An amulet, a.k.a talisman, or juju, or periapt, as it known in some corners of the world, is simply a lucky charm, an artifact which is either worn or placed on a plinth and worshipped by people to ward off evil spirits, bring good fortune or maintain good health.
The word “amulet” comes from the Latin word amuletum, which is described as an potent sacred object that keeps troubles and negative energies at bay. They come in a variety of forms. Most commonly found amulets are gems, coins, bracelets, pendants, rings, written incantations, animal bones, exotic herbs, seeds, drawings and statues.
The earliest known amulet was discovered in 1914, in Neuchatel, present day western Switzerland, by amateur archeologist Ernest Roulin. Roulin unearthed two, 5000-year-old amulets that were fashioned out of a human skull. They were polished and perforated at one end, possibly to be worn around the neck. Roulin’s study of the Cortailod culture suggests that the amulets we made from the bones of the deceased, and worn as a pendent to either draw strength or protection from the afterlife, or simply to honor and commemorate the elders in the community.
Amulets in Thai Culture
A majority of the population in Thailand, about 95%, are staunch Buddhists. Thailand is home to the third largest Buddhist population in the world, after China and Japan. Thais are considered to be deeply religious people and follow orthodox spiritual customs that dates back centuries.
Prior to the advent of Buddhism in Thailand, Thais largely followed a tradition of animism. Even today, in contemporary Thailand, you will find spirit houses outside of people’s homes, that they believe helps ward off evil spirits. Their faith in the spirit world stems from their strong belief in ‘Karma’, which is a central theme in Buddhism.
Given this backdrop, it’s not surprising that in Thailand, genuine Thai amulets are considered sacred potent artifacts that play an essential role in mediating between the spirit world and people’s day-to-day affairs, often believed to determine people’s fate, maintain good health, bring good fortune and even ward off evil spirits.
Amulet Categories in Thailand
Though there are a wide variety of amulets found in Thailand, used for specific purposes, they can broadly be classified into four categories: Khruang-rang, Phra-khruang, Khruang-pluk-sek and Wan ya.
Khruang-rang amulets are primarily made of natural material, i.e. stones, pebbles, dried fruit seeds often found freely in nature. This type of amulet is popular with the commoners, as they don’t cost much to make.
Phra-khruang amulets are small figurines, most commonly Buddha or Ganesha, that come in the form of a votive tablet, often cast from a mould. This type of amulet is said to bring good fortune and wellbeing to its bearer. They are often worn around the neck, as a pendent.
Khruang-pluk-ek amulets are amulets that contain written incantations, written in Pali, that are either inscribed in metal or painted on cloth. These amulets are believed to bring magical powers to its barer, and used to remove hurdles, drive away evil spirits and give more power to conduct their intended tasks.
Lastly, Wan ya is a kind of amulet shamans and witch doctors prepare from select dried herbs, roots and leaves of medicinal plants. This amulet is employed to cure long standing illnesses, to maintain good health and drive away malicious ghost spirits. These amulets are popular with the tribals, village people whose culture in steeped in superstition