Superstitions in Thailand
Growing up with my grandparents, there were many taboos and beliefs that were passed down which I needed to obey and follow. As a child, I didn’t think about it much – I just did what they wanted to do. However, as an adult, I’ve learned that these “silly” old wives tales do have some truth behind them.
Here are 13 Thai superstitions that locals are familiar with – some of you might even be guilty of using it to scare little kids!
1. Do not sing in the kitchen or you’ll get an old husband
One thing I’ll always remember when I cook with my grandma is her telling me, “Don’t sing in the kitchen if you don’t want to get an old husband!”
I stopped singing right away, worried about having to marry an old man. I still carry on this practice till today even though I don’t believe in it anymore.
The real reason: This is a trick many older folks use to make us focus on what we’re doing in the kitchen. One often has to handle things like sharp knives and hot utensils, and singing might distract us from what we’re doing.
2. Sleeping towards the West = direction of death
“Don’t have your headboard facing the west. It’s the direction of the dead,” is something you’ll hear superstitious Thai folks say. It is widely believed that sleeping with your bed facing the West will bring you bad luck, as only dead bodies face this direction, like at funerals.
Many Thais take this very seriously, even making sure not to sleep facing the West at hotels.
The real reason: A reason that makes more sense is that walls facing the West can often directly face the sun all day, making it uncomfortable to sleep during the night.
3. Playing hide and seek at night will attract ghosts
Image credit: Creepy Pasta Collection
This is a common Southeast Asian superstition, with adults telling kids not to play games like hide and seek or catching at night. It is said that an “extra” player will join you otherwise.
These uninvited guests will then use their supernatural abilities to cover you from being found or caught, and then take your soul with them to the netherworld.
The real reason: At night, it can be dangerous for little kiddos to play without supervision in the dark. Parents had many concerns, like their kids getting hurt, lost, or even kidnapped. Those who grew up in more rural areas had the risk of encountering dangerous animals too.
Thus, this superstition was born to deter children from wandering off to play with their friends.
4. Do not clip your nails at night
When I used to be in primary school, I had to clip my nails before it got dark to avoid getting into a fight with my grandparents.
Image credit: Slowlife
“Clipping your nails at night will bother our ancestors’ souls!” they’d say, referring to the annoying noise nail clippers make. And if we disturb them, we’d get punished.
The real reason: Using sharp objects at night is never a good idea, especially in the past where lighting was scarce at night. People were only afraid of getting hurt by accidentally clipping a finger by accident, thus came up with this saying to prevent others from doing so.
5. Do not knock your plate while eating
Image credit: Palungjit
If you’re a big fan of Thai horror movies and have watched Khon Hen Phi 10, you may be familiar with the scene where characters started hitting their bowls in order to summon a ghost.
The Thai belief is that knocking on your plates or bowls when eating is a call for spirits to join you for a meal.
The real reason: The secret is plain and simple: good table manners. Parents used this as an excuse to get kids to knock off the habit of making noise at the table.
6. Sweeping the house at night will make you poor
“Sweeping at night will make your life difficult and poor,” is a common saying, symbolising one sweeping their money and luck out of their home.
No one said anything about vacuuming after dark through – although it’d probably be a nuisance to the neighbours
The real reason: Rich or poor, the real reason has little to do with money. Tying back to similar reasons of dim lighting at night, many worry about literally sweeping away important items that might have dropped onto the floor.
7. Looking at a naked person will hurt your eyes
Image credit: Eye Bank of Thailand
As teens inched towards puberty, concerned parents would say: If you look at a naked person, your eyes will be damaged.
*Cue horrified kids and teens everywhere*
The real reason: As forward as Thailand may be with topics like the LGBT community, sex is still seen as a hush-hush topic that is not as openly talked about. This superstition is a result of parents not wanting curious children to do things like watch porn.
However, Thais’ attitudes towards sex has changed over the years, with sex education being implemented properly in school curriculums to prepare youths for the real world, with important information like safe sex and unwanted pregnancies.
8. Do not sit on staircases
Locals believe that every house has a ‘house ghost’ or guardian that protects its inhabitants from bad luck and wicked spirits. This is the main reason for spirit houses and shrines which you will see outside almost every Thai home.
These guardians, although unseen, walk among us, which is why we are asked to keep places like staircases clear so we don’t obstruct their way.
The real reason: Sitting on steps can cause accidents like tripping on somebody or slipping down the stairs. But mostly, it’s so that children don’t block the path of humans – especially if they’ve got the habit and sit on steps in public places.
9. Eating food with ants will make you stupid
Friends and family members have always told me: Eating 1 ant can make you stupid for 7 years. I never thought about it much, but it scared me enough to be extra careful when eating.
The real reason: Stupidity is the least of your problems, when the main reason is health and hygiene.
Ants can be a nuisance especially with leftovers and unattended food lying around, which is why this is a good trick to make kiddos keep the place clean and free from bugs.
10. Lying down while eating will turn you into a snake
Image credit: healthline
Having a child sit still at the dining table is a difficult task for many families, especially getting them to sit properly on a chair instead of lying on their beds or on the floor for a meal.
With Thai beliefs of the afterlife and reincarnation, my grandparents always used to tell me that I would be born as a snake if I were to lay on the floor when eating.
The real reason: Again, table manners. But more importantly, laying down for a meal can pose serious health threats like choking or even Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
11. Do not leave your clothes to dry overnight
Luckily, we live in the age of indoor dryers
Whenever I get lazy to pick up dry laundry after a day of hanging them outside, one thing always gets me up on my feet: Leaving your clothes to dry overnight isn’t good, because Krasue will use it as her napkin.
Image credit: Phisayong
In Thai folklore, Krasue is a spirit that takes the form of a floating female head with hanging entrails – quite the gory sight. It is said that she goes hunting for fresh blood and meat at night and cleans her mouth using clothes she finds before leaving to hide.
The real reason: Leaving your clothes out to dry at night while you’re asleep means you might miss it if it rains at night, leaving you with extra wet laundry the next day. Plus, your clothes could get dusty or dirty.
12. Point at a rainbow = lose your fingers
Image credit: Dewang Gupta
Rainbows are always fun to see no matter how old you are, but as a kid, I used to hear adults say that pointing at a rainbow will make us lose our fingers. It is believed that rainbows are created using supernatural powers which must be respected. Obviously this was never proven, but we never dared to point at it anyway.
The real reason: The reason behind it is pretty simple, which is our parents not wanting us to be out in rainy weather. Knowing that kids probably wouldn’t listen to direct orders, elders came up with this tactic to scare and protect us at the same time.
13. Sleeping in the afternoon is bad for your soul
Image credit: TNews
When I was a child, I avoided taking naps after school as my grandparents would tell me that my soul would be taken or even lost in the world of death while doing so. The time between 4-6pm is a period when the worlds of the living and dead are said to meet. Thus, some spirits, probably thinking we are “dead” while asleep, can bring our souls into their world.
Some people also believe that our soul wanders while we are asleep, which can get lost.
The real reason: Our body clock is the main culprit for this superstition. Sleeping earlier in the day for extended periods of time can mess up our system, resulting in a lack of proper sleep later at night.
Sneaky superstitions to keep us well behaved
While many Thai superstitions revolve around ghosts, luck, and other unexplainable things, lots of old wives’ tales are still rooted in logic and reason.
And while they do the trick to make the younger ones behave, getting older has made us realise that we’ve been fooled the whole time. As our lifestyle and society changes, so do these methods of discipline, and superstitions can also be a funny reminder of our childhood and upbringing.
We hope you learned something new today and aren’t so afraid to do things like sweep the house at night anymore!
Know more interesting superstitions from your culture? Let us know in the comments!
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Featured images adapted from: Dewang Gupta , TSL