BANGKOK, THAILAND – In the heart of the Southeast Asian peninsula lies the Kingdom of Thailand. Once known as Siam, Thailand is now considered a constitutional monarchy the size of Spain, with a population 65 million. The country lies only a short distance north of the equator, which allows for its lush, green and tropical climate. Within Thailand’s rich and vibrant Southeast Asian culture, there lies a very small, but growing, Pagan community.“I found Siam Wicca in 1999, and the people there were so open-mind and loved to share their experiences. The community grew wider and wider. We had many beliefs, not only Wicca [but also] Native Thai, Druid, Shaman, Asatru, etc. After the founder of Siam Wicca left the site…the remaining people, including me, ran a new webboard and started meeting once a month. The community has grown since then,” said Atiwan Kongsorn, a Pagan living in Bangkok and co-owner of the only witchcraft store in Thailand.
Kongsorn explained that Siam Wicca was originally founded by Thitiwat Netwong, known in the community as Fianne. The site was part of the “first wave” of Paganism to arrive in Thailand via the Internet in the late 1990s. At that time, Siam Wicca was simply a website that, as Kongsorn said, “provided knowledge about Wicca’s beliefs translated into Thai.” The site also hosted “web boards” for community discussion.
After a few years, Fianne left the group, and as Kongsorn noted, it was later discovered that he had died. However, Siam Wicca continued to operate for a period of time, eventually moving to Facebook. Followers began meeting more frequently, and a new group was formed called Thailand Pagan Pride. Eclectic Wiccan Thanchai Jaikong, also known as MasThander, said, “We only use the [Facebook] page to promote events or news that can be posted in public.”
Like many places in the world, life as a Pagan in Thailand has its obstacles. MasThander said, “Being a witch or a pagan in Thailand will make you [a] deviant. Most people don’t understand who you are and what you do. So you have to stick to your own people who share the same spiritual understanding. That is what makes our community strong. We have to stick together.”
However, the assumption of deviancy is not exactly the same as experienced by Pagans in other parts of the world. Why? As reported by the tourism department, 96.4 percent of the population is Buddhist, which fosters a very different religious cultural environment than in countries dominated by Christianity. Kongsorn said, “Most of scholars say the main religion in Thailand is Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism to be precise). In my opinion, people believe in native Thai animism mixed with Buddhism. It is like animism disguised as Buddhism.”As such, both Kongsorn and MasThander agreed that the general population’s attitude toward modern Paganism is fairly positive or, at the very least, open. There are no religious-based hostilities embedded within Thai culture. They even note that the term “witch” is not really considered a negative. Kongsorn said, “The sweetest thing for Pagans in Thailand is that you can freely tell everybody that you are a Pagan. Thai people are open-minded. ‘Every religion leads people to good deeds.’ Thai people always say this. So as long as you have something to believe or something to worship, everything is fine.”
Despite this religious tolerance, there are still, as noted by MasThander, many cases of misunderstandings that have lead to accusations of deviancy. However, these negative experiences not based on religious expectations but on cultural differences. As MasThander explained, “Thai people at almost every level lack the knowledge about Paganism and Witchcraft, especially when we talk about the western Paganism or witchcraft that is now growing in Thailand. People think about Harry Potter or that kind of fictional thing. That’s our main hurdle; to explain the right identity to the community.”
Kongsorn agreed, explaining that while the term “witch” is not negative, it does conjure, so to speak, images of “silliness.” He said, “Thai people here know the term “witch” (the western witch) from movies, cartoons or books. Not quite evil but something far from their everyday life.” MasThander added, “These points of view are not troublesome or harmful, but it is irritating sometimes.”
Along with Buddhism, Thailand’s culture is also influenced by “Vedic Hinduism, Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism from India. Taoism, Confucianism, Mahayana Buddhism from China.” As Kongsorn said that because of “the existing belief in animism, [the belief in] magic still exists nowadays. [Thai people] like the Shamans, or witch doctors, who help people using herbs, rituals or talismans.”
While both Kongsorn and MasThander acknowledge and celebrate these rich aspects of their country’s culture, they do not regularly include the religious details do not directly influence their own modern Pagan practices. This particular growing Thai Pagan community is predominantly focused on western Pagan practice. The dominant religion is currently Wicca. However, Kongsorn said, “Some are Druid and Asatru. I met a guy who practices Santeria once … and there other are solitary pagans, like myself.” There are several Wiccan covens, but the number of practitioners is unclear. Kongsorn said “maybe hundreds” and most are under the age of 35.
The majority of their educational material, including mythology and writings, originate from Europe and the U.S. Access to the Internet has not only launched the Thai Pagan movement, but has also continued to play a vital role as the community grows. MasThander found Wicca through witchvox.com and, as noted earlier, Kongsorn discovered his path through the Siam Wicca’s website. Today there is far more material available to them online, and more people have Internet access.
In addition, there are several English-language book stores in Bangkok, such as Kinokuniya and Asiabook, which offer small number of “new age” books. In 2013, Kongsorn and his business partners opened the Ace of Cups Witch Cafe in Bangkok, which is described as the “perfect place for any pagan and individual who interested in Pagan, Witchcraft and Spiritual development.”Because Thai Pagans are not living in U.S. or the U.K., from where most of these materials originate, Thai Pagans have had to adapt the works and suggested practices to reflect their own ecology, culture and natural experiences. Kongsorn said, “As you know we live in a tropical climate with actually two seasons, wet and dry. There is not much difference between the seasons. It always green here … It’s a bit struggle [to follow the Western practices] if you stick with the concept of the physical world. In my opinion, the Wheel of the Year not only represents the cycle of Mother Nature, but also represents the cycle of one’s own spiritual improvement. If you stick with this concept [instead], there is no struggle at all.”
MasThander agreed, saying, “We try our best to follow the original rituals. But it’s somewhat difficult or impossible due to the geographical differences. But we try to focus on the spiritual meaning of the rituals and symbols; what everything in the ritual really means and does to our both physical and spiritually life.”
Both MasThander and Kongsorn expressed excitement about the growth of the modern Pagan movement in Thailand. Both are both doing their part to support and welcome anyone who is interested in the community and their practices. MasThander said, “For non-Pagan people, we try to offer a better understanding of who we really are. And for other Witches or those who are interested in the Craft, we try to bring them into our community, so we can help and support them.”
Kongsorn uses his shop as a place to welcome the community and to “provide information to the public about Pagan beliefs, mysticism and occultism.” He added, “We are trying to set up a Pagan Association here in Thailand … There will be a meeting here about setting it up this Ostara. Pagan beliefs in Thailand are just a little sprout. We now need the support and guidance from other countries.”