The Magic of Thailand – A Day with the Spirit Doctor

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned some of the more supernatural aspects of Thai culture in my post ‘The Ghosts of Thailand and Why They Should be Respected’. I had some nice feedback so here is another installment dealing with the magic of Thailand.

A Story About Snake Dreams and Broken Eggs

When my wife was pregnant we were both anxious. It was our first child and neither of us knew quite what to expect. We were then living in my wife’s village and most of the neighbors had advice to offer. One day Oa made the mistake of mentioning a recurrent dream she’d been having to one of the older women in the village; within minutes this neighbor had her convinced that she had to go to see a spirit doctor as soon as possible. In my wife’s dream there had been a snake and apparently this is a very bad omen for pregnant women. My father-in-law happens to be a spirit doctor, but unfortunately he was not qualified to treat dreams about snakes. We were sent to see a more senior spirit doctor – a bit of a specialist it turns out.

The consultation with this specialist spirit doctor involved a strange procedure with two eggs. We had been advised before arriving that we had to bring our own. The request seemed a bit odd but I thought that this was some type of payment; after all the locals paid my father-in-law with rice whiskey. My guess about the egg turned out to be completely off the mark and instead the spirit doctor rubbed my pregnant wife’s body with one of them – shell still intact. He then did the same to me. After he had finished he instructed us to leave his house and break the eggs near a tree. He followed us and examined the yolks carefully; he had a worried expression and pointed to some marks in the egg yolk. I can’t say that I noticed anything special but my wife agreed that she too could see something ominous. She looked scared when she asked the spirit doctor about what was to be done. Luckily he had a remedy.

A Day with the Spirit Doctor

The next day the spirit doctor arrived to perform the strangest ceremony I’ve ever witnessed. My in-laws had arrived earlier in the morning to prepare a special altar – everything had to be just right for this esteemed visiting magic man. The ceremony itself took hours to complete and it was extremely complicated; again both my wife and I played our part. The spirit doctor used lots of props including candles, pieces of string, and a wooden knife. Of course there was also lots of magic water been thrown about. I’d taken the prudent step of putting my laptop and other electronic toys out of danger.

It is strange watching a man tie up your wife while you just look on passively, but that’s what happened. Mind you, the string wasn’t very strong and the man doing the tying was quite elderly – it wasn’t exactly x-rated bondage. He followed this by waving a knife at different parts of wife’s body – a more aggressive husband might have taken umbrage at this point but I just watched on uncomfortably. It was then my turn and I had to suffer the same procedure. When it was all over we had another small ceremony where a pig’s head and a couple of bottles of beer were offered to the departing spirits.

As I mentioned in a previous post I’m a little bit skeptical when it comes to sprits and magic (or to be more honest I’ve yet to be convinced) so I took this example of ghostbusting with a pinch of salt. I knew it was important to my wife though so I went along with things – it was all harmless and well worth it because it gave her peace of mind. Who knows, maybe there was something ominous in the eggs – better to be safe than sorry.

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20 thoughts on “The Magic of Thailand – A Day with the Spirit Doctor

  1. Paul great tale. Not sure I would have gone along with it but I do try and appease Duen with such things.

    For example, Doy(niece)had a persistent cough, conventional medicine didn’t help so Duen carted her off to the local shaman. I refused to go but Doy told me later he stuck something down her throat(presumably to get the evil out). She said it hurt.

    Anyway, she no longer has the cough. Psychosomatic? That my explanation but it does make you wonder 🙂
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    1. Hi Mike, it is quite strange but a lot of western medicine relies on the placebo effect. It is well recognised in pharmacology but it tends to get downplayed a lot to the public. Many involved in western medicine are very uncomfortable with the idea that something that is so unscientific can play such a large part. It is definitely true though that the placebo effect can cause physiological changes in the body – it is not just about making people feel better. I think when viewed in this light it makes me a bit less sceptical about traditional Thai folk remedies.

    1. Thanks Tim, there were a couple of times when I need to put my foot down in regards to Thai remedies – this was stuff my mother-in-law wanted to do for my son. Most of the time though, I just go along with things because there isn’t any harm in it.

  2. Paul, a great story and a very believable one as well. I can imagine myself getting sucked into the situation. Like you I’d have gone through it just to ease my partner’s mind, but I’d have hidden my cigarettes as well as my electronic toys.

    Now for something kind of different but also with a slight angle on the post.

    A chicken and an egg are laying in bed. The chicken is stretched back smoking a cigarette with a very satisfied smile across his face. The egg is frowning and looking extremely frustrated.

    The egg says, “Guess we answered that question.”
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    1. Ha Ha.
      Hi Martyn, It did give my wife a bit of peace of mind. He only wanted 100THB for the whole ceremony and he certainly worked for it. The whole thing was strange but it was also interesting; those taking part in the ceremony had a lot of conviction.

  3. It was a very interesting description. Twenty years ago I went with my mother-in-law when she took my niece to similar type “doctor.” The purpose of all this seemed to be to protect the new baby from the evil eye. They did things like paint fingernails and toenails blue, as well as place small razor cuts all over the body. Most people here have very slight scars that are as thin as hairs over much of their body from the same ritual as a baby. Needless to say, when my baby was born, I did not permit this ritual.
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  4. Thanks for remembering my request.

    What inspired my interest in Thai magic was a conversation I had with my girlfriend regarding a friend of mine who’d recently fallen in love. I thought that my friend had lost his mind and my girlfriend explained like many a westerner can that cliche that ‘love is blind.’ But then she added later that it could be the work of black magic. I won’t get into all of what she said here however one story stays with me: when she was a young girl in her village in Isarn, she awoke one night. There was a great commotion in the village. One of the village women was ripping live chickens apart with her bare hands and eating them raw. The village shaman or healer was summoned. He spoke with the woman and discovered she was possessed. The shaman told the demon they had to leave immediately. The demon (through the woman) said it was very hungry and wanted to eat a cow. The shaman protested that it had to leave immediately. Anyway that’s about all of the story I can remember.

    My friend told me his old girlfriend used to carry around little “dolls” in acts of copulation, sprinkled with holy water and wrapped in cloth as a way to keep them together. It kind of seems creepy but then lighting a candle for a saint and asking to win the lottery might seem equally absurd.

    I have also read reports of hospitals in Isarn selling things I won’t mention here for black magic rituals. Apparently, there is a big market for materials to use in black magic rituals. As I was raised Catholic, grew up with Star Wars and now live in Asia, I am fascinated with anything magical, mystical, or superstitious.

    1. Hi Dave, interesting story – I wonder if she got to eat the cow. I am also kind of interested in all this mystical stuff. I hope somebody is documenting all the different beliefs because Thailand is changing and they might one day disappear. I escaped a twenty year addiction by staying in a temple and benefiting from traditional Thai medicine – this has made me a lot more open to these ideas.

  5. Paul, that was a fascinating post. I have snake (many snakes, everywhere under foot, creepy) dreams from time to time, not being pregnant though, deems me safe… I hope.

    Apparently (if you believe in interpretations) I feel threatened, or am afraid of sex, or about to face some sort of life changing challenge. Considering the amount of snakes in my dreams…I could be in a bit of a pickle.

    I’d be interested in finding out what the marks in the egg meant!

    By the way, with all of those ritual props around Macgyver would have been in heaven 😉

    1. Hi Snap, I think there could be some wisdom to be found in dreams, but I don’t know if there is any interpretation that I’d fully trust. It is certainly an interesting subject though. I think the A Team would also have been able to do something special with the props 🙂

  6. Is it weird that I understood the whole shaman thing?

    I totally believe in the power of dreams. Blame it on my Thai mother or my father who dreamt of his death before it happened. Either way I pay attention to them.

    And as far as the shaman ceremony, why not? Belief is a powerful thing.

    Oh and the whole medicine thing and snakes reminded me of when my mom gave me this mysterious dark liquid from Chinatown when I was sick. I was like what is this? I kept looking for English print somewhere on the label and when I did I wish I hadn’t. It was snake gall bladder.

    1. Hi Lani, why not is right. You are right about belief being a powerful thing. When I worked as a nurse I’ve seen that terminally ill people who lose hope quickly die while those who stay hopeful live longer – it is an accepted fact. Belief might not cure a disease but it is certainly a huge contributing factor to the cure. Modern medicine is closer to shamanism than a lot of people than most of us think – in my opinion.

  7. Hi Paul–Interesting story. Have you ever read “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down”? It’s a really fascinating look at the different way cultures perceive medicine, superstitions, and healing. Your posts about ghosts, shamans, etc., really remind me of it. I think you would really like it!
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  8. You have me going LOL reading this about the ceremony on your wife and you and everything. We Thai people really believe in these kinds of things. But me personally, I do not believe so much in it but also have no mean to disrespect. But when I read this from the foreigner’s perspective it’s kind of funny. Thanks for sharing your story with us : )

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