Folk Belief/Myth/Ritual/Folk Religion- Thailand

In Thailand, people believe that solar eclipses are caused by the Hindu god Rahu putting the son in his mouth. And this causes bad luck to everyone. Then, in order to get out of this bad luck, you have to pray to him and give him eight, black things, because eight represents his number in Indian astrology, and these things have to be black because his skin is black and because of the darkness/blackness caused by him swallowing the sun. These eight black things are:

  1. Black chicken
  2. Black liquor
  3. Black coffee
  4. Black jelly
  5. Black sticky rice
  6. Black beans
  7. Black dessert (specific Thai dessert like a black custard)
  8. Black egg

You go outside of your house and put all eight of these things on a table and burn incense and then pray to Rahu. This makes him take bad luck away from you and even give you good luck.

The informant states that he learned this item from his mother, around 13 or 14 years of age, at home, most likely because he had heard about it and sought more information from his mother. He wouldn’t tell anyone about this item unless they asked him about it first; rather, he claims he “would only talk about it if there was an actual solar eclipse” in which case he might tell friends, his brother, his cousins, or anyone “close enough” to him. To the informant, the item doesn’t “make sense,” and he asks: “Why if god created everything does he need anything from you?” According to the informant, the ritual was “just created by people to make themselves feel happy or safe from the bad luck.”

The above piece of Thai folklore is a good example of a “conversion” superstition or folk belief, whereby some highly specific and perhaps ritualized action or set of actions is taken in order to ward-off bad luck. In this case, the actions are gathering eight specific items together, all of a black color, placing them on a table outside of one’s house, burning incense, and praying to the god Rahu, all in that order. The conversion superstition here does not, therefore, merely involve an action which stands on its own—for instance, knocking on wood or throwing salt over one’s shoulder—but it bears a significant relation to another being, the Hindu god Rahu, whose swallowing of the sun was the source of bad luck. In this sense, it is also a form of supplication or a religious act done for the sake of a god. As the informant notes, however, most people who adhere to this folk belief in Thailand are in fact not Hindu, but rather Buddhist, and thus the practice clearly falls outside of what is considered necessary to be a good Buddhist, constituting a form of folk religion. The informant even states that the belief contradicts the core of Buddhist belief since “Buddha teaches that you should rely on yourself not on the god.”

Finally, the item is also interesting in that it exemplifies the myth-ritualist perspective which holds that a ritual is intimately connected to, and perhaps even the performance of, a myth itself. Failure to perform the sacred rite correctly can have dire consequences which, for Thai people holding the above folk belief, would be the persistence of bad luck caused by the eclipse. Unlike most myths, however, which are stories transpiring outside the boundaries of profane space and time, occurring instead in a sort of sacred plane, the narrative of the Hindu god Rahu swallowing the sun and causing a solar eclipse must in fact take place in the here and now since we know that solar eclipses do in fact occur in this world. The explanatory power, or literal truth, of the myth seems nevertheless to have been abandoned by the Thai people with the offering of modern-day scientific explanations for why solar eclipses occur, according to the informant. The ritual performance—the “conversion” superstition—seems therefore to be substantially more important than the myth to which it is tied. The main concern for those who adhere to this belief, then, is the visiting of bad luck upon them, and how they are able to combat this through the ritual.