A new book by the Post Publishing Group is set to reveal the black magic secrets involved in the lead up to the 2006 military coup. It appears that the book is based on an interview with the Chiang Mai ‘seer’ Warin Buawiratlert, who became a crony of General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, the leader of the coup and the abnegation of the constitution.
There is certainly a great deal of superstition in Thai society (and indeed across most of Southeast Asia) and belief in magic, sacred symbols and other such gewgaws. Some of this is sanctioned by the Sangha (the Buddhist monkhood) and monks will perform various rites and services aimed at, for example, protecting a house or a car from danger or the attentions of criminals (we had monks put sacred symbols on the inside roof of our car, for example) and other monks will manufacture or bless icons, amulets and so forth. Many people also believe in the efficacy of tattoos in protecting them from harm or the actions of enemies. It is rumoured that some people believe that they can become invisible this way but I have never seen it myself.
At some stage, this form of sanctioned superstition shades into black magic, for which Cambodian monks have a (no doubt undeserved and probably based in bigotry) reputation. There were various stories around at the time of the Preah Vihear confrontation that monks on both sides had opened a second front based in the supernatural realm – perhaps they were meeting in magical combat on the astral plane or some such thing.
When it comes to religion, there are reasons to accept that people derive some comfort from their beliefs and, in some cases, its role as promoter of social order can have some beneficial effects in among the many negative ones. Yet when it comes to magic and the role of money in superstition, there seems to be no plus side from the rational perspective.