Covid-19 to crypto-amulets: Young Thais seek divination upgrades

BANGKOK — Thai master’s student Dhidhaj Sumedhsvast did not believe in fortune-telling or supernatural powers until the coronavirus pandemic began two years ago.

Now he regularly asks the advice of fortune tellers, wears lucky amulets and has images of tarot cards as wallpaper on his phone.

“The pandemic has brought so many uncertainties that make us anxious,” said Mr. Dhidhaj, 30, who began by praying to Kubera, the god of wealth in Hindu mythology and a Buddhist deity, for protection against the economic fallout from the pandemic.

“When I started doing this, I felt safe. While others have been affected by Covid-19 and lost their jobs or income, I haven’t. So I believe in it more and more .”

Like Mr. Dhidhaj, many anxious young Thais have taken to fortune telling and other forms of divination.

The pandemic has shifted Thailand’s distinct brand of divination from the streets and storefronts to youth-oriented social media, helping fortune tellers reach wider audiences.

“With a world like this, people need spiritual anchors,” said Ms Pimchat Viboonthaninkul, a 26-year-old fortune teller who works exclusively online and co-founded Mootae World which started the trend of phone wallpapers with tarot cards last year.

COVID-19 STRESS

Thai culture has long been steeped in astrology and forms of divination such as palm reading, tarot cards or numerology.

An estimated 78% of Thai people believe in the supernatural according to a 2021 study by the College of Management at Mahidol University (CMMU).

From consulting with Feng Shui masters to wearing amulets blessed by monks, Thai traditions all fit comfortably into the mainstream Buddhist religion.

According to A Duang, a startup whose divination app has grown to nearly half a million users, mostly between the ages of 18 and 30.

The app offers daily live streams from some of its 7,000 fortune tellers, during which users can spend 10 to 100 baht (0.40 to 4 Singapore dollars) for a quick preview. It also offers private individual card reading sessions at higher rates.

A general manager of Duang, Kittikhun Yodrak, said average spending per user had increased fivefold to 500 baht per month since its pre-pandemic launch in 2019.

The trend reflects a “tipping point” in stress levels that causes many to seek quick answers from someone else rather than themselves, said board member Dr Jomkhwan Luenglue of the Thai Psychological Association.

“It’s mental first aid,” Dr Jomkhwan said. “But it could compromise your ability to make decisions for yourself in the long run.”

NEW PERFORMANCES

New digital products have also exploded.

Mobile wallpaper maker Mootae World has created tens of thousands of images – each with different tarot cards and symbols – for customers’ phone screens.

Priced at 249 baht, each is tailor-made based on customers’ unique star positions at birth, as well as their deepest wishes, whether financial or romantic.

Traditional-looking Buddhist amulets – often images of guru monks or the Buddha in bronze, brass or gold – are also available as non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Thailand’s Crypto Amulets project has sold around 3,000 such NFTs since its launch in 2021, each for around 2,000 baht on the Ethereum and Solana blockchains.

Each digital amulet is first printed on paper to be blessed by monks in Surin province, a huge market for the trade in Buddhist amulets from Thailand 435 km east of Bangkok.

“We used to wear physical amulets around our necks, but now we can also wear NFTs on our phones,” said Mr. Ekkaphong Khemthong, who owns Crypto Amulets and also collects traditional amulets.

BIG MARKET

Major commercial brands recognize new Thai psychic entrepreneurs as key to the growing market of young believers with disposable income.

Last month, Mootae World promoted Cigna Insurance to its subscribers, citing the “unlucky year” belief of Chinese astrology that in each animal year of the zodiac, those who are born with the same animal sign incur the curse of Tai Sui, the god of age.

“A new marketing trend has emerged. Trends are constantly changing, but supernatural belief is a constant in Thai society,” said Dr. Muratha Junyaworalug, chief researcher of the CMMU study.

“All brands want to tap into this market.” Reuters