Folk Object: Buddhist Strings

Context: My informant comes from Thailand, where Buddhism dominates as a leading religion for many. Such a heavy presence of Buddhism has caused locals, many of who are not even practitioners of Buddhism themselves, to adopt the tradition of wearing Buddhist strings as a sign of good fortune. These strings vary in color but typically come in white, red, or shades of orange, similar to the garments that the Buddhists themselves wear. If one is to visit a temple, these strings would receive the blessing of a monk first before being tied around their wrist. In most cases, you should allow the string to fall and come off naturally, which the informant said takes no longer than a week. No ill fortune comes if you take off the string early, but one should at least give it a day for the blessing to “seep” in. These strings are also wrapped around the ceilings of newly bought houses, this way the home is blessed and cleansed for the rest of the buyer’s stay.

Analysis: Folk objects are tangible constructs that have been embedded with some sort of cultural importance, connecting them to a belief and or folk system. Folk objects are powerful because they tie in the mystical, unknown world, to that of ours, or reality. With something as simple as a string, such as those distributed by the Buddhists, they can be handed out in mass. This allows the folk object to be available to a large crowd, being accessible to all gender, races, and classes. The fact that in this case, the folk object is a piece of string makes sense for Buddhism, for its monks reject any worldly desires and focus on self-improvement and healing. Strings in a literal sense are also known as typically being tethered or being tied with something else. These Buddhist strings metaphorically represent being tethered to the divine protection of a blessing.