the influence of the spirit world is felt in belief, business and popular entertainment in thailand’s capital and beyond
On a popular episode of “Humans defy ghosts” – a weekly Thai TV programme that delves into the supernatural – a two-year-old girl who survived three days next to the dead body
of her mother was asked a series of questions by one of the show’s panellists. “Who prepared your milk?” Kapol Thongplab enquired. “Who played with you? Who
opened the door?” “Mummy,” the little girl replied, as genuinely convinced as her adult
interlocutors that her mother’s ghost continued to sustain her in those harrowing days. In Thailand, a show like this is more than just entertainment.
For many of Thailand’s soothsayers, astrologers and its huge monastic network, belief in superstitions is undoubtedly lucrative. Exorcisms, protective spells and trinkets are all readily available at a price, while books and films about haunting spirits are hugely popular. Businesses often pay monks to make annual visits to chase away evil spirits. Thais believe a violent or unexpected death is more likely than a peaceful death to result in the creation of an angry ghost when a soul departs.
Few ghosts are more famous than ‘Nak’, a woman who Thais believe lived in Bangkok in the
19th century and died during childbirth while her husband was away fighting a war. There are many versions of the story, but in general they all describe how the husband returned to find his wife seemingly still alive. Nak was so devoted to him that she had remained as a ghost, but became a malevolent spirit when her husband discovered the truth and ran away.
“On the eve of a lottery, this temple is open all night,” reads the sign on a shrine dedicated to Nak in Bangkok where locals make offerings to the ghost asking for cures, good luck and exemption from military service. Fortune-tellers ply their trade outside the shrine and devotees also release fish, turtlesand frogs into a nearby canal to earn ‘merit’. According to the merchants selling the animals, the release of an eel will bring professional success and a frog can reduce sins. [AFP] 2 Feb 2015.
• Sinsakorn Aroon, a 60-year-old official, said he saw a ghostly phenomenon inside Bangkok’s Government House at around 6pm on 10 September 2014. Mr Sinsakorn, who is in charge of the audio system in the press conference room, said he was preparing to leave when he spotted a woman sweeping the floor near the reception room. He told her he was leaving and asked her to lock the door behind her – but then suddenly felt cold and wondered why someone was cleaning at that hour. “The repair workers were already done and the building’s housekeepers had already gone home,” he said. The figure then walked into a set of doors and disappeared right in front of him. “If she were human, I would have heard the door move,” he said. “I was frozen on the spot. I could only hear traditional Thai music, even though I didn’t hear that sound earlier. Once I came to my senses, I ran off and shut the door.”
Mr Sinsakorn said he had heard tales about Government House ghosts from other officials,
including a painter who claimed a female ghost told him in his dream to use “dark colours” when he painted inside the building, and an official who said workers noticed a scent of mysterious “ancient perfume” during the recent renovation. “I think I saw the ghost because she wants to instruct me to keep the building clean,” Mr Sinsakorn said. “I plan to make merits for her soul.” This latest apparition manifested despite the fact that a feng shui master had recently been hired to oversee the realignment of plants and furniture inside Government House. Military junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had also prayed to spirits at several different altars in the complex on his official first day of work just
days before Mr Sinsakorn’s ghostly encounter.
A number of Government House officials believed the ghost had appeared because the ceremonies needed to appease the supernatural entities watching over the area had not been properly conducted. The spirit world is everywhere in Thailand where animism and folk beliefs are deeply infused with Buddhism. Most buildings boast a ‘spirit house’ – a shrine placed in an auspicious corner of a property where offerings can be made to appease ghosts lest they turn malevolent. thaivisa.com, 12 Sept 2014.
• For several nights running, construction worker Nopchakorn Sangkong, 33, experienced a strange phenomenon he described as “seeing white smoke at his feet” and hearing a voice beckoning him toward an abandoned house nearby. Finally, on 12 November 2014 he entered the house – Soi Lat Phrao 74, in Bangkok – and found a skeleton on the second floor, prompting him to call the police. The remains were believed to be those of Wasinee Haemopas, 71, who owned the house and had probably died there of natural causes about three years earlier. She lived alone and never interacted with her neighbours. bangkok. coconuts.co, via thaivisa.com, 12 Nov 2014.
• Inhabitants of Baan Tai village in Thailand’s Krabi province suddenly started fainting in July 2015. Some later died. Local people blamed ghosts. Homeowner Rayong Boonroong, 70, said that she had fainted and became fearful for her life, especially after a relative dreamed the God of the Underground was out harvesting fresh souls from the living. To
discourage the wraiths from entering their homes, residents started hanging red T-shirts and signs to scare off the gullible ghosts. “This household has no faint-hearted people!” read one of the signs. “Only strong persons live here!”
The ghosts were believed to be targeting residents born on Wednesdays – just like Rayong. “This helps me feel more secure,” she said of the spirit-repelling shirt. Darunee Wangsop, 26, erected a scarecrow wearing a red T-shirt atop a motorcycle in front of her home. “It looks like someone is guarding us all the time,” she explained. The previous year, villagers in Buriram province had used T-shirts to protect themselves from a tall, headless man who claimed several souls while they slept. Phuket News (Thailand), 4 Aug 2015.