USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘thai’
Folk Beliefs

Thai folk belief: Butterflies carry souls

My informant had a personal experience with this folk belief while attending her grandmother’s funeral in Thailand. She and the other funeral-goers were kneeling in prayer in front of the Buddhist temple where the funeral was being held, when she noticed a black butterfly fly over her grandmother’s coffin as the monks chanted a sutra to help the soul pass on.

When my informant mentioned the butterfly to an aunt afterwards, the aunt told her that butterflies are containers for souls, and that they carry souls away. The timing of the butterfly’s flight, as well as the fact that she’d never seen a butterfly in Thailand before, convinced my informant of the validity of this folk belief.

My informant suggested that it may be comforting to someone mourning a death to equate their loved one, and maybe death itself, with a butterfly, which is almost universally considered to be beautiful and graceful.

The main religion in Thailand is Buddhism, which rejects the idea of an unchanging self or soul, and so the soul’s flight in the butterfly could be considered the luminal stage between death in one body and reincarnation in the next. Also, while human/alive, we can’t fly—it could be exciting to think that in death, we are able to rise beyond the limitations of our past human bodies.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Thai folk belief: Mole on foot

Shortly before starting her freshman year at college, my informant noticed a mole on the back of her left foot which she was sure hadn’t been there before. She mentioned the mole to her mother, and it was then that her mother told of her the Thai belief that when you get a mole on your foot, it means you’ll travel far. (My informant’s mother is from the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand.)

My informant strongly believes that this belief is accurate, because she moved away from home and into a college dorm a few weeks after noticing the mole. She told me that the belief was bo-lan, a historical saying, or ancient/common knowledge, and that you have to respect bo-lan. Though she didn’t move far (her home is about a half hour drive from her college), she believes that this is because her mole is fairly small, and the size of the mole either determines or predicts (she’s not sure which) how far you’ll be traveling.

The location of the mole on the foot is probably significant. The feet are associated with walking, and therefore travel. This belief reminds me of another bit of folk speech: the “travel itch,” the desire to travel. Moles can itch, prompting the desire to walk, which could be a metaphor for travel.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Thai custom: First menstruation

The first time my informant got her period, her mother told her to go to the stairs, hold her breath, and walk down the number of steps she wanted her period to last for. For example, my informant decided that she wanted her periods from then on to last for three days, so she went down three steps while holding her breath. According to my informant, it worked for her; her periods now last three days.

I asked her why she didn’t just go down one step, and she said, “because it wouldn’t be possible, biologically, so to keep the legend true, you have to go down at least three or four.” This response suggests that there’s an element of conscious self-delusion for every girl who performs this custom, and that the belief is important more for its own sake than for the fact that it works.

My informant proposed that going down the stairs represents that the performer is taking the steps to becoming a woman. The girl holds her breath because Buddhism (the main religion of Thailand) encourages believers to endure suffering. Not breathing also symbolizes the pain of menstruation.

I agree with her assessment. A girl’s first menstruation is, biologically, the marker of her transformation from girl to woman. Taking physical steps represents that she is crossing that threshold.

Annotation: This folk custom appears in the 2001 Thai movie The Legend of Suriyothai. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0290879/

Folk medicine
general

Thai remedy

“Drinking warm water every day is healthy.”

The informant heard this from her elementary school friend’s mother from Thailand.  She does not believe in this remedy and does not understand it.

Perhaps the Thai culture wants people to stay hydrated by drinking water since Thailand is such a warm place.  However, in Holland it is often cold so drinking cold water may not be as appealing, so perhaps the mother changed the remedy to warm water to adjust to her new climate.  Thai people are also known for their tea so perhaps drinks that remind them of tea, like warm water, express their culture so the drink is encouraged.

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