Is It Safe to Discuss Black Magic?

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.

Superstition Trumps Rationality

Former Prime Minister has urged people to be patient in the current climate and that the situation will improve when Mars leaves the vicinity of Saturn. It is the closeness of the two planets, apparently, that is causing so much of the trouble the Kingdom is currently facing. A well-known astrologer, Khun Luck Rekhanitade has, meanwhile, announced his own prophecy of the future, which includes the fact that July 2nd this year will be the scariest day of the last thirty years and that there is likely to be violence in Bangkok which will reach a peak on the 6th of the month.

It is all too common for Thais (and politicians from the rest of the region) to place their faith in magic and superstition of all sorts. Khun Thaksin was among those who visited a certain Cambodian monk who had a reputation for magic and the sudden disappearance of some high-profile statues from the front of buildings has been attributed to the preachings of such monks. The junta, during the recent disastrous dictatorship, regularly flew off here and there to consult with whoever they thought would tell them they were doing a good job. Luckily it has not reached the extent of Burma, where one former leading general had the currency denominated in multiples of 87, since he believed that was his lucky number. Even so, nearly every politician is either willing to seek magical help or permit being shown doing so in the media. Superstition of this sort is closely linked to religion here.

My wife has a cousin who owns a house in Bangkok but was posted to work in the south. To deter burglars, he installed an anti-theft system which would turn on the lights in the evening and turn them off again in the morning. When he returned from his duty, he was rather surprised to find incense and offerings of food to the house, since neighbours believed it was haunted and could, potentially, reveal the secrets of the lottery.