I went to Thailand in July with my wife. Our son was supposed to accompany us, but he bugged out at the last minute to have a last couple of weeks with his girlfriend and friends in Santa Barbara before starting at USF as a freshman. We let him stay, but Thailand was his choice. It was not the first choice on our bucket list, but I’m glad we went! It was quite the amazing experience!
We visited Bangkok and then Phuket. These are very different places from each other. Bangkok is a vast city with over 8,000,000 people near the Gulf of Thailand. Phuket is Thailand’s largest island in the southwestern part of the country next to the Andaman Sea with access to the mainland over a bridge. It doesn’t seem like an island because it is so big – 48 km x 21 km. It is covered by tourist centers, small cities, rubber and palm plantations and lots of jungle.
We’ve been to Europe and South America. We had never been to Asia so many of our experiences were unique to us. One thing you will see everywhere in Thailand are spirit houses – small doll house-like shrines with offerings. They are on almost every property and in many public areas. There is usually a larger one and a smaller one next to each other. Offerings of flowers, food, incense candles and various objects are left at the shrines. When we went on a temple tour I asked our guide, a devout Buddhist, about these. She explained that the larger of these shrines are dedicated to Lord Buddha. The smaller ones are dedicated to ancestors.
I asked others about the shrines. From these conversations and other sources, it was confirmed that the larger of these shrines is normally dedicated to Lord Buddha, but may also serve to appease other spirits – various animistic spirits, ghosts, Hindu deities and other celestials. It is important to honor the Divine and to appease other spiritual entities. Thailand is approximately 95% Buddhist. Many signs and posters admonished visitors not to buy statues of Lord Buddha or to get a tattoo of his image as this is disrespectful.
We traveled during a time of change for the Thais. King Bhumibol Adulyadej had reigned from 1946 to 2016 and was the world’s longest reigning head of state and the longest reigning monarch in Thai history. He is succeeded by his only son Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun who had requested a year of personal mourning before taking the throne. While we were there the many signs and posters with the prior king’s image were changed to that of his son, the new king.
The people were wonderful! I must say that they are tied with New Zealanders for being the nicest people in the world we have met yet. They make the ever-polite Canadians seem rude! Virtually every greeting or exchange was met with a gesture of prayer and bowed head.
It was odd being in a country that is so homogeneous. I got the same feeling traveling around Italy with churches everywhere and the knowledge that most people are Catholic Christians. I chafed at some of the expectations of conformity, but it was a welcome change from the chaos and endless confrontations from all sides in the U.S.
I enjoyed the people and the peaceful and spiritual nature of everyday life. Being kind and embracing the Divine is a natural and integral part of the common experience there.
In the secularized society of the U.S., religion is often viewed as a fringe activity, not something you would acknowledge or openly practice in polite society or business. It is hidden away and reserved for an hour or so one day a week, at best, in the company of religious peers or personal occasions usually cloistered away from society at large. When it is discussed in the media or in general society, it is usually in terms of politics, accomplishment and aggrandizement of power and votes. It’s quite a different focus in Thailand.
I decided to throw a spread about the experience. The deck I used was El Gran Tarot Esoterico. This is a unique Spanish deck by Fournier. My question was “What can I learn from my experiences of spiritual practice in Thailand?”
I chose a three-card spread using El Gran Tarot Esoterico. I got El Maestro (The Hierophant), the Ace of Coins (Pentacles) and La Picota (The Hanged Man). This deck has such interesting images and terms! In English, El Maestro translates as The Teacher. This fits with my vision of the Hierophant as an earthly provider of traditional teaching, sometimes religious, sometimes secular. The Ace of Coins features a Waite-Smith like pentacle symbol with roots like a tree. This jibes nicely with the ace being the root inception of a suit and the suit of coins being tied to the element of earth. Unpacking La Picota took a bit of research! A translation from the Aeclectic Tarot website stated “The Picotas are stone columns, more or less ornamented, on which the criminals and the heads or bodies of the executed ones by the civilian authorities exposed themselves.” So the more traditional meaning of this card is featured with an image that suggests the fate of a traitor or criminal rather than the Waite-Smith image that suggests a process of enlightenment or perhaps a different point of view.
El Maestro versus La Picota, teaching versus judgment and condemnation, Aries versus Libra, Mars versus Venus, Thailand versus the U.S. These two archetypes are not ideally matched. Their point of view may not be inimical, but it is vastly different.
The Ace of Coins suggests a reconciliation between the two. It is also a direct answer to my question! The central pentacle symbol can represent the sign of man and woman – two legs, two arms and a head with the marriage of all five elements in our being – earth, air, fire, water and spirit. The ace and the roots suggested “Bloom where you are planted” to me as expressed in the artwork of Mary Engelbreit. The origin of this phrase is from the Bible – 1 Corinthians 7:14-24 where Paul advises that “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.”
 1 Corinthians 7:20 NIV