Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits

Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits of Thailand Animism

July 26, 2017 By Richard

Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits of Thailand Animism

Author: Josh@Asiabackpackers

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Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits. Thai people have for countless centuries been animists, believing in spirits, ghosts and ghouls. The arrival of Buddhism around the 3rdcentury B.C. did little to change these beliefs and in some way actually legitimized them.

In ancient Buddhist cosmology the universe was made of thirty-one planes of existence stacked in layers, and three realms, or dhatus. The three realms were Ārūpyadhātu, the formless realm; Rūpadhātu, the realm of form; and Kāmadhātu, the realm of desire. Each of these was further divided into multiple worlds that were the homes of many different type of beings.

Move on several millenniums and these strong animist beliefs are still held by many, sitting as they do, comfortably with their beliefs in Buddhism.


Different Woodland Spirits

There are a huge number of different types of spirits, ghosts and demons, within Thailand. (See our post Ghosts Spirits and Thai Folklore, for details on just a few). The people not only appease many of these spirits, in their every day needs; for food and good health, others look to the ghosts in helping them choose the all important ………. winning lottery numbers.


Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits and the Lottery


Lady of Ta-khian

One of these most helpful of spirits is that of the beautiful, Nang Ta-khian นางตะเคียน; “Lady of Ta-khian”). Who resides in the body of very large trees known as Ta-khian (ตะเคียน), hence her name. These trees known by their official name of Hopea odorata, are outside of Thailand, a threatened species , being highly valued for their wood.

Here in Thailand, the same trees that can live for centuries, have long been unofficially protected by the people, who believe Nang Ta-khian spirits call these trees home. It is believed these beings, who alongside other ghosts, in other types of trees, protect them and their families from harm. These different woodland spirits are known collectively and generically, in Thai folklore, as Nang Mai, (นางไม้; “Lady of the Tree”).

See our post Tree Fairies in Thailand – An ancient fable where sexual desires are quenched by a fruit in the guise of a beautiful women.

Beauty within the Tree  

Legends tell the spirit inhabiting a Ta-khian tree, sometimes appear as a beautiful young woman, dressed in traditional Thai attire, usually in reddish or brownish colours, contrasting with the equally beautiful Nang Tani (Banana Tree Nymph) who is mostly seen in a green clothing.

Like all Nang Mai, Nang Ta-khian protects the immediate location of her home, hurting wicked or immoral people who come too close, while it is said that good people have nothing to fear from her. Often heard wailing in the night. Like most spirits taking on an attractive female form, she is also said to lure men in with a beautiful or mournful song and steal their life-force.

Folklore has it that if her tree is cut down, she will stay within the wood and will haunt those that did her harm, along with those that use the lumber in the construction of their homes or as a boat.


Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits and the Lottery. Image of Nang Ta-khian


Felled Trees

A Ta-Khian tree can only be felled after a Buddhist ceremony is held, in which permission from the prevailing Nang Ta-khian is sort. The lumber from a felled tree will still contain the ghost of the tree, but she will morph into a different spirit dependent on the use made of the lumber; In the case of a boat for example, the Nang Ta-khian would mutate and become a spirit known as Mae Yaa Nang Ruea.


Decorated Trees

One will often find colourful strips of cloth tied around Ta-Khian trees, (or indeed the remains of their stumps), be they in forests, along the roadside or in gardens, with the area immediately around the tree kept clean and clear of underbrush. Offerings are placed at the foot of the tree or in its lower branches, while the bright ribbons are a symbolic warning to others not to harm the tree.


Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits and the Lottery

Amulets and the Lottery

Ta-Khian trees take on a more spiritual significance, when after what may have been eons of time; they are unearthed or dredged from the water. Once located, local Thai Buddhists will raise the logs and take them to a nearby temple, where they will be dressed in coloured ribbons, and surrounded by incense sticks.

Monks will then make offerings to the residing Nang Ta-khian spirit, after which splinters of wood may be used in amulets, (see our post Black Magic and Thai Amulets). More and more often today, the remnants of the Ta-Khian tree and the spirit still within, will be asked twice a month – before the first and sixteenth days of the month, (when the lotteries are drawn), to reveal the winning lottery numbers. Believers normally put chalk powder on their hands and rub the wood looking for the hidden numbers.


Thai People Tree Dwelling Spirits and the Lottery. Rubbing Chalk into the trunk to find Winning Numbers


For more on what some have termed the Lottery Goddess see our post on news items across Thailand in the previous 12 months: Ghost Stories from Thailand.

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