Fortune Tellers, Mystics, and Monks that have a 6th Sense, Ghosts and Astrology are important elements in daily life for a Thai, and they should be taken seriously here in Thailand. In the West, people would snicker at predictions coming from mystics, and may be immediately classified as charlatans feeding on the ignorant. Thai people, however, take it very seriously, and when prophesies actually happen, it reinforces itself. All Thais, including high level business people, politicians and even scientists respect and value the words coming from this quarter, and they are offended at the typical reaction of scoff from outsiders. I have learned when in Thailand that it is best to show respect for these things that may seem a bit looney to a modern American or European.
Thai Moo Do (literally translated ” seeing doctors”) use palm reading, spirit mediums that can inhabit the body of the fortune teller, star charts, tarot cards and even regular packs of playing cards in their readings for a customer. There are even some Moo Do that have advanced into using high-tech computer fortune telling programs, where they can plug in personal data and let it spit out an interpretation electronically.
Thai Fortune Tellers are often found in markets with a small table and shrine garnished with flowers and food offerings. In Chiang Mai, you can find them in the weekend Walking Street markets. Sometimes you can find a fortune teller with their own little shop in a tiny soi (side street) off main market areas, especially in Bangkok’s and Chiang Mai’s Chinatown areas. Sometimes you will see a special space for them provided for them in the top hotels so that they can provide services for business men staying there.
In Chiang Mai, you often see a fortune teller sitting with the monks in many of the Buddhist Temples, and sometimes you will have a long line of young university girls waiting their turn to see the fortune teller in the temple. Sometimes you will have monks that also serve as fortune tellers. Of course being a monk, they won’t ask for compensation, but a gratuity is always a way to gain merit and to build on karma.
All of this is uniquely Thai. All of Asia has evolved into the center of high-tech engineering and science, and Thai people are devotees to the new world of modern commerce, internet based communications and new innovations as much as their Asian neighbors. Thailand, much more than other Asian countries however, seems to be deeply tied to ancient spiritual customs. Outside of the most modern business office tower there will be a “spirit house” dedicated to those that once occupied the place long before the current tenant. Fortune Tellers are regarded similar to a consultant in another area of the organization. A businessman might employ a computer consultant to tell him how to make the IT systems work more efficiently, and employ a fortune teller to help make the correct decision on a direction of the company he may be considering. Aligning important moves to an auspicious date is often determined by the fortune teller. Army generals will confer with fortune tellers of when to move troops.
Astrological predictions in modern Thai businesses and government organizations are valued, respected and projected results are a given in their planning.
My Thai wife is well educated and has lived in the US for a couple of decades, and would be considered a modern worldly naturalized American citizen, but she still leaves all our closet doors open in our bedroom to allow the ghosts to move freely in the night. Ghosts are a regular part of the Thai lifestyle, with a spirit house in the yard of almost every home or business. These spirit houses provide a place for the ghosts to reside, as an alternative to wandering about the house causing mischief.
In Thailand, the spirit that guards a tree needs to be asked before the tree can be cut down. To get permission, the cutter will leave his axe or saw leaning on the tree overnight. If the tools are left undisturbed in the morning, permission has been given and the tree can be cut. Most large trees are thought to have spirits living inside them, and old trees are particularly respected. For centuries their belief in ghosts stopped Thai people from knocking down too many trees.
In Thailand, nearly everyone has an amulet to protect from ghosts, bring good luck and even stop bullets. The trading of amulets has actually become a big business on to itself, generating websites and magazines and books that foster the trade in them and are devoted to promoting amulets.
The Buddha acknowledged the existence of spirits who lived in different realms, but the Thai obsession with ghosts is really connected to their older religion of animism. Thai Buddhist monks have used the Thai fear of ghosts to help teach the people Buddhist principals and would demonstrate the strength of the Buddha’s teachings by sleeping alone in burial sites or in the jungle where there were known to be spirits. The monks would also provide the locals with blessings and amulets to protect them from life’s misfortunes.
One of the most powerful policy makers in Thailand is Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, the head of the Securities & Exchange Commission of Thailand. He carefully watches inflation rates, world markets, and the statistics of the Thai economy. But his main guide is the Thai Zodiac, and has authored several books on the subject, such as a prophesy book called “Know Your Future”. In that book, written in 2010, he predicted that Obama would be reelected in 2012 amongst many other things.
A 2008 study by the Kasikorn Research Center estimated that Bangkok residents spent 2.5 billion Thai baht (about $81 million dollars) on fortune telling services (put that in the perspective that Bangkok has a total population of about 8-10 million people), and that nearly 40% of the capital’s residents bought books or magazines to study the subject.
The astrology practiced in Thailand differs greatly from the astrology in the West. In Thailand, astrology is based on Vedic astrology which is very complicated and it is has been used for thousands of years in India. Western astrology using the zodiacs is a version of the authentic Vedic astrology that has been watered down over the centuries. Western astrologers are regarded in Thailand as being some sort of “entertainment” and not to be taken seriously. It is somewhat offensive to Thais to see Westerners put their serious astrologers in the same boat as their Thai astrologers..
As an expat in Thailand, you get introduced to mystical interpretations and predictions from your Thai friends regularly, and may even find yourself getting a personal reading from a mystic. It’s important to understand and be respectful in that situation, and keep the Western biases about mystical predictions inside.
Recent Transport Disasters Blamed On Spirits – “…8 major shrines have been built around Suvarnabhumi Airport [Bangkok's international airport] by the staff in order to ward off evil spirits, such as a shrine dedicated to the Naga (holy big snake in Buddhist myths) which is presumably angered by construction of the airport…” – Khaosod News Online – 14 September 2013