Reply To: The Magic of Thai Amulets

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In Thailand, the power of the amulet is still very much alive.  An amulet is a mystical item that is usually worn around a person’s neck that because of some religious ritual possesses powers to protect or give good luck to the person wearing it.  We have all seen pictures of old European Kings wearing emerald and ruby amulets that had purported power, and many old tales about how the wearer was protected.  It was also a part of ancient Roman, Egyptian, Hebrew, Babylonian, Greek, Aztec, Mayan, Navajo and so many other great cultures that built the world we exist in today.  Almost every ancient culture.   In the West, we have tossed the idea about the power of amulets aside as just another old superstition or myth of something imaginary.  Maybe we need to be open to this concept once again.  Maybe there is something behind all this.

You see them around the necks of many, maybe most, Thai people, hanging off the rear view mirror of Taxis and Tuk-Tuks, these beautiful tiny artworks showing the likeness of the Buddha, of Monks or some special spiritual being.  It is seen in all levels of Thai society, in the top level boardrooms and lowly construction worker. These are Thai Amulets and they provide their wearers with protection against a multitude of possible harms, or often provide good luck in particular situations.  These miniature artworks are also a doorway into the history and religious culture of the Thai people. Symbolic amulets have been worn by Thais for centuries, and today even the most educated and modern Thai people will have a collection of them.  The Thai Army gives amulets to soldiers that must face dangerous situations.

Thai Amulets are very much part of Thailand and are related to Buddhism, but the Buddha never wore amulets and instructed his followers to not pay any attention to them.  The religion of Thailand is Buddhism, but it is also historically interwoven in Hinduism, animist traditions and ancient superstitions, practices of which you often see involving Thai monks in Thai Temples.

The Thai Amulet Marketplace

Modern Thais protect themselves with amulets by collecting, wearing, carrying or keeping them in an important place of their home. They are magical symbols connecting them to the spiritual world.  It has alsodeveloped into a huge underground and above ground market, often engaged in by monks, with fortunes made by professional collectors.

There are amulet shops in big market areas, and tables outside of temples with many available amulets for sale, while the mostvaluable are usually sold on a one-on-one basis from expensive collections one-on-one, often with a monk involved.  There are several websites on the internet that provide just a little glimpse into the Thai Amulet market world.   There are some sites just used by collectors to show their collections.

Someone needing the power of a special Thai Amulet can actually rent an amulet for a specific period of time.  Renting gives the wearer time to determine if the magic from the amulet is actually working for him or not.  Often these rented Amulets are ancient pieces held by monks at temples and have almost an incalculable high financial value.

One of the factors of the value of an amulet is the materials it is made with.  The pieces come in all styles and shapes, made of metal, wood, bone, stone or plaster, and can include sacred ash from incense, a monks cremated ashes, colored dust from a temple’s bricks, human hair or other material.  I have even seen an Amulet made of a small square from the bed linen of great lover with a tiny painting showing intercourse with stick figures that was blessed by a great lover to provide the wearer with a better sex life.

Some of the materials, such as gold or silver or emerald may be valuable.  Some will have a diamond or ruby embedded in the back of the amulet.  Many are simple copper or a much cheaper metal.  The Amulets are usually produced at a temple and a specific quantity is made available, making the available pieces have an increased value, much like a lithograph print of a painted artwork is often limited and numbered. It may take several weeks of blessings for an amulet to be properly prepared.  The Amulet sometimes has a  number so that authenticity can be determined, and usually the total production number of the amulet is known by the seller and is limited.

Then there is the value in artwork, the carving of the material.  Real craftsmanship is built into many Amulets, with intricate hand carving or chiseling.  Many Buddha reproductions will have a blank face.  Some will have intricate Hindu symbols, and some will be small finely carved reproductions of a man’s penis (to be worn by a man in order to enhance the effectiveness of sexual activity).

Some amulets are more valuable because they are quite old — historical and antique — dating back to the “Ayutthaya period” of Thai history (Ayutthaya was the capital city of Siam from 1351 to 1767), and many more since that time.  Amulets are still being produced and blessed with mystical powers to this very day

The biggest value in an Amulet is the spiritual and strength of power.

For believers, an amulet can provide good luck, true love, a better sex life, cash, or relief from a personal problem.   For many, these powers are the true value of an Amulet. 

In order to protect the Amulet and allow the user of them to transport or wear the Amulet, they are usually encased in a metal frame case (usually gold or silver plated) with an acrylic window around the actual Amulet.  Sometimes the window will be made with crystal.

When you visit a quality Amulet shop, you will see the serious buyers studying a piece they are considering with a magnifying glass, jotting down notes into their little notebooks and questioning the seller.  At home, these serious buyers are likely to have volumes of books detailing the history and powers of Amulets, and they will be studied carefully to determine a true market value for any particular piece.  As much as a European art dealer today may study a classical painting, the Thai amulet buyer will know what is behind this small piece of art, when it was made, by whom and what powers it possesses.  Unlike the buyer of a painting from medieval Europe, the Thai Amulet buyer will also incorporate a mystical value in determining the worth of any piece.

In a typical good Amulet shop in Bangkok you are likely to see publicly displayed Amulets for as little 100Baht up to perhaps 5-6000Baht.  The more expensive Amulets would be available with a private showing.   A very rare amulet can have a market value of a million or more Baht, some worth several million.  I do get a chuckle when I read from many amulet merchants that they give a money back guarantee if the amulet does not work.  That is a difficult thing to gauge.  I guess if you died, it would prove the amulet didn’t protect you and you could go and collect on the guarantee.  If you lived, you might attribute it to healthy eating habits, but you cannot really collect on the guarantee as if it is not working.  I wonder how all those guarantees work and if anyone has ever collected on them.

Even the cheapest amulet can have protective power if it was blessed correctly and is maintained by the wearer, but in the night markets often frequented by foreign tourists there may be very cheap amulets that are reproductions of other valuable ones and are made from molded plastic or other simple materials.  These are usually not blessed by monks in a temple at all and in Thai thinking are worthless.  If you purchase a Thai amulet in the US, or in a simple amulet shop in Hong Kong, Indonesia or Malaysia and it is low cost (sometimes not at a low cost), it is likely a reproduction and mass produced.  Many of these are sold in Thailand for the equivalent of about a dollar US, then sold elsewhere for a markup of 10 times which still makes them very cheap in the West.

As an expat living in Thailand gains Thai friends or family, they are likely to be given an amulet from the family patriarch that may have been passed along a few generations.  These are truly the most valuable amulets with a personal connection to others.   I now have a collection of three Thai amulets acquired this way.  I do not wear them every day (actually I seldom wear them because they seem quite bulky as they beat my chest as I move around), but I keep them in a good place in my home and treat them reverently.  So far, they have worked for me.

The Rules for Wearing an Amulet

When you receive an Amulet from a monk, he is considered your Ajarn (teacher) and will give you rules about wearing the amulet.   For sure your ajarn will tell you to keep the amulet off the floor and away from the feet, the lower parts of existence.  And the amulet should be taken off during sexual intercourse or if you venture into any lowly or improper place (like a brothel).

When taking the amulet off, you should put your hands together and say thanks to the Lord Buddha and put your Amulet on a high shelf, above head level, in a clean place.

When putting on the amulet, you should pay respect to Buddha and the monk that created the image on the amulet.  Hold the amulet between your palms in a praying gesture.  Your amulet should be treated as a holy relic.  There are some that say if you have several amulets, you must wear an odd number of them (like 3 amulets or 5 amulets) because an even number may conflict with the powers of each other.

If the wearer of an amulet is saved from a major disaster — perhaps their life has been saved from a major accident — then they should return the amulet to the temple it originated from.  The amulet, though there has been a cost in obtaining it, is never an item that one can totally possess.