The “Phi” (ผี): Ghosts and Spirits in Thai Culture
Beliefs in ghosts and supernatural spirits exist in almost every culture. In Thailand ghosts and spirits are known collectively known as “phi” (ผี). General translation of phi equates the term to “ghosts” (as in spirits of the dead, or spectral entities). The term, however, has a deeper meaning that encompasses a wide array of spiritual and natural forces. Phi is not simply a subject of campfire stories, but are an active part of Thai culture and belief system. From spirit houses to superstitions, phi interacts with the lives of Thai people on daily basis.
The belief in phi originated in the animistic religion of the local people. When Brahmanism and Buddhism came to Thai, phi became absorbed into the Buddhist-Brahmanistic religion. Through understanding phi, one can gain insights into the nature of Thai people, particularly our respect for natural forces and our ability to harmonize different spiritual beliefs. In this article, Phya Anuman Rajathon, a famous scholar in Thai folklore, walks us through the nuances of phi, from natural guardians and celestial forces to evil spirits and damned souls.
Author: Phya Anuman Rajathon
Edited by: Margaret Caughlin
* This article was published in the Journal of Siam Society and is being shared on the Thailand Foundation Website with permission from The Siam Society.