We can’t deny that the belief in spirits or any mysterious powers still exist in the modern world. Some people may think that it is ridiculous to believe in something that cannot be explained by scientific methods. However, this kind of belief is sometimes used to solve some issues in some remote areas of Thailand.

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The belief of unexplainable powers or spirits still has its influence for many Thais.  You may see a joss house located in the front or back yard of the houses or buildings. My foreign friend thought It was a bird house until I explained to him that it was there as a shelter of household spirits. The belief in spiritual beings has been deeply rooted in the Siamese kingdom since the ancient time as appeared in the Stone Inscription No.1 of Sukhothai Kingdom in 13th century.  Recently, there was a tourist posting in his blog a picture of a tree with coloured cloths tied around its trunk in a public toilet in Thailand. It might be an amazing picture for him but for Thai, we get used to this kind of picture. Many people would see that it is a crazy idea to believe in animism. However, in some region, it is not a crazy idea at all.

One of the road side shrine that reminds that passing by drivers to drive carefully.

One of the road side shrine that reminds that passing by drivers to drive carefully.

In the remote hilly region of Thailand, the forests have been encroached by villagers for their farming activities. For many years, thousands of trees have been cut and the forests are transformed to be farm plantations. A lot of the invaded land are mix deciduous and water resource forests. Cutting those trees means a huge environment disaster. Surprisingly, some Buddhist forest monks have wisely applied this animistic belief into an environmental protection. The forest monks and the villagers would tie the yellow robes around the trees as a symbol that those trees were ordained (yellow robe is a Buddhist monk’s attire).  In doing this, the trees are safe from being cut for agricultural purpose.  Furthermore, some people wrap the coloured cloths around the big trees to mark that the trees are protected by a deity. These acts have saved a lot of big and small trees in the forests from being cut.

Ordained tree, another trick to protect the forest. Photo by Pathompol Pranpa

Ordained tree, another trick to protect the forest.
Photo by Pathompol Pranpa

Besides the environment protection, some community use it to heal people from the illness. My recent trip to Lanjia Lodge in a small village of Akha and Hmong tribes in Chiang Khoung district, Chiang Rai revealed an amazing healing technique performed by a shaman, who is a hill tribe spiritual healer of the village. The hill tribe guide who led me to the shaman’s house said 90% of the patients treated by the shaman recovered from the ailments. The process of the healing treatment involves various types of tools and absolutely needs strong belief and faith in the spiritual beings and the shaman himself. The Shamanism still exists in many remote hill tribe villages in the northern region of Thailand. Even though modern medicine has been introduced to the hill tribe people, they still believe in this ancient healing technique.

A Shaman with his healing tools

A Shaman with his healing tools

Charles de Lint, a Canadian writer wrote in one of his fictions that “That’s the thing about magic, you’ve got to know it’s still here, all around us, or it just stays invisible for you.” It perfectly described the belief in the spiritual beings and their mysterious powers that seem to co-exist with many people in rural areas in Thailand. This belief might be an effective tool to solve some problems if we apply it wisely at the right time and the right place.