Readings — From the May 2015 issue

Spirit Guide

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From a list of Thai ghosts, compiled by Andrew Alan Johnson, an assistant professor at Yale-NUS College in Singapore and the author of Ghosts of the New City, published last year by University of Hawaii Press. Johnson estimates that there are hundreds of varieties of spirits in Thai popular belief.

phi phret

A particular stage of existence resulting from sins, especially against Buddhism (e.g., theft of gold from a temple). Doomed to eternal hunger, the phret is enormously tall and thin, with a mouth so small that a single grain of rice cannot enter.

phi kom koi

A jungle spirit, tiny in stature but with one powerful leg on which it bounces, the kom koi lives in dense jungle and attacks people who work in the forest by drinking blood out of their big toes. In order to protect against the kom koi, hunters and foresters sleep in pairs, with their feet touching.

phi mae mai

This is the spirit of a young, sexually appealing widow. She visits men in the night and sexually assaults them, sometimes causing their death by cardiac arrest. A number of deaths of young Thai construction workers in Singapore were attributed to an epidemic of mae mai in the 1990s and caused national concern.

phi kluang po

This ghost lives in wild places and appears to be an ordinary person, but its hair or clothes hide a gaping hole in its back. It waits to be invited to travel with a person before revealing its true nature.

phi krasue

A krasue appears to be an ordinary person during the day, but at night her head detaches from her body. Trailing her internal organs, she flies about searching for garbage and offal to eat. As she flies, the hanging organs give off a faint red glow that can be seen drifting over rice fields. (See the popular film, Krasue Valentine.)

phi ma bong

A person during the day, at night the ma bong suddenly transforms into a terrifying creature, tall and hooved and with the skull of a horse instead of a head. It can be distracted if presented with a withered buffalo skull, which it cannot resist licking.

nang tani

Spirits of banana trees (tani) or hardwood trees, they can sometimes steal away young men or cause traffic accidents but can also be sources of luck to people who approach them in the right way.

kuman

The spirit of an aborted or abandoned fetus, the kuman is sometimes adopted by a human parent. In exchange for toys, the child gives his new parents fortune and health. In the original story of the kuman, the hero, after killing a pregnant woman, roasts the fetus in order to make a talisman that binds the kuman spirit to him.

yak

A famous family of yak lived atop a mountain close to Chiang Mai. When the Buddha came by, the yak plotted to murder and eat him, but he stopped them and converted them to Buddhism. They were still hungry, however, and begged the Buddha to be allowed to eat one human a year. He agreed to a compromise wherein once a year, the yak were allowed to devour a buffalo in a very messy manner, raw.

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