We have been fortunate to have visited Thailand many times. It is one of our favorite haunts (no pun intended) in the World. One does not have to remain in this beautiful country before sensing that a parallel world exists alongside the one we inhabit. To the Thais this Spirit World is filled with unearthly souls called Phi or ghosts to Westerners. Everyone in Thailand believes in ghosts. They strike fear into hearts, minds and souls of the populous.
Belief in Phi existed prior to the Thais accepting Buddhism. As the religion developed over several millennia Buddhist philosophy intermingled with belief in the Spirit World and tales from Thai folklore about ghosts and other evil spirits. Ghost sightings are a common occurrence. In modern times Phi are so ingrained in daily life that there are movies, television shows, comic strips, novellas and much more.
Phi are everywhere in Thailand. Generally nocturnal, they may be found in cemeteries near Buddhist temples, abandoned houses and buildings, mountains (Phi Khao) and forests (Phi Pa.) However, their favorite haunt are in trees. Thai people will decorate trees with colorful silk scarfs as well as leave offerings of food and drink (including whiskey), flowers, Buddha statues and carved elephants. One ghost is so popular she has her own shrine, Mae Nak of Phra Khanong Shrine in Bangkok. Other popular ghosts include:
Periodically circumstances call for a Phi Mo or witch doctor to invoke the spirits of the dead. The ceremony often takes place near the burial ground or cremation spot of the departed. The Phi Mo places four sticks in a square pattern, tying them together with a string. Inside this area is a mat where the witch doctor sits to perform the ceremony. A Mo Khao or terra cotta jar containing the ashes or bones of the deceased sits just outside the square. Painted on the container is a yantra, a geometric figure for focusing the Phi Mo’s mind on spiritual concepts. Also used are a bowl of rice to please the spirits and a whisk to keep them at a proper distance.
For protection from ghosts Thais often get one or more yantra tattoos or sak yant. These geometric patterns are usually placed on the back between the shoulder blades. Some people will have a cascade of these tattoos going down to the hip bones. The sak yant are done by wicha (magic practitioners) or Buddhist monks using a long bamboo stick sharpened to a fine point and dipped in ink.