit of the land. The dancers shall entertain him. The elephant shall transport him.
A spirit house must not be in the shade of the main building.
Everywhere in Thailand, shops sell spirit houses and shrines to embed ancestors' ashes.
ผีต้นไม้ or "PHI TON MAI" means "ghosts that reside in tree". They are generally classified into two categories, i.e. benovolent and malevolent spirits.
Everywhere in Thailand, some trees are wrapped with a cloth. Especially in temples but also in forests. It means that a spirit inhabits the tree. Of course the tree shall not be cut without warning the spirit in order to let him find another tree.
There is often a certain spirit associated to a certain type of tree such as banana tree. นางไม้ or "NANG MAI" is a female spirit inhabiting a tree. Other famous spirits are นางตะเคียน or "NANG TAKIAN" located in hopea trees and นางตานี or "NANG TANEE" located in banana trees.
To protect forests against logging, some monks ordain trees and wrapped them up with a thin orange cloth. Trees were then sacred. For Bouddhist people it was now impossible to harm the trees. Alas sometimes officials used another monk to defrock the trees.
หมอผี or "MO PHI" are the spirits doctors. หมอดู or "MO DOO" are astrologers.
A monk or astrologer may suggest that misfortune or suffering can be terminated by taking a new name.
In Thailand many spirit doctors help people to get chance, to gain the heart of a desired mate, to get rid of ghosts, to reveal future, to get rid of curses. These spirit doctors can be ordinary persons who have spirit power ("PALANG CHIT" - ปลั่งจิต) or also monks. But monk hierarchy does not tolerate those monks.
Of course there are dozens of ways of telling fortunes, but in Thailand reading cards or the palm are probably the most popular.
The annual biggest concentration of spirit doctors happens each september in Phuket and South of Thailand during the Vegetarian festival. Many men pierce their body with sharp objects or walk on fire. They feel no pain and show the power of the spirit that inhabits their body. This festival is linked to Chinese religion and beliefs.
นางกวัก or "NANG KWAK" is a spirit.
The "NANG KWAK" is a spirit supposed to bring money in the household. Its statue represents a woman in Thai traditional clothes, sitting on her knees with the right hand up and the hand making the gesture to bring money to her-self. Thai people like to have this statue in their home or their shop.
กุมารทอง or "KUMAN THONG" is 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 a "KUMAN THONG" is quite horrible: one must get a dead foetus 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 "KUMAN THONG" are made of wood. It 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.
A few years ago a monk addicted to black magic made a "KUMAN THONG" with a dead foetus. He was disrobed.
ผีปอบ or "PHI POP" is an evil spirit.
These ghosts are powerful and fearful. If they succeed to possess someone, they eat his intestines. One solution to get rid of them is to call a "doctor" dancer. This spirit doctor chases the "PHI POP" by making a whirlpool dance. When watching the dance, the "PHI POP" entered a whirlpool and is chased from the body.
Origin of "PHI POP" came from an old legend. Once upon ago a Prince fond of magic found the way to enter inside alive bodies and to take control over them. Once the prince said magic words and entered into the body of an animal. His servant listening to those words repeated them, entered to the body of the Prince and of course became the Prince. The Prince entering the body of a bird rushed to tell the truth to his wife. This one destroyed the servant's body and challenged the false Prince to enter the body on an animal, then the real Prince re-entered in his body but the servant was not able to re-enter his body. Since this time his spirit goes from one body to the other eating its intestines.
ผีอำ or "PHI AM" is a spirit.
The spirit "PHI AM" sleeps on the chest. When somebody has difficulty to breathe, Thai people say that a "PHI AM" spirit sleeps on his chest.
For example, the belief about widow ghosts which prompts men in some northeastern villages to put on lipstick (widow ghosts then believe they are women) before retiring to bed, or to place effigies in front of their houses, cannot be proven true. But it involves no fraud and makes the villagers feel better.
ผีกระสือ or "PHI KRASEU" is a evil spirit.
The spirit "PHI KRASEU" is often represented as a woman head with intestines.
ผีตายโหง or "PHI TAI HONG" are the most fearful ghost.
These spirits died of violent death ( murder, crash car and so on...). The velocity of their death surprised them. The most powerful of all is "PHI TAI HONG TONG KLOM" (ผีตายโหงทองกลม), spirit of a pregnant woman. This ghost is more powerful because it has the power of two people.
Thai people are really afraid of these ghosts. Even today the belief is still strong in Thai society. Some ghosts 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 after their mate.
Some people still believe that an undertaker shall use needles to sew up the mouth, a death ritual believed to prevent the spirit of a person who died young and in a violent manner from haunting the living.
Following the 2004 deadly tsunami, tales of ghost sightings in the six worst hit southern provinces have become endemic, with many locals saying they are too terrified to venture near the beach or into the ocean. Health experts described as an outpouring of delayed mass trauma.
In the garden grounds of the Nai Lert Park Hotel in Bangkok, there is a shrine called "CHAO MAE TUPTIM", dedicated to the goddess "TUPTIM". It is said that women who pray here in a wish to become fertile for pregnancy, will return if their wish is fulfilled, and place another phallus at the shrine in thanks.
Penises abound at the shrine of goddess "TUPTIM". Most are built of wood, and are quite huge, including some which stand 10 feet tall.
Chao Mae Tuptim
Tall cylinders of stone (called "lingams") are worshipped as the phallic images of Hindu god Shiva.
Thais occasionally dangle a tiny wooden phallus from their belt or necklace, for added protection. Modern Thais are familiar with wooden penises which are sold in markets as good luck amulets. Sometimes, a shop or restaurant will display a wooden penis in a discreet location, hoping it will help business.
พยานาค or "PHAJANAK" is a mystical snake living in the Mekong river.
People living close to Mekong river, especially in "ISAN" area have a strong belief in the "PHAJANAK". Thai and Lao people avoid swimming in Mekong river due to the "PHAJANAK" threat. It grabs the legs of people swimming and brings them under water to be used like servants. Some villagers have seen a "PHAJANAK" coming from the Mekong rolling around a tree.
In 1973 a strange fish was caught by American volonteers in Mekong river. It was 23 feet long. The reality is mixing up with old tales.
Spirits and buddhism
Thai temples are places related to Thai Buddhism. Monks are living there. Those places are sacred. Temples also contain cemetaries. Bones are enshrined in small pagoda.
In year 2002 a religious rite was organized to get rid of ghosts many locals believe are haunting an accident-plagued intersection. Some local people believe the intersection was haunted by ghosts who wanted more people to die so that the spirits of the dead would guard the road for them. Monks performed a prayer to cast out all bad spirits and bring good luck.
At night Thai temples become "evil" places. Monks sleep in their houses. Ghosts and spirits are reputed to wander around cemetary in temples. Some spirit doctors use the oil of buried corpse, called "NAM MAN PRAI" ( น้ำมันพราย ), to make love filters, which are told to be the best.
Everywhere in Thailand, shops sell spirit houses and shrines to embed ancestors' ashes.
It is said that during the first days of ordination, young monks, while meditating, are assaulted by ghosts in order to afraid them and to force them to defrock.
Still today every person who died must be cremated and not buried. When the body is cremated, the soul goes away and waits until next reincarnation. If buried, it stays on earth as a spirit and it harms everybody. In 1998, a big cremation was organised to burn many dead people. Nobody has claimed the corpses. The Poh Tek Teung Foundation and Ruam Katanyu Foundation staff are known as "body snatchers" working in great anticipation of collecting some dead corpses.
Huge statues of giants called "YAK" (ยักษ์) stand in front of temples. They intend to frighten the spirits and protect the Buddha statues from the spirits. The most famous "YAK" in Thailand are located in the Royal temple "WAT PHRA KAEW" (วัดพระแก้ว) in Bangkok. This temple contains the famous Emerald Buddha statue made of jade. It is said that the jade is coming from a mountain where "YAK" are supposed to have been living long ago. It is a rare case where the "YAK" are facing the temple inner.
"PHRA KREUANG" (พระเคื่รอง) or Buddha holy amulet is a lucrative business in Thailand. Made of stone, pottery or metal, temples use them to remind followers of the Buddha's teachings and to commemorate deceased monks. Sales eventually became a key source of income. There are specialised markets to buy them. Prices can be very high (up to one million Baht) for high sacred amulets. Chinese, Hong Kong and Singapore people are also interested in amulets business but Thailand still remains the best place for that kind of business. There are even persons collecting them. This kind of worship for amulets started at RAMA IV reign.
Most Thai people believe that wearing around the neck a Buddha holy amulet protect them from anything. There are even some policemen that don't wear any bullet-proof jacket or some drivers that don't use their seat-belt while driving because they are protected by the magic of the amulet against bullets or accidents.
Some people also wear several holy amulets to have more protection. Some also wear amulets in shape of male sex in order to improve their virility. Many magazines about holy amulets are sold in Thai book shops.
In 1996, the amulet business was worth 10 billion baht. In 2000, it grossed just 6 billion baht. The main cause of falling sales is Thailand's struggling economy. People can't afford to buy or spend as much on the amulets. But the market in a predominantly Buddhist country has also suffered because of growing doubts about the revered but scandal-tainted monkhood. Anyway amulets blessed by reputable monks still sell well.
Thai people believe it is possible to change the destiny, to escape the fate, to lessen the sufferings by magical interventions such as tattoos, amulets.
The "YAN" (ยันต์) is a drawing representing religious mystical symbols to protect the area from ghosts and bad spirits. This symbol can be seen in many locations such as cars, taxis, temples, doors of houses and so on...
Thai men believe in the power of tattoos. In old times tattoos ("SAK" - สัก) protected the skin against sharp knifes. The only way to kill the person was to hit the body strongly in order that internal bleeding caused the death.
เวรกรรม or "WEN KAM" is the result of the past bad actions.
Bad actions and rewards of these bad actions take an important place in Buddhism and in Thai behaviour. When somebody dies, if he behaved in a bad way, he is sent to hell in order to be tortured. After a while, he shall have a new rebirth. This life will be hard and tough. He has to pay for his past bad actions. Only when he died, he will have consumed his bad actions.
Thailand has also a unique traditional death ritual, i.e. applying soot or red lime to the corpse to identify the person when he or she is reborn.
Some Thai magazine narrate "WEN KAM" stories. The slogan is "No need to wait for next life in order to know more about the result of past bad actions".
Thai people often say "WEN KAM" (เวรกรรม) when they have bad luck. It means that their bad luck is linked to their past behaviour in their previous life. Thai people often make offerings to temples and monks in order to gain merit and lessen their past bad actions.
Thai people believe that when people die, a relative has to cremate them or bless them. If this is not done or the body is not found, people believe the person will appear over and over again to show where they are.
In 2001 a woman who claims her son has been reincarnated as a lizard can keep it until she performs religious rites to send his spirit away. She claims the monitor lizard followed her home after her son was cremated one month ago. It's illegal to keep the reptile in captivity, but officials have agreed to let her keep it until she's performed the rites. Crowds have visited her home, believing the lizard is lucky. Some have rubbed its skin hoping to see winning lottery numbers. The reptile is being fed on yoghurt and milk - favourites of the dead boy. The lizard is said to be in a poor condition and growing weaker. It will be taken to a wildlife sanctuary once the rites have been performed.
Mae nak phra khanong
A famous shrine in Bangkok (ศาลแม่นาคพระโขนง) is located near Sukhumvit Road, Soi 101. It is containing the grave of the dreadful ghost "PHI PHRA KHANONG" (ผีพระโขนง). This ghost has frightened Thai people since almost a century.
Mae nak phra khanong
Last century, when Bangkok was still called the "Venice of the Far East", a woman called "MAE NAK" (แม่นาค) was married to a soldier. After a while her husband has to go to a remote place. Alas she was already pregnant.
While her husband was away, she died with the baby still inside her body. So as Thai people believe, a woman who died with her baby creates a powerful spirit called "PHI TAI HONG THONG KLOM" (ผีตายโหงทองกลม). She started to frighten all her neighbourhood, killed some people and sucked their blood and so everybody was afraid of her. But she still loved her husband deeply.
Her husband didn't know anything about his wife's death. So when he came back home his wife was waiting for him. Many persons did warn him that his wife was dead and that he was living with a ghost but he did not believe them. One day when "MAE NAK" was preparing the dinner and her husband bathing himself in the bathroom, a lemon fell from her hand. As the house was a Thai traditional house, it was built on piles and so the lemon fell on the ground 2 meters lower than the house's floor. So the ghost "MAE NAK" made her arm longer in order to get it. But her husband saw that and understood that his wife was a ghost and managed to flee from the house.
Thanks to a monk, the spirit was imprisoned in a bottle and thrown in the river. The monk covered the bottle with a cloth. On this cloth was written Pali language in order to disable the spirit from going outside the bottle. But the legend is not over. Two fishermen trying to catch some fish got the bottle and freed "MAE NAK".
But the husband of "MAE NAK" was living with another woman. The ghost of "MAE NAK" managed to find them and killed her husband's new girlfriend.
Finally "MAE NAK" accepted to stop killing because a monk promised her that in a next life she would live again with her husband. Nowadays Thai people still believe in the story of "MAE NAK PHRA KHANONG". Thai people don't like to speak about ghosts, they are afraid to meet them in their dreams while sleeping.
"MAE NAK" is said to love listening Mon Rak Luuk Tuung
Today the grave of "MAE NAK PHRA KHANONG" can be found in a shrine in Bangkok. This shrine is famous because "MAE NAK" is supposed to help people playing lottery. Thai people are looking for lucky numbers in trees' bark.
The Thai expression is ขัดต้นไม้ขอหวย.
A young Thai is lady adding gold leaves on Mae nak phra khanong's arm. Her baby is in front of her.
Mae nak phra khanong
"MAE NAK" is the short name for "MAE NAK PHRA KHANONG". "MAE" (แม่) means mother but now many people are calling her "YA NAK". "YA" (ย่า) means grant mother. Indeed the story happened one century ago.
Many donations are made : toys, flowers, beautiful dresses, children clothes, food for her or her child. During all the day, a TV is on. "MAE NAK" likes the Thai movie "MON RAK LUUK THUNG" (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง).
Mae nak phra khanong
Thai mothers always warn their daughters to come home after school. If not "MAE NAK" might catch them ! The shrine where "MAE NAK PHRA KHANONG" ashes remain is located near Sukhumvit road, soi 77. This shrine is now famous. Due to the several Thai TV series and the movie, the shrine is overcrowded.
Inside the shrine there is a statue of "MAE NAK" covered with gold leaves.
Mae nak phra khanong
The Thai movie "NANG NAK" released in 1999 is the year biggest success in Thai cinema. It is the story of "MAE NAK PHRA KHANONG".