It is the day before my second meeting with “Peter” (not his real name), and butterflies have filled my stomach right up to my throat.
During our first meeting, the Thai occult practitioner had suggested we go to Bukit Brown cemetery at midnight to perform a ritual, where I would meditate and bask in the presence of a ghost. With my curiosity towards the supernatural getting the better of me, I agreed.
Now, however, I’m regretting my over-eagerness to do whatever it takes for the sake of “journalism”. My mind keeps running through the two worst-case scenarios: I’m possessed by a spirit during the ritual and Peter is unable to cleanse me, or it follows me home. As it turns out, my balls are no match for my desire to seek the truth.
A few hours before we are supposed to meet, I text Peter: “Sorry, can we not do it at the cemetery? I’m honestly quite scared.”
He replies: “Of course, it’s best we do it at your comfort level. But I will still let you meditate ok?”
He doesn’t forget to end his sentence with a smiley emoji. How reassuring.
If there’s one thing to be gleaned from Thai movies, the consensus has always been “Don’t mess with the Thai supernatural.”
With occult already comprising the word “cult”, it’s no wonder that most people are wary of anything associated with it. Images of Thais sitting in a hut deep in the jungle, surrounded by lit candles, dolls and statues, and performing all sorts of ominous sounding chants come to mind.
A few friends warn me not to play with fire when I tell them about this assignment. An Instagram poll shows that 76 percent of my followers would rather go to the Syrian warzone than meddle with Thai black magic.
The country is divided into three main regions of practice. Dai, the southern part including Bangkok, is commonly associated with monks and chants for protection. Issarn in the north-east region is where practitioners focus more on black magic and spells related to charm and wealth. In the north-western part of Neuah, Thai occult strays into “ghost” territory, which has probably provided the inspiration for most horror stories.
The negative perception of Thai occult usually stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the culture, especially when people tend to conflate its use of black magic with pure evil.
“People tend to fear things that they do not know or understand. But it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. In fact, Singaporeans can generally accept the culture behind Hungry Ghosts Festival but they still see Thai occult in a bad light. It’s all about perspective,” says Peter.
Often, spells and other types of chants are used to summon spirits or ghosts to amulets, which are usually shaped in the form of a deity. They are typically worn as a form of protection. But these spirits, “enslaved” by the amulet wearers, can also be instructed to help their masters in various ways, for example increasing their wealth or even improve their love life.
Many of these amulets are also infused with body parts, like a bone, hair, or even a foetus. This no doubt contributes to the fear of what Thai occult actually stands for. Peter tells me that grave digging for such items is illegal and many practitioners in Thailand have actually been jailed for it.
The strength of the amulet partly depends on the spell that are chanted, as well as the thoughts that are being channelled.
Like pets, these spirits need to be looked after and showered with attention. If not, they may feel neglected and can hurt their master. Any good luck that they bring to the amulet wearer must also be repaid in merit, which Peter says can be making donations to charity in the name of the spirit.
“There is no free lunch in this world,” he stresses.
One is the deity that he calls “Grandmaster”, similar to the deities in Taoism and Chinese beliefs. The other is a child spirit that he owns.
Peter arranges a bottle of Coke, a packet of milk, and a tray of apples on the carpeted floor for Grandmaster. For the other spirit, he has brought dinner in the form of rice, meat and a fried egg from a Thai eatery downstairs. “You must buy them a proper meal, you cannot just give them a small piece of bread, for example. They may get offended. Treat them well and respect them, and they will do the same to you,” he says.
We place candles and joss sticks into little flower bouquets – five for each spirit – and light them. Gradually, the smell of incense smoke fills the small 3m x 4m room, and I begin to worry that the smoke would trigger the fire sprinkler on the ceiling.
The room lights go off, and Peter begins to chant in Thai to summon his Grandmaster. It’s a pretty long scripture, and although he is fluent in the language, he still has to read off the lines on his phone to avoid making a mistake. The incantation goes smoothly without a hitch, and in fact sounds soothing and peaceful enough that it helps to calm me down.
I take a deep breath and say, “Hi, I’m Benjamin…”
“No, no. Just say it in your thoughts can already.”
Once I’m done, we switch sides and Peter now sits facing the offerings for his deity. Another Thai chant is read, this time from memory.
“Now, you will do the meditation. You will sit in this room for about 10 minutes and chant for the ghost to come to you.”
He places a stone-like object with inscriptions on it on my right palm. It’s allegedly made from the scalp of a dead person, and holds a tiny bottle of an unknown liquid.
“Keep chanting and feel its presence. Whatever it does to you, don’t resist it.”
At this point, I’m still more curious than afraid, and have no idea what to expect, until Peter says the next words.
“I’m going to the washroom. I’ll leave you alone for a while.”
Peter and I are the only signs of life on this floor. As he leaves, I hear the magnetic lock of the main office door click shut, and my heart drops.
“It’s just like how you chop a chicken meat. You can use your chopping skills for cooking or to kill people. But every action you take will have consequences,” says Peter. “It depends how one wants to use Thai occult. It doesn’t mean that disciples who learn in Dai are definitely good people, it doesn’t work this way.”
In Peter’s case, the spells that he chants are primarily to aid his businesses and improve the charm he has on the people he meets. During our first meeting, I already find Peter to be a very friendly and straightforward person. Perhaps this is the intended effect of whatever charm he has applied on himself – to amplify the positive aspects of his personality and make me feel good in his presence.
But the chant to achieve this effect can be much more salacious and blatant. Peter shares with me a chant that features a woman opening her legs. The English translation of one line plainly reads, “…open your vagina.” This spell is meant to enchant the other party with a single look, sort of like a bewitching gaze.
It also contains conspicuous images of naked women in various positions, something that you would find in the Kama Sutra. This flagrant display of sexual themes is a stark contrast to the conservative society and values that typically define Southeast Asia. Peter explains that many of the chants heavily revolve around sex because ancient tribes worshipped its power as it brings life.
I wonder if there is a chant that would help my Tinder profile get more matches.
His doubt and scepticism was further cemented after a series of unfortunate and tragic events. He lost almost all of his money – about five years’ worth of savings – within a year due to bad investments. His mum was also struck with cancer in the same period and passed away shortly after.
“I was very depressed. I was just turning 29 then, and I thought that was it for my life. I will end up being an ordinary Singaporean and will have to borrow money just to buy a house. There goes the Singaporean dream,” he recalls.
Life never got better for Peter even when he continued going to church. “No matter how hard I worked, I still was not able to recoup my losses. I really felt like giving up.”
But after his friend introduced him to Thai occult and its religious beliefs, Peter started to see improvements in his life which he could only describe as “miraculous”. Within a year of installing a small altar in his home, he had already bounced back from three consecutive losses. He could not believe what was happening.
A rational person by nature, Peter was curious how Thai occult could be the reason for this change, and began to do more research. But the internet was so riddled with misinformation and misinterpretation of Thai occult beliefs that the only way Peter could find out the truth was to go to its source.
He adds that he has received Catholic and Christian customers who buy amulets from him because they believe in the power and protection that they offer.
The amulets, however, are not a sure-fix solution to life’s problems or a guarantee for success, he stresses. It’s still down to the individual to want change and act on it. “If they were 100 percent effective, we don’t have to study or work already.”
According to Peter, a person’s luck is also very important. Citing the Chinese phrase “一命二运三风水”, (fate, luck and environment being important factors in a person’s life), he says that bad luck may also hinder the effectiveness of an amulet. “But if your luck is good, then you can see a lot of extreme behaviours around you.”
Some people have even bought Thai amulets in the hope of striking 4D. “Amulets don’t work like that, they’re not really supposed to help you win lottery. So when people buy my stuff and then don’t strike TOTO or 4D, they will complain to me that my goods are lousy or that I cheated them,” says Peter.
The last time I had a brush with Thai occult was on my previous assignment to Golden Mile Tower in January. Shortly after leaving the building on both occasions, I experienced bizarre signs that hinted at other-worldly interference.
Upon hearing my story, Peter told me that I could have an affinity with the supernatural. And I’m open-minded about that possibility. I consider myself spiritual though not religious (at least that’s what I list on my Coffee Meets Bagel profile). Hence he’s been so keen for me to undergo this ritual so that I can have a first-hand experience.
If what Peter said is indeed true, I really hope that what I would see, hear or feel tonight would not be too aggressive. I am just a curious guest and I mean no disrespect.
Thank goodness for the sounds of traffic outside. I can’t imagine how waiting for the arrival of a ghost in a completely dark and quiet cemetery would feel.
Seconds turn into minutes. I continue chanting in my head, bracing myself for a hand on my arm, or a whisper in my ear. But the chilling sensation that goes through my body like a cold wind, which I was told to expect, never comes.
My trepidation and anxiety slowly morph into disappointment. I’ve gone through the whole preparation, all for nothing?
“How was it?” he asks excitedly.
I shrug my shoulders and told him the truth. However, I did feel a little swirling of the liquid in the bottle on my right palm, and it also felt warm. Mind you, I was sitting in an air-conditioned room.
Peter seems surprised by my experience – probably not one that he was expecting – but assures me that the warmth and swirling that I felt was an indication of the ghost’s presence.
Maybe I wasn’t concentrating enough during my meditation. Or maybe I just don’t have the affinity at all.
Nevertheless, I’m relieved that the night ended fine. There were no mishaps, and Peter did not have to cleanse me of any bad luck. He gives me a small blessing though, by applying a dab of flower oil on my forehead that is supposed to make me slightly more charming to the people I meet.
I haven’t noticed any remarkable difference yet. But at dinner last night, my friend and I ordered the same alcoholic drink and mine tasted much, much stronger. Maybe the bartender really liked me more.
Have you encountered the supernatural with Thai occult or any other faiths? Scare the shit out of me with your best real horror story: firstname.lastname@example.org