Thainess Part 5: Superstitions

Often connected to the belief of ghosts and spirits, Thailand is a land of superstitions. It is customary for people to consult a fortune teller or monk for an auspicious date before arranging a wedding, buying a home, test driving a car, and other situations.

There are superstitions related to spirits housed inside the body of dolls, not cutting children’s hair if they are sick as a baby, male and female twins, animals, dreams, and more.

One tradition that is occasionally encountered is to ask permission from the phra phum (spirit ghost of the land) for a visitor to stay in the house. The visitor is also asked to thank the ghost when they leave. This custom still exists, mainly in rural areas of the country but also among the very superstitious. Some Thais will perform this ritual before going to sleep in a hotel room, because it isn’t their home and they want to ensure the spirit doesn’t cause them any trouble.

If you visit a building or home with a threshold (the strip or wood or metal that runs across the bottom of an entry door frame) it is polite to step over it and not on it. This superstition relates to the spirits that inhabit a home. One of the spirits is said to live in the door threshold. If you step on the threshold you may anger the spirit and bring bad luck to the family.

There are quite a few superstitions surrounding childbirth. Here are a few of the more popular ones:

  • A woman should avoid buying clothes or making preparations for the baby because it may result in miscarriage.
  • A pregnant woman should not sit on the stairs because this may cause a difficult or obstructed birth.
  • A pregnant woman should not bury anything in the soil.
  • It is also believed that if a pregnant woman attends a funeral her baby will be haunted by the spirit of a dead person once it is born.
  • Superstition is that if you call a baby cute it will be taken away by a ghost. Thai people will instead compliment a cute baby with the expression “น่ารักน่าชัง nâa-rák nâa-chang” (meaning “adorable and unpleasant”).

Post birth, some women go through a ritual called Yu Fai, which translates as “lying by fire/being with the fire”. This occurs for 3-7 days and for five hours per session. The ritual is conducted wearing warm clothes or being wrapped in blankets and lying down on a wooden bed over a warm fire. The aim of this is to shrink the uterus back to normal size, flatten the stomach, and remove stretch marks and perineal tears, and of course to ward off evil spirits.

An old belief hailing from central Thailand states that conception occurs when a khwan (soul) flies into the uterus during sexual intercourse.

Luk thep, which translates to child angel, caused a viral fad when Bangkok hipsters decided to carry around these haunted dolls wherever they went. Luk thep, contain the spirit of a child and are believed to boost cash flow and bring prosperity to their doting humans.

“Don’t have your headboard facing the west. It’s the direction of the dead,” is something you’ll hear superstitious Thai folks say. It is widely believed that sleeping with your bed facing the West will bring you bad luck, as only dead bodies face this direction, like at funerals. Many Thais take this very seriously, even making sure not to sleep facing the West at hotels.

Most hairdressers and barber shops are closed on a Wednesday and not just for no good reason. Thais believe it is not only bad luck to have your haircut on a Wednesday but that it is also an auspicious day. This belief originated from members of the royal family having their hair cut on a Wednesday and therefore common people were prohibited to do so.

Other beliefs are related to longevity. If a picture of you falls off the wall and the glass or frame breaks many Thais believe that you will die soon. When you are eating noodles, don’t cut the noodles, the longer the noodles the longer you will live.

If you are a single female and sing while cooking or eating you will end up with an old husband. This taboo came from the fact that the rice will be burnt or you will accidently cut yourself with the kitchen knife if you don’t pay attention while cooking. It was used to scare ladies working in the kitchen, as ladies at that time usually feared getting old husbands.

If you get to eat the last piece of food on the plate when sharing with your friends, you will get a handsome boyfriend or good looking girlfriend. Dreaming about a snake wrapping itself around your body that means your soul mate is on his/her way! In the case you already have a girlfriend or boyfriend, or are already married and you dreamt that you found a snake, someone is having a crush on you!

If you hear a gecko before you leave your home, it is considered a warning sign that something bad will happen and you should, therefore, stay home.

If your right eye twitches it means something bad is going to happen to you, but if it is the left eye you will have good luck.

Thai drivers believe that when driving pass a shrine or a curve that had many accidents, you should honk to show respect to the souls living in that area. This belief actually just makes people alert when driving through a dangerous curve.

One should always consult a monk or fortune teller to get the best date (in Thai is called ฤกษ์ rêrk) for a wedding or taking a new car out of the showroom, prior to installing the foundation pile for a new house, and to arrange a housewarming party. Many Thais even have a family fortune teller who tells if a person is suitable to be a son or daughter-in-law of the family.

While most modern Thais do not practice or belief in all of these superstitions, they are at least aware of them and will delight in telling you about these and many more. If you enjoy a good ghost story, you will find much to love when exploring beyond the standard Thailand for tourists. Just be careful if you are easily frightened!

One thought on “Thainess Part 5: Superstitions

  1. Pingback: Sunday Summary #4 | Mark Joseph Jochim

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