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Please don't wear purple, red or orange. Tusks pulled from jungle pigs are fine.
BANGKOK — The vendor’s leathery fingers sifted through a mound of boar tusks, scattered over a table in a Bangkok street bazaar.
“They’re extracted from jungle pigs,” he explained, pinching a crescent-shaped fang and holding it up to sun. “It protects the wearer from physical harm. And if your stars come up unlucky? It’s an antidote to misfortune.”
Despite its modernity and deeply entrenched Buddhism, Thailand remains under superstition’s sway. Astrologers double as celebrities. Protective amulets purportedly worn by car wreck survivors sell for big money. Even the highly educated turn to fortune tellers for advice on love and money.
But these old-world beliefs also guide much bigger decisions in Thailand. Many within the ruling class of politicians, protest leaders and military chiefs seek supernatural guidance for rulings of national importance. Even armed coups have been scheduled — to the minute — for auspicious times on the astrological calendar.
“It’s very embedded in the culture,” said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based author and Thai political expert who has studied the role of supernaturalism in Thailand. “Most people don’t really question it. It’s like asking (Western politicians) if they believe in the Virgin Mary.”
Thai astrology often directs the timing of political endeavors. When deputy agriculture minister Supachai Phosu took office in May, employees born under the sign of the dog — the astrological rival to his sign, the monkey — were ordered to stay away from ministry headquarters. On his first day, his staffers were told to avoid wearing purple, red or orange and the minister stepped into his office at precisely 7:09 a.m., which carried some starry significance.
Rituals are also used to ward off bad fortune or enemies. After a 2006 coup to oust former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra proved unpopular, the coup generals and their wives conducted a two-hour chanting rite and allowed monks to loop a long sacred thread around their heads.
Less hygienic was the good-fortune ritual led by Sondhi Limthongkul, the powerful leader of a pro-establishment street movement — commonly called the “yellow shirts” — that helped topple the government late last year. On live TV, he announced that female followers had smeared maxi pads stained with menstrual blood on the monument of a 19th-century Thai king — all to supernaturally protect his faithful from enemy attacks.
In the eyes of some, Sondhi’s mysticism was vindicated in April when assassins dumped more than 100 bullets in his personal minivan. He survived the ambush. And now the amulets supposedly worn by Sondhi are advertised as “soaked in blood” talismans in Bangkok’s streets.