Tag Archives: thai

Thai Folk Religion

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Thai

Age: 22

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Thai

(Notes-The informant will be referred AH to as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: AH was born in California, but both her parents are of Thai descent, moving here a few years before she was born with a large chunk of her family. Her family still practices many aspects of Thai folk religion in the United States. She notes that her religion is incredibly complicated, so she will only tell me a few, significant aspects of it.

K: Uh so just say which things you’re gonna be telling me about, like the names of them, where you learned about these things and if its like applicable uh the context to the performance, like under what circumstances would you do those things.

AH: Uh yeah I guess the first thing I wanna uh I wanna mention are Shamans. They’re like the main practitioners in our religion, and there are 2 main ones uh…phram’s which are like local village ones and uh…mo phi, which are the ones that can conduct like rituals. Mo phi is the more important of the 2 technically, but both are held with like…the same amount of respect by the community.

K: Can you go into more detail about what each does?

AH: Yeah of course. So phram’s are like village uh shamans like I think I said. He does like exorcisms and marriages and stuff like that, more common ceremonies that seem like they would be held in a home or village. The mo phi also does rituals and ceremonies and stuff but more intense ones, like contacting the dead.

K: Can you tell me more about that ritual?

AH: I was just about to. So uh its kinda complicated. Four sticks are planted in like a square around where someone was buried, and then thread is wrapped around them once forming like a protective square. A specific mat is laid in the middle and that’s where the uh mo phi sits-sits down. In front of him, like wherever he is facing but outside the square, there’s a terracotta pot with something called an uh…uhm a yantra painted on the outside with the bones of the dead person and uh…the pot is called a mo Khao. there also normally uh a like plate of rice for an offering and like a stick to whack spirits away *laughter*. After this point, it like varies pretty widely what happens next, but the goal is to invoke the spirits so you can speak or see them one last time.

K: What are yantras? Can you tell me more about them and their uses and stuff? Like when are they used especially

AH: Yeah so uh…they’re like protective symbols I guess. People can either wear them around their neck as like an amulet, and a lot of people actually get them tattooed, especially in more rural areas. It gives whoever has it like…supernatural protection and luck and love and wealth and stuff like that. They’re drawn kinda everywhere, like over the entrances of grocery stores and inside taxis and airplanes and normally you have one drawn somewhere during like a wedding and things like uh that.

This was so cool. I wish I could have sat with the informant longer and learned more about Thai religious folklore, but sadly she had other obligations. What she was able to tell me was so interesting. Shamans are not uncommon in many older regions,e socially folk-based ones, but hearing how they are specifically used in Thai religion was interesting. The fact that there are two different types of shaman, one more common one for larger ceremonies, etc, is really enlightening towards Thai culture. I also think it’s important to note that although one has an arguably more important or more difficult job, they both held with the same amount of respect and adoration.

Moxibustion (艾灸)

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Taiwanese American


Occupation: Technition

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Cantonese, Thai

(Notes-The informant will be referred AM to as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: AM a Taiwanese American techint8ion who was born and raised in California to Taiwanese parents, which is where she learned of this folk medicine. She also practiced it as a child and continues to do so today with her own family.

K: Ok uh what medicine are you going to be telling me about, where did you learn about it, and why or under uh what circumstances were this medicine used?

AM: Yeah it’s called uh 艾灸 or I’ve heard it be called Moxibustion in English. Uh, my mom would take me to the doctor to have this done when I started getting menstrual pain or if my Qi was uh blocked.

K: Ok! Whenever you’re ready you can describe it

AM: Yeah it’s simple uh so you lay down and then these uh little mugwort things are placed on your body, they kinda resemble uh incense cones. So they’re burned, and then this really smelly smoke comes out and you just lay there breathing it in, and then your pain goes away. It’s also just really relaxing because of the heat.

I wish I was able to hear about more traditional folk medicine because of how interesting it is. I wasn’t able to do much research on the actual scientific possibilities as to why this works, but the important thing is that it does help people. I believe at least that as long as folk medicine isn’t claiming to heal cancer (think of the fruitarian diet, for example), it’s incredibly useful and helps people. That is an important bias to note as well. Folk medicine is incredibly common in many East Asian cultures, and there are thousands of different traditions so it would be incredibly difficult to collect them all, especially (as the informant would later note) nearly every household as their own “concoctions” to treat common illness and pain.

The Sunset and Death


“I think about it a lot because I go against it a lot, and that belief is that you should not nap during–you should not nap or be asleep during when the sun sets. Like, I just heard–she just tells me the–the demons will come for you, basically. Like I don’t even know what it really is, it’s just, like, that you shouldn’t be asleep during that time, because, like, the symbolism of the sun setting could mean that, like, you yourself will die soon if you do things like that.”


Informant (WP) is a student aged 19 from Chino Hills, California. Her parents are from Thailand and Laos. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview in the informant’s apartment. She heard this particular folk belief from her mom, who is from Thailand. The informant interprets this belief to mean you shouldn’t be asleep during this time because you might also go down with the sun.


This belief may be an attempt to prevent children from napping during the sunset. If they nap then, they may stay up late into the night. To prevent this, the parents tell them they might die if they fall asleep while the sun is setting.

Loi Krathong/Loy Kratong

“Ok this one’s a festival–there’s–it’s called

Thai: ลอยกระทง
Phonetic: Loi Krathong
Transliteration: River Goddess Worship Festival
Translation: Loy Kratong

and it’s like a water festival. You make–how do I describe it in English? You make a float. The word in Thai is

Phonetic: Krathong
Transliteration: Float
Translation: Float

it just means like the float or whatever. It’s kind of like a lantern festival. But yeah, that occurs. Why? It’s like semi-religious, but also Thai people just celebrate it in general, for like, the rainy season. Like the end, the end of the rain. There’s like normal festivities for celebrations, like dance and food, but like the main activity is thanking the water goddess, a water goddess for like the entire season that came before. People also use it for like, good vibes. Where it’s like sending a wish or sending a prayer. You’d make it for someone else; like, ‘oh like for my family to be safe,’ and then you’d send it down the river. When I used to go to temple a lot, like, when I was younger when you would have like the festival everyone does it in like one small pond–cause the temple only has one small pond–and it’s really fun when the pond like fills up and like everyone’s wish is like together. Oh, you also–a big part of it is also making the float, to begin with, which is like made traditionally from like banana leaves. But in America, we make–well, no, not in America–but in the modern age, we use styrofoam, which is the funniest thing to me because the most environmentally damaging thing that you could do is to make it using styrofoam. But you have the plant styrofoam and you put like fake flowers in it if you don’t have like the real thing and then you take like three yellow candles and you put them in it and like make your wish on it.”


Informant (WP) is a student aged 19 from Chino Hills, California. Her parents are from Thailand and Laos. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview in the informant’s apartment. She learned this from family and from going to the temple. To her, it is a way to give gratitude for what a person has and to ask for more.

This festival is very similar to lantern festivals that are prevalent throughout East and Southeast Asia. It is very interesting to see how the festival has changed in the modern era with Thai people being unable to obtain banana leaves in parts of the world and instead resorting to styrofoam. Historically, agriculture has been incredibly important in Thailand. A festival based around thanking a type of water goddess at the end of the rainy season, while also asking for more rain in the future, makes perfect sense for this culture. Add in the variation on lanterns, being floats, and Thailand has a festival that is both related to other Southeast Asian festivals and uniquely Thai.

Don’t Cut Your Hair in the New Year


“Ok it’s a very common one, it’s like, don’t cut your hair after the new year, and I guess just hearing that growing up definitely made me have more of an attachment to my hair. I think like it definitely like–I’m like oh maybe that’s why oh big hair changes can be big changes in your life, or something, because of like hearing my grandma being like ‘oh you need to time your hair cut because you can’t wash away or cut off your good luck.’ So I think that’s why I attribute hair cutting or hair changes to luck or change in life.”


Informant (WP) is a student aged 19 from Chino Hills, California. Her parents are from Thailand and Laos. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview in the informant’s apartment. She heard this particular folk belief from her grandmother who is Lao-Chinese. She thinks people want to attribute meaning to hair since it’s something that’s always with them, so they attribute luck to it.


Although many cultures emphasize looking forward in the new year, this could be an attempt to encourage some to hold on to elements of the past. In this case, their hair. Remembering the past is important when stepping towards the future.