Thailand: Land of smiles...and ghosts

SUPERSTITION: A young woman praying while holding tarot cards used by a fortune teller (left) to predict her future at a temple in Bangkok, Thailand, at a shrine dedicated to the famous ghost ‘Nak’.

Black magic, white magic or simply hocus-pocus - call it what you will but in Thailand, it is big business.

From exorcism ceremonies to spirit houses and amulets claiming to make wearers bullet-proof, the country is soaked in superstition.

Mr Kapol, one of Thailand's most famous ghost experts, told AFP: "Westerners may believe in Satan. In the nations of South-east Asia, we believe in ghosts. This kind of belief helps people refrain from doing bad things. Mr A may think, 'If I kill Mr B, he may become a ghost and come back to haunt me'."

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.

From time to time, Thailand's notoriously fractious politics also draw on the occult.

Competing camps have openly used black magic curses against each other while protesters often deck themselves out in amulets that they believe make them impervious to bullets or harm.

But some Thais say superstitious beliefs are not good for their countrymen as it exploits them.

One man, who wanted to be anonymous, is leading an Internet campaign against Thai beliefs in ghosts.

He caused an uproar when he posted a photograph of himself stepping on a row of zebra figurines at a busy road junction known for fatal crashes in capital Bangkok.


Zebra statues are a common sight at accident spots due to the belief that their stripes - which remind people of pedestrian crossings - will fend off the unhappy ghosts of previous traffic victims that many believe cause new crashes.

The man said Thais would rather put their faith in statues and amulets than take concrete steps to reduce personal risk, such as driving more safely.

"These kind of beliefs keep Thailand an underdeveloped country," he fumed.

Belief in the superstitious is also 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.

This article was first published on January 3, 2015.
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