Buddhist Animism

Phra Ngang Amulet, Ajarn Daeng

Phra Ngang Amulet by Ajarn Daeng, author’s personal collection

For thousands of years prior to the introduction of Buddhism, Thailand teemed with spirits, gods, ghosts and monsters. So how did they survive the national transition to a universalist faith?

Unlike Western countries where monotheism completely drove indigenous supernatural entities out of existence or into hiding, Thailand gracefully syncretized the various strains of shamanic animism and brought them under the umbrella of Theravada Buddhism, transforming Siam’s legions of imps, phantoms and magical beings into guardians or agents of the dharma.

Today the “barang” system of healing, fortune telling and sorcery is kept alive in the Buddhist monastery system itself, with the frequent mass consecration and sale of amulets and fetishes depicting various animist figures (e.g., Phra Ngang, Khun Paen, Mae Bper, et al) used to raise funds for temple repairs, etc.