Photo Credit: https://www.sanook.com/news/8419698/gallery/3341790/
The concept of “political witchcraft” is one that grows ever popular in the western sphere. News were abound of witches joining together to curse Trump back during his terms of presidency, with even mainstream singers such as Lana Del Rey urging her fans to hex or bind the government. Recently, I have had the pleasure of being published in Revelore Press’ The Gorgon’s Guide to Magical Resistance, doing my part in informing others of methods to bind those who wish to oppress them. The act of performing magic on governmental figures, however, is not one that is unique to western culture. In Thailand, the home I grew up in, occult activism has been part of the country’s political history for decades now.
In this blog post, I will focus solely on the rituals and curses and mechanisms behind them. I will not be discussing the politics of my homeland. This is not because the political context is irrelevant or unimportant— the reason is instead because there is a huge depth and complexity to Thailand’s political landscape, a complexity I fear I will fail to capture should I attempt to summarize our political history in a single blog post. Put it this way: Thailand has gone through twenty coup d’état since 1912, two of which I have lived through. That’s a lot of history to go through. To my Thai readers though, I wish to make my stance clear: I am not a “salim”. Those who know me should already know my stance on the monarchy. I support the rights to free speech (something which Thailand lacks due to Lèse-majesté law) and the right to freedom of assembly (something which is also missing in Thailand due to the various evidence of police brutality during the protests in recent years). Likewise, I loath PM Prayut.
This post will explore examples of malefica and occultism in Thailand’s political history, focusing on the magic performed during 1992, 2010, 2020 and the recent year of 2022.
[Note: I would like to thank you @rtsiraphop on IG as well for giving me advice to look at the Red Shirt protests as a case study! Also, thank you @roseauroras for giving me the motivation to write this after our conversation today *winks*!]
1992: The Mock Funeral
A very elaborate and well-documented ritual to curse a governmental figure is that of the ritual in May 1992, wherein protestors gathered in Chiang Mai and Bangkok gathered to curse Prime Minister Suchinda. The process of the ritual is as follows, as described in Rajah (2005):
An altar was erected in front of a stage; on it was placed a photograph of Suchinda surrounded by dead and withered banyan tree leaves, along with three monks’ alms bowls and a tray containing 59 1-baht coins (representing his age). Other items included a bouquet of jasmine, joss sticks, fresh fruit, raw meat, sweets (placed in a tray) and votive candles. A placard on which was written ‘phithii saap chaeng’ (cursing ritual) was conspicuously displayed in front. A master and mistress of ceremonies announced that an important ritual, an ancient tradition of the Lanna people, would be performed by a widow and widower, explaining that their words would be ‘saksit(sacred) because of their ‘intimacy with death’.
The widowed twosome took over from there, approaching the altar and planting tiny black flags on either side, then lighting joss sticks and all of the candles surrounding it […] The woman ground dried hot red chilli peppers and salt from the bowl atop the altar and then dropped them in each of the three alms bowls. Then she and her male companion turned the joss sticks upside down and planted them in the alms bowls, sprinkling more salt and more peppers as the smoke clouded Suchinda’s portrait and filled the air with rank, eye-stinging potency. Tall cylindrical rice steamers were then placed upside down over the joss sticks and allowed to ignite, their coals falling into the bowls and their smoke adding to the thickening clouds. The two officiants kneeled before Suchinda’s image, wai-ing [folding their hands in a gesture of greeting or deference] and muttering the words of the crowd’s desire
The young master of ceremonies bounded on stage and asked [the crowd] to speak with him and send the message of their hearts to the spirits. Together they (we) called upon the ‘spirits of the lak muang [the pillar for the guardian spirit of the city of Chiang Mai and the sua muang [a guardian spirit of Bangkok], and all of the spirits from the highest points of the world, from atop the mountains and from the heaven itself to come into this world and to rid Thailand of General Suchinda and his wife, and all of the five generals who have hurt the Thai people’.
The ritual acted as a mock funeral for the prime minister. There are several components to ritual, the first being the taglocks: the photo of the prime minister and the symbol of his age. Likewise, several components of the ritual — the dead banyan tree leaves (banyan being a tree known to be ‘haunted’ in Thai belief), the widow and widower planting the joss sticks upside down in the alms bowls — evoked the feel of a funeral and linked the ritual to the forces of death. Additionally, the use of pepper and smoke is a classic way to curse someone via irritating and burning them with the pepper and hot smoke. Asking the crowd to take part in the ritual is also an effective way of harnessing the power of the crowd to be added to the magic.
The smartest part of the ritual, in my opinion, is the act of calling upon the guardians of the city and the spirits of the land and heaven. The offerings of jasmine, raw meat and fresh fruit may be enough to entice and bribe the spirits of nature to participate in the ritual. With regards to the guardian spirits of the city, it should be noted that these guardian spirits are historically sworn to protect the city (and defend it against invaders). One little caveat though is the detail of to whom the guardian spirits are meant to serve. Does serving the city mean holding allegiance to whoever is in charge of the city — whether it be the lord of the city, the prime minister of the country or the king in charge of the nation — regardless of who fills that position? Or, does serving and protecting the city mean defending its people? It should be understood that many spirits do not have ‘morals’ like we do, and our concept of what is right and what is wrong may be incomprehensible to them. What they will do, however, is adhere to their pacts. Thus, if a ritual manages to invoke a term of the pact between the guardian spirits and the city/country/nation it is protecting, making the spirit view the prime minister as a threat rather than something meant to be protected, then it is very likely that the guardian spirit will turn on the governmental leader in the name of protecting the city/country/nation.
The ritual performed in Chiang Mai was then imitated in Bangkok, albeit in a more simplified manner. Here again, I quote Rajah (2005):
The ritual consisted of the following procedures. The group placed a cheap coffin in the ground:; a charcoal brazier was placed on the coffin and brought to flame. A broken alms bowl was then placed on the brazier, after which a piece of paper with Suchinda’s name written on it was added; a few chillies and some salt were then added to the broken alms bowl. The contents were then stirred and fried by an old lady using a ladle donated by a widow. Morris’ informant, a ‘local specialist in the arts of benevolent sorcery’, characterised the phithii saap chaeng performance in Chiang Mai as an inversion of ritual practices associated with ‘ancestor worship’ or ‘remembering rites normally carried out for loved ones’. In place of an image of a dead relative, there was the image of an intended victim, surrounded by dead and withered leaves which burned and separated him from the living, black flags symbolising evil and continuous death instead of white ones symbolising purity and rebirth, and a ‘bowel-ripping meal’ of chilli and salt in place of normal food offerings. The food offerings in the tray, on the other hand, were intended for the tutelary spirits that were invoked to get rid of Suchinda.
To invert a benevolent ritual and turn it into a curse is a classic cursing technique. What more, in the Thai cultural context, people are often cremated upon death— the act of frying and burning a taglock of the Prime Minister (in this case, a piece of paper with his name) is therefore yet another symbolic way of cremating him. Both the old lady and the widow involved in the ritual are once again individuals with a proximity to death. The old lady is associated with death by her inability to bear children (the lack of fertility to create life) and the widow is associated with loss and grief and proximity. Cooking, likewise, is a transformative process: to have an old lady use a ladle donated by a widow cooking taglock is an act of turning a life-giving process (cooking food to be eaten) into a life-denying one.
Additionally, as a part of the ‘Black Magic Rite to Conquer the Tyrants and the Five-Devil Parties’ performed on June 9th, the souls of the dead from the massacres of 14 October 1973, 6 October 1976, as well as those killed on 17-20 May 1992 were democratically called to witness the rite. Not only this, but ‘deities and all the holy spirits of the country’ were also asked to help ‘convict the felons’— the felons here referring to those in power who are believed to have committed crimes against the country they were meant to serve. The next day, on the 10th of June, House Speaker Arthit Urairat appointed Anand Panyarachun as the Interim Prime Minister, completely bypassing the leader of the so-called ‘devil party coalition’. In other words, it could be interpreted that the curse took just one day to see visible results, and in the following months the pro-military parties and the generals of the NPKC would be swept from power (Callahan, 1994).
2010: The Blood Curse
In March 2010, members of the extra parliamentary opposition movement to the government of PM Abhisit Vejjajiva — known as the ‘red shirts’ — performed a ritual that shocked most who witnessed it: they collected their own blood and spilled it outside Government House, the site of the governing Democrat Party headquarters, and the premier’s residence in Bangkok. According to Cohen (2012), about 300 liters of blood from approximately 70,000 donors were collected, and rumors circulated that ‘the blood collected [was] mixed with water’ and that a ‘large amount of pig’s blood was ordered from a slaughterhouse’, implying that pig’s blood were mixed with the human blood. The ritual began when a statue of Buddha was placed on the gate of the Government House. Then, a man dressed in white garments claiming to be a ‘Hindu Brahmin’ recited spells and incantations before pouring blood in front of the gate. Whilst all of this was occurring, at about the same time , some red shirt supporters led by a senior monk, ‘smeared blood on the statue of King Kawila of Chiang Mai’ (Cohen, 2012). Likewise, the blood was also used artistically in many symbolic activities, such one where a man painted ‘a Buddha image with candle wax soaked in blood’.
Needless to say, this form of protests became a huge controversy. The royal palace’s chief Brahmin priest rebuked the protestors by claiming that blood spilling was not a Brahmin rite, denouncing the rite and the ritual which ‘was not carried out in accordance with proper procedures’. Yet, the white-clad person who performed the blood-spilling rite at Government House has claimed to be a ‘real Brahmin’, because ‘he was the son of a former royal Brahmin priest who conducted prayers and prepared ceremonies and offerings for the royal family for decades’. This claim faced criticisms as the royal palace’s chief Brahmin priest dismissed the man’s Brahminic credentials, revealing that man’s father had been ‘dismissed 20 years ago from royal service’, and argued that his son ‘could not be considered a proper Brahmin priest because his actions during the blood splashing were inappropriate’. A debate then ensued when the man argued back, stating that ‘being a Brahmin requires ancestry, so I’m definitely a Brahmin’. He then made an important distinction, claiming that ‘I am not a royal Brahmin, but I am a real Brahmin priest’ (Cohen, 2012).
I, personally, do not know enough about Brahminic priesthood to support either claims. What I am more interested in, however, is the question as posed in Cohen (2012) of ‘if it was not recognised as a Brahmin rite, what kind of rite was it?
I believe the answer could be understood if one looked back at the functions of the social contract between the land spirits and its people, such as one that used to be literally engrained in Lanna’s national legislation. All of this is explained further in Engel (2021).
Before Siam (the historic name of Thailand) was Siam, it was composed of various city-states and kingdoms. From the 13th to the 18th centuries, the Lanna Kingdom existed in what in the present day is Northern Thailand. Separated by more than 400 miles, travel and communication between the central kingdom and Lanna was difficult. Hence, it was hard for the central kingdom to maintain power over Lanna. At times, Lanna was governed directly or indirectly by neighboring Burma. At other times, Lanna paid tribute to the kingdoms of central Thailand while still maneuvering to protect its autonomy. In terms of culture and beliefs, Lanna had its own distinctive language and culture, its own flavour of Buddhism, along with its own legal tradition. Lanna’s pre-modern law texts, known as Mangraisat, were organically connected to village-level customs and to Lanna-style Buddhism. This grants the pre-modern laws three important characteristics, particularly with respect to the law of wrongs.
Firstly, is the connection of law to spirits and the supernatural. Wrongful acts were expressed in terms of their offensiveness to the spirits and were identified by spirit mediums or by local princes endowed with religious authority. Secondly, is the connection of law to place. The locality where improper conduct occurred could determine both the nature of the offense and the wrongdoer’s obligations, as what was harmless in one place could be dangerous elsewhere as it may offend the spirits of that place but not at other locales. In a sense, the geography of Lanna also acted as a map of the law. Finally, is the law’s connection to collective identity. Wrongs to individuals or groups were commonly framed in terms of the harms done to their ‘khwan’, a term which refers to their ‘spiritual essence’, with the understanding that the khwan of villagers were linked to one another. Furthermore, natural locales such as forests and mountains also had their khwan, which therefore connects the human communities to their natural environments. This means that wrongful acts would harm the khwan of communities and their environments, not just individuals.
When the Chakri Dynasty was founded in 1782, the newly installed King Rama I attempted to consolidate his kingdom by ordering a new compilation of prior laws. This resulted in the creation of the Law of the Three Seals, a legal code closely connected to Rama I’s broader effort to reform Thai religion. Later, when Rama V came into power, he enacted a Western-style ‘rational’ legal system with courts and law codes fashioned after French and German models, all in an attempt to construct a modern nation-state. This framework was imposed upon Lanna and other regions of Thailand. The European-style law codes aimed to sever any connection between law and spirits. Hence, the law was no longer variable according to location but was uniform across all the spaces of the nation-state. The concept of collective identity in terms of legality disappeared. Likewise, the concept of khwan was banished from legal discourse. Yet, despite the efforts to bring greater ‘rationality’ to Thai Buddhism and erase the Lanna religion of its spiritual beliefs, Lanna-style legal consciousness did not simply disappear. Village mediators continued to resolve conflicts. Spirit mediums continued to voice the concerns and commands of locality spirits. Wrongdoers were still required to appease spirits and restore the khwan via folk rituals.
This brings me back to the question posed: if the blood curse was not recognised as a Brahmin rite, what kind of rite was it? According to Engel (2021), it would appear that the blood curse demonstration was an attempt by red-shirt protesters to reconcile the two forms of legal consciousness. As the Thai judicial system had failed them, the traditional principles of law, sacrality, and community cannot therefore be adequately expressed through judicial decisions. These principles, however, could possibly be better communicated through a ritual that exists outside of the modern framework of legality— a ritual that hearkens back to Thailand’s animistic roots. Thus, unlike the Thai judicial system, the blood curse spoke a language that is culturally intelligible to the protestors. Here, the spirits are invoked — just like they would’ve been should the Lanna legal system prevail — and are asked to harm an adversary and correct the imbalance in the modern order. In many ways, the curse represents a darker side of traditional Lanna law, but it rests on the same foundation of traditional legality, sacrality, and collective identity.
2020 to today: The Ongoing Fight
One of the most memorable acts of spirit invocation in relation to political protest in recent years that I remembered witnessing live was during September of 2020, when the anti-government protestors installed a plaque at Sanam Luang. On the plaque were declarations of how Thailand ‘belongs to the people, and not the king’. The ceremony of the plaque installation was made to be a religious one, where Pali chants were incanted during the installation process.
A prayer was also said to invoke the spirits, with the audience encouraged to pray along as follows (translation by me, based upon this video): ‘I offer these flowers, incense and candles to the spirits and theps [a term referring to god-like spirits] who rules over the heaven, who rules over the earth, who rules over the netherworld. May all theps, even if your names are not called out, if the voice of the people reaches you, may you appear at this place and attend this ritual and bear witness that this is the plaque installation ceremony of democracy, of the victory of the people. May feudalism fall and the people prosper.’
Aside from this, the protest leader also invoked the powers of Phra Piree Pinard (พระไพรีพินาศ). It is said that around the year of 1848, an individual gifted a Buddha statue to King Rama IV in order to protect the realm from enemies. Subsequent Buddha amulets were then created with the image of Phra Piree Pinard, claiming that anyone who wishes ill upon the country will face devastation and divine retribution. In a sense, the protestors were invoking powers that were meant to defend the nation in order to fight those whom they believed were endangering the nation via their corrupt and morally ill ways. Additionally — I cannot find a video of this moment unfortunately, but if my memory was correct — the protest leader had used the amulet to ‘speak to the spirit of King Rama IV who commissioned these amulets’ claiming that ‘right now your children [the current monarch institution] have forgotten their subjects’. If anyone has a video of the moment then please let me know and I will link it onto the blog.
[Edit: the video is available here at around the 29 minute mark.]
Moving onwards to the last year of 2022, there have been occurrences where protestors performed magic to curse the current prime minister, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. During the rallies of August 2022, protestors cursed PM Prayut and demanded that Thailand’s prime minister step down for exceeding his term limit. Those interested could watch the video of the issue and ritual in English here. Furthermore, there exists this documentary released in November 2022, presented by Assistant Professor Edoardo Siani of the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, exploring how protestors pick astrologically propitious days and times for protests and perform sorcery against the ruling elite. The documentary could be viewed here.
Finally, I wish to end this blog post by saying that pictures and videos of the events I described above could all be found online— everything from the blood curse to pictures of youth protesters performing magic. You can look them up if you are curious although some of the pictures may be disturbing to certain readers unused to seeing such things. Furthermore, there are also other instances of occult rituals being performed in modern day protests that I failed to mention simply because I wish to keep my essay from being too long-winded.
Thai occultists are no strangers to casting malefica in the name of political change. Many rituals like the mock funeral or the blood spilling ritual may seem barbaric to western eyes, but all of them are rooted in the mechanisms of magic and the concept of animism. It is my hope that, should the political witchcraft in the mainstream western sphere continue to grow, westerners may be inspired by these acts and seek to involve ancestral, divine or animistic magic in their occult activism. Likewise, I too hope that this particular form of occult activism in Thailand is one that continues to exist for decades to come.
Rajah, A. (2005) “Political assassination by other means: Public protest, Sorcery and morality in Thailand,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 36(1), pp. 111–129. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/s0022463405000056.
Cohen, E. (2012) “Contesting discourses of blood in the ‘Red Shirts’ protests in Bangkok,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 43(2), pp. 216–233. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/s0022463412000033.
Engel, D. (2021). Blood Curse and Belonging in Thailand: Law, Buddhism, and Legal Consciousness. In A. Harding & M. Pongsapan (Eds.), Thai Legal History: From Traditional to Modern Law (pp. 89-100). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108914369.008
Callahan, W. A. (1994). Astrology, Video, and the Democratic Spirit: Reading the Symbolic Politics of Thailand. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 9(1), 102–134. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41056878 https://www.thaipost.net/main/detail/77980
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