Astrology in Thailand: Life Guidance from the Stars
Fortune telling has captivated people for centuries. It is a door to the mystery of the future, the present, and the past, and for some, it is a spiritual anchor. In Thailand, the practice of astrology has long been a popular tradition. From reading the stars to interpreting the zodiac signs, it offers a fascinating way to explore the mysteries of the universe and find guidance in life. So why is astrology such a respected and enduring practice in Thailand? Let’s delve into the world of the Thai astrology and discover its history and appeal.
Origins and History
Astrology in Thailand is a unique blend of Hindu and Chinese astrological traditions, as well as local beliefs dating back to ancient times.
- Pre-Indianization period
Before the influence of Hinduism, the ancient Thai people practiced animism and relied on nature to make predictions. They observed the cycles of the moon and omens in the natural world, deciphering the hidden messages that predict the future. This may include observing animal behaviors or patterns of leaf, among others.
- Hindu-Buddhist period
With the introduction of Hindu-Buddhist beliefs to Thailand, the astrology underwent significant changes. The solar calendar and the belief in the nine planets were adopted, and a more systematic method for tracking the movements of the stars was developed.
For this reason, astrology became an important tool for state functions as the kings and royal family consulted with royal astrologers who used their knowledge of stars reading to predict crop yields and weather patterns, determine the best times for planting and harvesting, and decide the most auspicious moments for state rituals, warfare, and other important events.
- Ayutthaya: the celebrated Phra Horathibodi
During the reign of King Prasat Thong (1630-1656) in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, a renowned astrologer named Phra Horathibodi served as the royal astrologer. He was known for his skill in divination and was responsible for overseeing various royal religious ceremonies. Although little is known about Phra Horathibodi, it is thought that his hometown was Sukhothai, a province and a capital of an ancient era of Thailand.
According to one story recorded in the royal chronicles of Ayutthaya, King Prasat Thong once sought to test the astrologer’s abilities. After observing a mouse fall from the ceiling, the king covered the mouse with a bowl and asked Phra Horathibodi to guess what was inside. The astrologer confidently declared that there were four mice under the bowl. The king said that the guess was incorrect only to be surprised when he lifted the bowl and found four mice. While under the bowl, the pregnant mouse gave birth to three pups.
Phra Horathibodi’s prediction was correct. This incident served as further testament to his exceptional abilities as a royal astrologer.
- Rattanakosin: King Rama IV and his passion in astrology and Western astronomy
His Majesty King Rama IV (1804–1868) had a great interest in astronomy. He calculated a total solar eclipse two years ahead of the event, and invited Sir Harry Ord, Governor of the Straights Settlements based in Singapore, as a witness. This incident happened on August 18, 1868 in Waghor, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.
The king was also passionate in astrology, so much that he devised his own formula for fortune-telling. This method works by combining the number of your birth year (Chinese zodiac year), birth month, and birth day, and subtract it by 10 until only one digit is left, and that is you fortune number. For example, if you were born in the year of ox (2), in January (2) and on Saturday (7), you will add these three numbers: 2+2+7 = 11. Subtract it by 10, and you are left with 1.
The prediction can be roughly understood as follows:
Number 1: Be humble and careful when you are taking any action.
Number 2: Be careful of diseases and losing your money and property.
Number 3: You are blessed with moderate wealth.
Number 4: You are a lucky person, often having your wish granted.
Number 5: At the beginning, you may not have any wealth, but as you grow older, you will become rich.
Number 6: You will receive help from your close relatives, making you a wealthy person in the future.
Number 7: You may face many obstacles in life.
Number 8: You are noble and can achieve anything. You are trusted by people and blessed with wealth.
Number 9: You have luck but need to work your way to success. Even if you were born poor, you will be able to establish yourself in no time. And in the end, even though you are not opulent, you will always have food on the table.
Number 10: Be careful with people. You will become the person you associate with.
The prediction is not to be taken as a source of lifelong despair or delight, but rather a reminder to carry oneself carefully and wisely. This attitude of carrying oneself carefully and wisely is also central to the belief in astrology.
- Modern Era
Fortune telling is a booming industry in Thailand today, with a diverse array of techniques and traditions from the ancient wisdom of China, India, and neighboring countries to the more cosmopolitan influences of the Western world. As a result, there is no shortage of fortune-tellers operating in the country. Whether you are seeking guidance for your career or relationships, there will always be someone to help you navigate the mysteries of the future.
Popular forms of astrology and divination in Thailand
- Rasi Chakra and Navang Chakra (ราศีจักร นวางค์จักร)
Zodiac reading is a widely popular form of fortune telling published regularly in many newspapers, magazines, and websites. In astrology, Rasi Chakra or the zodiac refers to the band of the sky through which astrological planets revolve around the sun. Together, they form a group of twelve celestial objects, including Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, dark planet Rahu, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. These 12 celestial zones are each represented by a unique sign, with its own name and symbol: Aries the ram, Taurus the bull, Gemini the twins, Cancer the crab, Leo the lion, Virgo the virgin, Scorpio the scorpion, Sagittarius the archer, Capricorn the goat, Aquarius the man and a pitcher, and Pisces the two fish.
Navang Chakra is a term referring to the division of each zodiac into nine parts and takes into account the degrees and minutes of the planet’s orbit. It provides insight into the level of luck or ability associated with each planet, and can complement a zodiac reading. Essentially, Navang Chakra helps fine-tune the interpretation of the Rasi Chakra by providing a more detailed analysis of the positions of the planets at the time of a person’s birth.
- Chinese and Thai zodiac (นักษัตร)
The Thai zodiac is an adaptation of the Chinese zodiac mixed with Thai beliefs.
The Thai zodiac is based on the traditional Chinese zodiac, which assigns each year to one of the twelve animals in the Chinese belief. These animals are believed to represent certain characteristics and traits. With the Thai interpretation, the East Asian dragon is replaced with the Hindu-influenced naga. In Northern Thailand, the pig is replaced with the elephant. Some astrology manuals also assign deities to preside over each sign, as well as personal element and plants. The deities are manifested in these forms:
|Indian coral tree
Photo credit: myhora.com
Your luck will vary year to year, depending on your birth month. You may read more about this here.
- Birthday horoscope
In Thailand, we have specific birthday prayers for every day of the week, from Monday to Sunday and Wednesday nights, and also specific colors of the day. The prayers and the colors are associated with the gods of the days from Hindu mythology. It is believed that a person’s character and future prospects can be influenced by the day of their birth. Here is what the stars have in store for those born on each day of the week:
Monday: You are known for your kind nature, but don’t let that fool others into thinking you are weak. You are independent and capable, but also enjoy socializing and making connections. You are well-liked by others, but may struggle to find help when needed.
Tuesday: You tend to have a small circle of friends, but are skilled at managing and leading others. You are straightforward and principled, but may struggle with money management.
Wednesday: You are fair and just, treating others as how they treat you. You are sincere and open, and have friends and enemies who know where they stand with you.
Wednesday night: You can be mysterious, but you are brave and authentic. You are loyal to your friends and loved ones, but may be perceived as sly by some.
Thursday: You are a natural supporter, able to get along with others easily. However, others may take advantage of you.
Friday: You are ambitious and often successful in business, but be careful not to let your drive for success cloud your judgment.
Saturday: You rely on your emotions and intuition more than reason, and have a strong sense of self. Yet, you are thoughtful and reflective, and rarely miss anything. You enjoy the support of others, and are always happy to return the favor.
Sunday: You may seem impatient at times, but in reality, you think carefully before acting. You are not one to beat around the bush. You think big and are always willing to lend a hand.
- Prophecy from seven digits
This system of fortune telling is also based on the numbers of a person’s date of birth, but needs to be calculated with the Thai 100-year calendar. It involves the interpretation of seven celestial stars, which are represented by numbers and specific meanings. Here’s what each number represents.
The sun (1) represents greatness, heat, and energy. The moon (2) signifies gentleness, beauty, and danger while Mars (3) is associated with the color red, battle, and war. Mercury (4) is wit, speed, and long journeys. Jupiter (5) is knowledge. Venus (6) is a symbol of beauty and passion, and Saturn (7) symbolizes suffering and sluggishness.
- Tarot cards
A deck of tarot consists of exquisite 78 cards. In Thailand, they are known as “Gypsy cards” and are believed to be used by Gypsy fortune-tellers. However, the birthplace of tarot cards was northern Italy where they were originally used as a piece of equipment for a game called tarocchi. When the game made its way to France, it was called tarot. The game became associated with divination as the interest in occult grew in Europe and America. It entered Thailand through globalization, becoming a popular method for predicting the future. In recent times, Thai astrologers have also designed their own version of tarot cards, featuring motifs from Thai beliefs.
Palmistry is the practice of predicting the future by examining the lines on a person’s palm. In Thailand, we read the right hand of a woman and the left hand of a man. Four main lines are examined in palmistry: the heart line, the brain line, the life line, and the destiny line.
The heart line indicates a person’s love life. A line starting under the index finger indicates satisfaction while a line starting under the middle finger indicates selfishness. The brain line is thought to foretell a person’s mental abilities and interests. A short line implies that a person focuses on physical achievements while a downward sloping curve indicates creativity. The life line gives clues to the overall quality of life. A line appearing close to the thumb indicates hardships, a curved line indicating great energy, and a short and shallow line indicating a gullibility. The destiny line foreshadows the path of life. A deep line signifies unpredictability but if the line touches the life line, it means self-determination.
Why is fortune-telling popular in Thailand?
With such a long-established historic presence, it is no surprise that fortune-telling still occupies a popular space in Thai society. Fortune tellers are ubiquitous and accessible. They range from street vendors offering predictions at affordable prices, to famous figures catering to high-end customers, to revered monks, to television personalities, to community shaman/shamaness, and even royal astrologers. Astrology and divinations are also interwoven into many aspect of Thai cultural practices. For example, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony includes not only one, but two divination rituals used to predict crop yields. One way to view this practice is through an anthropological lens: understanding that, for some Thais, astrology and divination is truly a legitimate way to predict the future. For others, however, fortune-telling is a form of preserving tradition, with the degree of belief in its potency varying. Some may engage in fortune-telling as a past-time activity, while some seek out their future as a part of yearly-celebrations such as New Year or planting season.
Superstition aside, fortune telling is also a popular coping mechanism to help Thai people face the uncertainties of life. In situations where life depends on outside forces of control (such a weather and taking chances), people may believe that success or failure is influenced by external, perhaps spiritual, powers. In this way, astrology and divination can help people understand and feel more in control of their life. When bad events occur, people may choose to see a fortune-teller as a form of therapy for their issues, because fortune tellers are accessible and inexpensive. The fortune tellers will often help their clients by instructing them to perform acts to turn their luck around. These involve performing benevolent and compassionate actions, such as donating money to the poor, with the hope the one’s good conduct will lend spiritual aid to one’s life. On the other hand, when actions can determine the outcomes of things (such as in practicing to compete in sports competition), people may rely more on their efforts and are less prone to seeking out fortune-tellers.
Another interesting question emerging from a booming popularity of fortune-telling is whether it is compatible with Buddhist principles. While some followers view Buddhism as a religion of science and a way to live in the present, others emphasized the Buddhist beliefs in karma and reincarnation. Thus, fortune telling is seen by some spiritually-inclined individuals as a way to understand how their present blessings and misfortunes are affected by their past karma and remind themselves to live with caution and mindfulness. Ultimately, the decision to see a fortune teller is a personal one, based on what makes the individual feel comfortable and causes no harm to others.
No matter how far the world has advanced or even if science can provide answers to almost everything, life remains unpredictable. It is only natural to seek support and guidance when faced with uncertainty.
Fortune tellers, whether based on superstition or not, serves a valuable purpose by offering compassion and guidance to those who need it in the hopes of easing their suffering and helping them navigate the unpredictable nature of life. If anyhting, fotune-telling subtly teaches us to respect the power of the universe and the natural world that influence one’s destiny. It teaches us to be humble, accepting that, even with our advancements, humans are not freed from natural events of life (sickness, old age, misfortunes, etc.).
Furthermore, the willingness of the Thai people to embrace various cultural and spiritual perspectives into their astrological practices is a testament to the open and inclusive mindset of the Thai people.
The story of “Astrology in Thailand” is a living ancient facet of Thai culture and heritage. It demonstrates how, even with technological advancements, Thais still hold deep respect for the power of nature and universe. Astrology is not just a form of superstition; it is away for Thai people to cope with uncertainties in life and learn to live in humble reverence, knowing that there are things in life beyond our own control. Join us in exploring more stories of Thailand and the Thai people, as we take you on a journey to discover Thainess.
Author: Soonyata Mianlamai
23 March 2023