Ghosts in Thai culture
Belief in ghosts in Thai culture is both popular and enduring. In the history of Thailand Buddhist popular beliefs intermingled with legends of spirits or ghosts of local folklore. These myths have survived and evolved, having been adapted to the modern media, such as Thai films, Thai television soap operas, and Thai comics.
Some of the ghosts of Thai culture are shared with neighboring cultures. Krasue, for example is part of the Cambodian, Lao, and Malay cultures as well. A few of these, including the tall Pret, are part of the mythology of Buddhism. There are, however, others, such as Phi Dip Chin, which have entered Thai ghost lore through the Chinese community residing in Thailand for the past few centuries.
Thai spirits or ghosts are known generically as phi (ผี). A large proportion of these spirits are nocturnal. Except for the well-known Pret, most ghosts were traditionally not represented in paintings or drawings, hence they are purely based on oral tradition. The local beliefs regarding the village spirits of Thailand were studied by Phraya Anuman Rajadhon.
Ghosts are believed to frequent, among other places, certain trees, burial grounds near Buddhist temples, as well as abandoned houses.
There are different categories of ghosts. Certain ghosts dwelling in mountains and forests are generally known as Phi Khao (ผีเขา) and Phi Pa (ผีป่า). Geographic locations such as the Phi Pan Nam Range (ทิวเขาผีปันน้ำ), 'the mountain range that the spirits use to divide the waters', and Phae Mueang Phi (แพะเมืองผี) are named after ancient ghosts believed to dwell in these places. Female ghosts or fairies related to trees such as Nang Ta-khian and Nang Tani are known generically as Nang Mai (นางไม้ 'Lady of the Tree').
List of Thai ghosts
Some of the most well-known Thai ghosts are the following:
- Chao Kam Nai Wen (เจ้ากรรมนายเวร), a ghost that maintains ill will towards a person due to the wrongful deeds the latter committed to the former during the former's life
- Hun Phayon (หุ่นพยนต์), artificial human or non-human. Owners can take advantage of the power of black magic to protect them like Khwai Thanu.
- Khamot (โขมด), a luminescent ghost
- Khwai Thanu (ควายธนู), also known as Wua Thanu (วัวธนู), a magical bull or water buffalo. Most people believe that Khwai Thanu is a black magic that is influenced by African who studied Voodoo. Khwai Thanu is popular in southern and northeastern Thailand. Shaman will use the dark magic by using Khwai Thanu to attack the enemy. You can call it a devil that destroys everything. Khwai Thanu is used to protect people from dark magic, because Khwai Thanu is a deadly weapon that destroys the enemy. It is hard to break or destroy it with general weapons. The dark magic from Khwai Thanu can be solved by using superior dark magic. Khwai Thanu has deadly magic. Shaman who wants to control it must always be tame. If shaman does not care about it, Khwai Thanu can rematurn to hurt the owner. To make Khwai Thanu start from the wood to the body structure. Then find the wood that the Undertaker used for the cremation. Wood from cremation must be used from the body that died on Tuesday and the bodies burned on Friday. Such timing can create the most magic of Khwai Thanu. When it comes to wood, bring it to the head, body, horn and tail. Then find a lac on the jujube that special point at the end of the branch pointed east and find the sheet of gold foil that covered the dead body over to lac another layer. Followed by use of a tiny rolled metal amulet between the chest and neck. After completing the body of Khwai Thanu, the most important step of this ritual is to cast spells to it by shaman.
- Krahang (กระหัง), a male ghost that flies in the night
- Krasue (กระสือ), a woman's head with her viscera hanging down from the neck
- Kuman Thong (กุมารทอง), spirits of young boys caught by voodoo masters to do his biddings, usually dressed in Thai ancient clothing with traditional hair bun.
- Mae Nak (แม่นาก), a female ghost who died at childbirth and that can extend her arms
- Mae sue (แม่ซื้อ), a guardian goddess or a female ghost of infants
- Nang Mai (นางไม้; "Lady of the Wood"), a type of female ghosts or fairies related to trees.
- Phi Am (ผีอำ), a spirit that sits on a person's chest during the night
- Phi Dip Chin (ผีดิบจีน), a jumping ghost from the Chinese lore dressed in an ancient costume and having a written paper in front of his face, that has become also popular in Thailand through the Thai Chinese community.
- Phi Hua Khat (ผีหัวขาด), a headless male ghost that carries his head
- Phi Ka (ผีกะ), a voracious ghost
- Phi Kong Koi (ผีกองกอย), a forest vampire with one leg
- Phi Lang Kluang (ผีหลังกลวง), a ghost from Southern Thailand with a very large wound in the back
- Phi Ma Bong (ผีม้าบ้อง), a female ghost from Northern Thailand similar to a Tikbalang or Kelpie
- Phi Maphrao (ผีมะพร้าว), the coconut ghost.
- Phi Ngu (ผีงู), also known as Phrai Ngu (พรายงู) or Ngueak Ngu (เงือกงู), a ghost related to snakes that may appear in snake form, in human form or in a combination of both forms.
- Phi Phong (ผีโพง), a malevolent male ghost having an unpleasant smell. It lives in dark places under the vegetation
- Phi Phrai (ผีพราย), the ghost of a woman who died together with the child in her womb or a female ghost living in the water similar to an Undine
- Phi Pluak (ผีปลวก), the ghost of the termites
- Phi pop (Thai: ผีปอบ; RTGS: phi pop), a ghost which eats raw meat. Humans and animals can be possessed by phi pop which eat their internal organs, killing them.
- Phi Pu Thao (ผีปู่เฒ่า), a ghost appearing as a very old man
- Phi Song Nang (ผีสองนาง), female ghosts that first lure, and then attack and kill young men
- Phi Tabo (ผีตาโบ๋), a blind ghost with hollow eyes
- Phi Tai Ha (ผีตายห่า), ghosts of persons having died of an accident; similar to ผีตายโหง
- Phi Tai Hong (ผีตายโหง), the ghost of a person that suffered a sudden violent or cruel death
- Phi Thale (ผีทะเล), a spirit of the sea. It manifests itself in different ways, one of them being St. Elmo's fire, among other uncanny phenomenons experienced by sailors and fishermen while on boats. Also a slang for naughty men.
- Phi Thuai Khaeo (ผีถ้วยแก้ว), the ghost that makes the upturned glass move (Thai Ouija)
- Pret (เปรต), an extremely tall hungry ghost part of the Buddhist lore; they are two stories tall, very skinny and have needle hole for mouths.
- Pu Som Fao Sap (ปู่โสมเฝ้าทรัพย์), a male ghost who guards treasures appearing like a venerable old man
- Rak-Yom (รัก-ยม), appearing as two small boys similar to Kuman Thong
- Suea Saming (เสือสมิง), a male or female who transformed into a tiger as a result of the power of black magic similar to a Skin-walker or Werecat
- Phi Tai Thang Klom (ผีตายทั้งกลม), the vengeful ghost of pregnant women who died during childbirth.
The Ka ghost
The phi-ka (Thai: ผีกะ) ghost is a kind of ghost that originates in northern Thailand. It looks like the Phi-Pob (Thai: ผีปอบ) ghost because it takes the form of a human body. It is believed that it likes eating raw meat. The Phi-Ka ghost can be divided into six types. First, the Phi-Ka-Phranang (Thai: ผีกะพระ-นาง) is one of the best-known of this variety of ghost as it is believed that a sacrifice made to this ghost can bring fame and fortune to those seeking it. Another well-known example of this type of ghost is the Phi-Ka-Dong (Thai: ผีกะดง). This entity is known to be quite ferocious and it is believed that it usually hunts in a group or pack. The saliva of the Phi-Ka-Dong (when it takes its physical form) is believed by some to be able to help treat some illnesses and diseases. There is also the Phi-Ka-Arkom (Thai: ผีกะอาคม), which is a kind of ghost that was a human who violated or broke a tradition. In the past, before an academy would accept a student, the applicant would have to perform a khun khru ceremony. If not, the student would be cursed and become a Phi-Ka-Arkom. Next, the Phi-Ka-Takood (Thai: ผีกะตระกูล) is a ghost that protects fields, making them more fertile. Fifth, the Phi-Ka-Taihong (Thai: ผีกะตายโหง) is a person who died unnaturally, but unaware that they are dead. The last type of Phi-Ka ghost is the Nokkhaophika (Thai: นกเค้าผีกะ), with an owl as its symbol. If the ghost comes to a village in the evening, owls will cry out unnaturally.
Interaction with ghosts
Ghosts in Thai culture may be benevolent. Certain ghosts have their own shrines and among these there are some, such as the Mae Nak Phra Khanong shrine in Bangkok, that are quite important. Usually though, humbler tutelary spirits live in little dwellings known as san phra phum (Thai: ศาลพระภูมิ), small ghost shrines that provide a home for these household or tree spirits. These shrines are common near trees and groves and in urban areas, close to buildings. It is considered a bad omen to neglect these spots and offerings are regularly made by people living nearby. Usually offerings to tree spirits are small things such as small food items, drinks, incense sticks or fruits, but when important favors are requested it is common to offer the head of a pig. After the ceremony is over the pig head is brought home and eaten.
The mo phi (Thai: หมอผี; RTGS: mo phi) or 'witch doctor' may invoke spirits of the dead. In this ritual, four sticks are usually planted at equal distance from each other on the ground near the burial or cremation place. A thread is tied around the sticks forming a protective square and a mat is spread in the middle. The mo phi sits down within this enclosure, often along with other people present at the ritual. In front of him, outside of the square there is a mo khao terracotta jar containing ashes or bones of the dead person with a yantra painted on the outside. Beside the jar there is also a plate of rice as offering and a stick or switch to keep the spirits at bay.
On the other hand, there are spirits that are considered dangerous and need to be disposed of. In these cases the mo phi may conduct a ritual in order to confine the dangerous ghost to an earthen jar, which may be sealed and thrown into a deep canal, river or lake.
The persistence of folk belief in malevolent spirits was demonstrated in a 2017 case occurring at Ban Na Bong, Nong Kung Si District, Kalasin Province. There, the mysterious deaths of two men and several animals prompted villagers to ascribe their deaths to malicious phi pop. Seeking help, villagers from 370 households paid 124 Thai baht per house to hire an exorcist from Chiang Yuen District in Maha Sarakham Province and a well-known monk from Wat Chaiwan to eliminate the malevolent spirits. The people of Ban Na Bong turned up en masse at the village hall for a ghost busting ceremony on 29 October. The rite took more than two hours. The exorcist and the monk, aided by 20 assistants, caught at least 30 phi pop, forcing them into bamboo tubes which were then incinerated. Police and district officials ensured the event went smoothly. Preventive medical specialists from the Kalasin Provincial Public Health Office later identified the cause of death in Ban Na Bong as leptospirosis (Thai: โรคฉี่หนู; RTGS: rok chi nu) and high blood pressure.
Mae Nak Phra Khanong
The most famous ghost story in Thailand is the Mae Nak Phra Khanong. The story is associated with events that allegedly took place in the early-1800s, during the reign of King Rama IV of Thailand. In 1959 the story was first developed into a movie, with many later cinematic versions to follow. The latest cinematic version of the Mae Nak story is Pee Mak, a 2013 comedy-horror film by GMM Tai Hub. The movie debuted on 26 March 2013, making 500 million baht, and went on to become the top Thai movie in the box office for 2013. Over time, the Mae Nak spirit has evolved into a sacred figure/deity within Thai culture, with a large shrine to the spirit being built in Mae Nak's hometown, and with many Mae Nak followers throughout Thailand.
Thai cinema began popularizing the ghosts and legends of the folklore of Thailand in the 20th century. Ghosts of the local tradition appeared in horror movies, as well as in side-roles in mainstream movies. Phraya Anuman Rajadhon established that most of the contemporary iconography of Thai folk ghosts has its origins in Thai films that have now become classics.
Thai television soap operas have contributed to popularize the ghost theme. Some soap operas, such as Raeng Ngao, include the folk ghosts of Thai culture interacting with the living. The Raeng Ngao story proved so popular that four remakes have been made after it was first aired in 1986.
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