EP 89 Thai Occultism with Peter Jenx

Andrew and Peter explore the world of Thai magic and occultism. Talking about the importance of meta, self cultivation, personal growth and how they all relate to the intense practices of Thailands indigenous magic.

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ANDREW: [00:00:00] Welcome, everybody, to another installment of The Hermit’s Lamp podcast. I am here today with Peter Jenx. And for those who don’t know Peter Jenx, he is the author of a massive and intriguing tome, called Thai Occult. And it’s really interesting to meet with somebody and talk with people who are involved in non-western [00:00:30] cultures and other ways of practicing magic that don’t kind of come out of, you know, say, the Golden Dawn, or Wicca, or these other things, which are all lovely, but I think it’s really interesting to get a dive into, you know, other kinds of worldviews and magic and all of those things. So really, that’s why, you know, when Peter and I connected, I thought he’d be a great fit for being on the show. But for those who don’t know you, Peter, who are you?

PETER: And … [00:01:00] Well, I’m an aging Englishman stuck in Chiang Mai at the moment. I’ve been here, been living in Thailand, since 2002, but first visited here in 1991. Which is kind of before its main economic explosion and everything else. And then, come from a musical background, working in music in Manchester, worked a lot with gigs, run rather interesting [00:01:30] night clubs in Manchester, and also been a practitioner of Tai Chi for like 20 years. So, I think everything’s always pulled me East, which is why I really … the first … on the first visit, I kind of knew I’d end up living here. It fits.

ANDREW: Yeah, it’s interesting how that works, right? You know, I was talking with somebody yesterday about, you know, I come from a Scottish background, [00:02:00] even though I was born and raised in Toronto, and they’re like, “Oh, well, have you’ve been to Scotland?” And I’m like, “No, I haven’t.” I mean, I’m curious, but I find I’m much more drawn to the East, you know? And I spent a bit of time in Thailand and a chunk of time in India, and you know, I was in China last year, and every time I return to the East, I always have this sense of ease that emerges that’s quite different than what I experience, you know, living in Toronto. It’s like, [00:02:30] that there are these places and cultures that are suited to our nature in ways that we might not even be able to explain or understand, you know?

PETER: Well, I think it’s working. I think at first when we come here, we are given space. And it’s a space that we’re not necessarily given in the West. Also, what I experienced when I first came here was a realization that what I’d always felt, regarding nature and regarding what [00:03:00] I perceive as magic in the West, was correct. It … Because here it is expressed in a much deeper way than it is in England, in particular. I don’t know … And also, I think, you know, we need the strangeness to grow. Yeah, and sometimes part of any growth, as far as I’m concerned, is the process of change and [00:03:30] if you go to an alien culture, you are constantly challenged to change, and that can be astonishingly refreshing for us. And ….

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I can see that, for sure, and also that that idea that, you know, I mean, there are other ways of looking at the world and nature, you know, I mean this … the word animism has been, you know, being kicked around a lot and sort of gained a lot of ground as sort of a word [00:04:00] for some of the kind of world view that we might be talking about. And you know, I think that that’s, that’s both part of it. You know, for me, going … they’re going to other places, and you and my involvement in and initiation in Afro-Cuban Lukumí, there is this sort of world view at play where plants are alive and have energies and consciousness, and you know, there’s this interconnectedness between everything that [00:04:30] isn’t really common, even amongst magical practitioners, at least in my experience, kind of growing up.

PETER: Yeah. Yeah. It’s one of those … [sigh] You know, the funny thing is … Okay. I had to act like myself to do this book. I have not been able to read other but … other magical books at all. Otherwise, it would have kind of diluted or influenced what I was going to do. The whole time I’ve spent here has been really a time to learn how not to [00:05:00] think and influence what is around you, and if you do that, you gain the natural focus that comes with the occult practices of this land, and that allows the nature to come through. But I always perceived this as just the Thai occult. Everybody else calls it Thai animism. [laughing] So I’m just getting used to the fact that it is probably animism, but everybody … all the people I deal with [00:05:30] all refer to it as an occult practice, but as an animist practice, it dates back thousands of years and it is uninterrupted now, that’s quite rare in the world, as far as I know. I haven’t studied anything else in depth, deliberately. And because of that, the depth of what I’ve been able to write about and the depth of understanding that is available is really off the planet as far as I’m concerned, you know.

ANDREW: Yeah. Yeah, [00:06:00] I mean, there’s such a difference between, you know, living practices that date way back, you know, you know with the Buddha, Afro-Cuban Lukumí stuff in Orisha tradition, it’s one of those things where … When we start talking about divination in those systems, often people are quite astounded, and I know I was really astounded at the kinds of things that are included in the wisdom and specificity and all of these kinds of things. And, [00:06:30] you know, it’s … In the end, the explanation is simple. You’ve had a lot of very deep, intelligent, mystical people pondering the human condition and connecting to the spirit world for thousands of years and passing on that information and allowing it to accumulate. And it provides such a deep insight into human, you know, human nature and human problems because you [00:07:00] know, although the nature of the problems changes with modernity and, and so on, the nature of being human really doesn’t, I don’t think.

PETER: Well, that actually depends on the culture, though, because if you look at the Thai system, the things that it offers are the things that people, because of this region require, right? So, you know, this has been a very dangerous region over the thousands of years, and [00:07:30] they’ve been lucky enough to have the influence of Buddhism, which always overrides ancient animist practices, so, things can … They can remain who they are, while attaining higher spirituality, if that makes sense.

And really because of, you know, the rough nature of the living in the wild, and the constant wars in the region, most of the things that they have worked out to offer, and create, for their devotees are [00:08:00] related to protection in many forms, impenetrable skin, invincibility, ways to bounce back black magic, ways to change your fate, ways to attract people, ways to become popular, ways to gain good fortune, and it’s all about, at the core of it all, it’s actually all about the person as well, because they’re being given an advantage that [00:08:30] they’ve got to work with. So, it’s not just abracadabra, like wham! Okay. Now you’re popular. Yeah, they might give you the attribute of being popular. But if you’re a bit of a twat it’s not going to work. Right.

So everything that they create is all about the development of the person themselves, being given an advantage that they have to grow into, which is typical of what we were talking about earlier, whereby the constant process [00:09:00] of change is also, can be — we go backwards sometimes, can be the process towards either becoming a better person or more magical or however you want to see it. Yeah? And throughout the thousands of years that they developed it here, they’ve discovered what is actually supernatural in nature, and they have their own versions of it. Which, how the hell did they discover that? I don’t know, but you know, special people discover [00:09:30] special things. They discover what human products they can use for rather powerful spells, they discover all the plants independently, often, of other approaches. So, the odd time, I’ve shared a picture of a tree ….

[ringing phone]

ANDREW: Oh! Now the phone’s going to ring, just let it finish. It’s not gonna … [00:10:11] I think I can make it stop. All right. You know what I’m going to do? I’m just going to unplug the phone. How about that? Problem solved.

PETER: [laughing] Yeah, that’s easy. So, you need, you need, you need that stick I showed you earlier.

ANDREW: I know right? You know, I do. Yeah, before we started, let’s just continue.

PETER: So I’ll go back in … I’ll let you edit that out later. I’ll just go back into where it was.

ANDREW: Yeah, perfect.

PETER: So like one time, I posted a picture of a particular tree that has, that produces a particular wood [00:10:41] that the Thais use in many magical amulets, called amudam. I mean there are legends, it’s the tree that you’d climb to get out of hell, because it’s impossible to climb, because of huge spikes on the trunk. And it was possibly … There was a fantastic discussion ensued, because it was also a magical wood in pretty much every other system that I was in contact with at that time through the Facebook page. And the incredulity [00:11:11] of that between everybody was really rather wonderful. You know, it kind of just pulled everybody together. And …

ANDREW: That’s animism, right? That’s the tree telling you what it wants to do, right? You know, and  telling everybody like the same thing. It’s like, hey, I can help you with this thing. You know, if you work with me, you know, and that’s what’s really profound about these things, I think.

PETER: Yes, very much so. It’s … And [00:11:41] the more kind of I’ve learned about things, you know, I just, we were discussing about a person earlier, about lightning, and how lightning can make things magical. And, you know, I was chatting with a particularly learned ajahm from a very old lineage called Ajahm [?], Ajahm Tiger. With the help of my partner, of course, and he was telling me, really, if a lightning strikes [00:12:11] a tree, its use depends on the effect of the lightning on the tree. Like, if it blows off the bark in the middle, that area is used for the handles of magical knives; if it strikes another area of the tree, it’s used for something else. So, depending even on how a supernatural occurrence like a lightning strike hits something, it can produce all [00:12:41] sorts of different results. And they … At the time we were having this chat, it was really rather mind-blowing that people have spent generations upon generations studying the effects of these supernatural occurrences.

ANDREW: Well, and I think that … It’s so foreign to people living in cities, you know, but I mean, when you start spending time in nature and start consistently spending time in nature, [00:13:11] you know, it really, it really can start to speak to you after a while, right? You know, I spent … There’s a site where we used to go and do ceremonies, every month, for almost two years, and kind of towards the end of that time, I did a 10-day retreat by myself where I just hung out in the woods and fasted and did my own rituals and stuff like that. And the amount of things [00:13:41] that I learned from that land and from the plants and the kinds of things that got revealed to me … and even just like sort of unexpected beautiful things, you know. 

There was this cherry tree and you know, I knew it was a cherry tree, we’d seen the flowers, it was beautiful, and so on, but the thing that was amazing, because I was there all day, every day, for that period of time, when I [00:14:11] was there, the sap was coming out and so there were these little reddish golden amber blobs on the tree from the sap emerging, and the tree was in the west from where we … where I usually was, and when I looked up, toward sunset, all of those were glowing like a stained glass window, right? And so there are these moments of profound beauty and profound transference of information, [00:14:41] and where those plants can speak to you, and if you’re around them all the time, then … and you’re paying attention, then you get to notice them, right? But …

PETER: Well, it’s the attention. That’s the thing.


PETER: And this is why, I think, in the modern world, governments are terrified of nature, because it calls people away from what they want to do, the people to do, you know, and to be a good little drone and all the other sayings that we [00:15:11] can come out with rather pithily. But, you know, it’s … and even the medical community is now turning around and saying look, you know, to fight depression, just go and walk in the hills, go and sit in the forest. You know, but this kind of … You know, I’m lucky enough to be of an age where it was more of an actual world at the time, and this is, you know, it makes me kind [00:15:41] of put my head in my hands that people are having to be reminded to do that. You know, and the beauty that is available, the wealth that is available is astonishing. Since we moved to Chiang Mai, me and my partner have been round looking at various, some of the interesting spiritual caves in this region. And you know how, if we have time when people visit, I might take them to one or two, but there’s one that I’ve already decided, I [00:16:11] think there’s only one or two people I’ll take to that particular one. It’s too wild. And if … You know, if we spend the time like you have, to be able to still the mind, and treat ourselves to a little bit of solitude, we start to see these things, you know. And maybe they become more special.

ANDREW: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Well, and I also think that we really need to understand and [00:16:41] respect, you know, like if we’re really going to going to go into the real wilderness, you know, or real spots in nature, you know, it’s something quite different, right? You know, in … Again, in my tradition, the real woods, you know, like not just like a couple plants around your yard or the park but the actual forest is a place that’s somewhat feared by practitioners, not in a … that sounds wrong. It’s a place [00:17:11] that’s deeply respected because it’s known to be a place of power, and because it’s a place of power, it’s also a place of danger. You know, and so you make offerings to make sure that you’re protected while you’re there. You make offerings, maybe when you leave, to make sure that nothing you didn’t want comes with you, you know, you make … If you’re going to take anything, then you make offerings to the plants that you’re going to take from, you know, and you know, it’s so rare for a lot of us to have contact [00:17:41] with that deep wilderness, you know, it’s something completely foreign and it’s astounding, right?

PETER: Well, it’s … Usually at least once or twice a month, I end up going off with an ajarn, often to graveyards for graveyard ceremonies. And … Which I’m starting to document more fully. And, you know, watching, the ajarn go into, I always [00:18:11] call it ajarn world.

ANDREW: Yeah, and by … What’s a good translation for ajarn? Is … practitioner? teacher? Yeah.

PETER: Teacher … The ajarn is a higher teacher. Yeah, but it’s more than that. Yeah. It’s an occultist, really. And, and watching them deal with what is there, and become open to what is there … And, you know, I asked Ajarn Su and I’ve also asked Ajarn Apichai. You know, [00:18:42] often they go there to choose a ghost to do a particular task, and, to which Ajarn Apichai would, you know, often say, “Well, we’ve come to this graveyard, because it’s a graveyard where there are many soldiers and police.” So, I normally … He said he normally tries to choose a good-natured ghost, so they don’t come home with you, even though he has strong protection. And the deal is made, you know, to [00:19:12] reward the spirit when the job is done. And he knows, he can tell, within five percent, really, how effective that particular spirit’s going to be. And sometimes he will go back and repeat, or just say “No, it’s worked.” You know?

ANDREW: Mm-hmm.

PETER: And then you go with Ajarn Su, and the same questions will be, you know, Ajarn likes to choose what are called Phi Thai Hong ghosts. And, which [00:19:42] are the ghosts of people who’ve died violently, before their time. And again, he said–some of them are really quite lovely–and you know, we were standing just in the graveyard, doing a love ritual, pulling a separated couple back together. And he’s called, and he slaps on the side of the cremation pit. It’s just two walls that focus the heat in to be [00:20:12] able to burn the body fully, in the open, in a thin, a bit of a wood, and he’s calling ghosts. And you know, it was the time of year when leaves are on the floor–the leaves shed up here, some trees–and you could hear the … something walking towards us, you know, from a particular direction.

So, he called that ghost over and came to a deal, and he said, “Oh, it’s been successful and I’ll come back in a [00:20:42] few days and bring the offering that I promised, and I will donate merit.” And merit is something we gain. It’s a Buddhist, Thai Buddhist principle where we gain merit through good deeds, helping people. A basic form of it would be giving to charity, and, you know, these Phi Thai Hong ghosts need to collect merit to get out of hell. Eventually try and rise towards rebirth. [00:21:12] And Ajarn Su is very careful about the ghosts he chooses, only, he never forces them, he requests, he is very gentle. Otherwise, they can hurt you. Yeah. And then when we get back, both of the ajarns will always bless water, splash on feet, hands, top of head, back of neck, just to make sure nothing has been clingy, you know. So, I mean they all follow similar [00:21:42] patterns, where, you know, and if anything’s taken, you request it to be taken and if you’re going to work with anything, you’re asking permission, and it’s extremely similar all around the world except for the cultural differences. And the influences, like in this region, with Buddhism has been a particular influence.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. So, I have so many questions, so many questions! [laughs] I guess one of my, one of  [00:22:12] my questions, though, coming out of what you just talked about … We talked about … You mentioned somewhere along the way, changing your fate, right? And I’m really curious about the idea of fate as it as it exists in this practice, you know, can you … Can you just answer that small question for us? Tell us what that’s like. [chuckles]

PETER: Okay. Well, the idea of fate is … Without, I don’t study horusat, which is Thai astrology. [00:22:42] Okay, but what I would say is, that I think the Thai occult corresponds to people’s state of mind. Yeah? And help to get people out of the state of mind to improve themselves again, as well as realigning their faith, there’s a dual motion going on here. We are given a Qatar. We have to make offerings. We [00:23:12] have to take care of something. We have to structure our lives around it. We have to take the five precepts, which are the basic things. Don’t kill anybody. Stop shagging around. Don’t lie, you know, etcetera etcetera. And often, besides the help of something like Rahu, which, the Thai Rahu is not the same as the Indian one, but, we praise it in a different way, which really annoys the Indians. And we [00:23:42] gain his help now, if … to do that we have to order our lives around it. So, I think it’s a dual road of choosing a better path, choosing the help of somebody who is smart enough and spiritual enough to help you, and then structuring your life in a different way, and the Rahu is considered to raise your general level of good fortune.

ANDREW: And Rahu is [00:24:12] what exactly?

PETER: Rahu is the god that eats the sun or the moon from Indian mythology. Yeah? He’s the god of eclipses. In India, they do not praise him, they’re trying to get rid of him. Hmm. Yeah. They think it’s horrific that the Thai people praise Rahu but usually they often consider that a period of very bad fortune is sometimes, Rahu coming into somebody’s lives and influencing it without being [00:24:42] asked to come in. So, by praising him, you’re going to offer your foods, the correct foods, which always have to be black. They need the numbers of seven, nine, or 15, depending on the ajahm. Different black foods, usually on the four quarters of the moon, with the full moon being the most important. Normally, it’s advised to wear the Rahu on the full moon when in which [00:25:12] case it kind of feels like he’s bouncing around on your chest like going to a disco. He can’t … he’s extremely rewarding; many ajarns swear by Rahu, but he takes a lot of work. So, I think it’s a dual, being very honest about this, I think it’s a dual combination, whereby we get our shit together, and then the help offered by the Rahu offered by the ajarn, will start to improve the life.

ANDREW: And when we’re [00:25:42] talking about fate here, are we talking about … We can be a little simplistic too, maybe for the conversation. Are we talking about it as a sense of karma, like consequences for our actions, this life, other lives, or whatever? Are we talking about like a destiny or a thing that we’re … sort of came intact from somewhere or that we need to try and achieve maybe in our life.

PETER: Well, we always [00:26:12] have influence. Actually, there’s three forms of influence on the brain. Okay, there’s three forms of influence we consider to be three forms of influence from life. One is an astrological influence. Astrology influences the person without any doubt at all. Yeah? The second one in Thai is the influence of ghosts. Yeah? And spirits directing your life without you knowing about it. And the third one is the influence of the mind and all the silly things that the mind does can [00:26:42] be destructive. Yeah? If you … Everybody goes through periods of bad fortune, but they can have very very different reasons. Sometimes even in the Thai practices, you know, we can have a real crash of fortunes, but I was just seeing it as, it’s just a part of life, man. It can’t be good all the time. Yeah? It’s a readjustment of yourself and of your … the way you deal with yourself. I don’t like to involve things [00:27:12] like karma. I’m very practical in that respect. It’s about living an open and happy life and sometimes shit goes wrong. Yeah? Through bereavement and through everything else …

ANDREW: So, go ahead.

PETER: And through bereavement and through everything else, but that period then we have to kind of realign ourselves. I think focusing in on what has actually caused the problem is one of the things that we need to get away from [00:27:42] and just deal with the fact that we’re in the shit. Yeah? Yeah, so that also immediately stops all the stuff that goes around in the brain or at least helps with it. Yeah? So.

ANDREW: Yeah. Yeah, in Lukumí divination we have kind of negativity, which we call Otonawa, which means … roughly means, that which you brought with you from heaven, and it’s like, it’s like, yeah, this is a thing that’s, [00:28:12], you can’t do anything about, maybe it’s part of your destiny, maybe it’s just come from, come to a place where the various forces in your life make this inevitable. But now you need to just, you know, appease it, ease it, support yourself, and get through it, and then, you know, but there’s no making it go away, right? You know, like there’s no perfect road, right? Where we never see these things.

PETER: Well there can’t be, otherwise we get so spoiled that the smallest pebble on the road would become an absolute nightmare [00:28:42] if it got into our shoes. Right? You know, we need it. We need these things to happen in life, in my opinion. Otherwise, we don’t have any understanding of what life is or can be about.

ANDREW: And I also … I also think it’s really interesting that … the idea of easing the mind by stopping, asking why, and looking to explain it. You know, I think that that’s a place where a lot of people … you [00:29:12] know, I mean, I read cards for people, and you know, there are certainly folks who come in for card readings who are just like: “but why, why did this happen, why did this happen?” It’s like, at a certain point, why does it matter? How about you do this to make it better, you know, and yeah, it’s that practicality that I think is sometimes very unsatisfying to people in certain situations, you know?

PETER: Well, it’s a Western thing, you know? Our minds are way too busy. You know? I live, you know, one of the core elements of [00:29:42] Thai culture is samadhi, which is [? 29:45]  that is gained through Buddhism. It is an open and clear focus whereby we’re trying to separate ourselves from the mind, so you end up in a position where you can watch your mind being a bastard. Yeah? Or being a bit barmy one day. Yeah? So, eventually when you actually … You know, but I always ask people what is watching the mind? Yeah? [00:30:13] 

So in my opinion, what you are doing and what you are going to learn to do, is to find out who you are, which is not often what your mind is? You know, even in our … Even in our culture, we have sayings like, what does your stomach tell you? It’s not the same as what does your mind tell you? They will say, what do you think? Yeah. So, one of the aims is to eventually secure yourselves and then when you get to that point, you can start to [00:30:43] see or feel astrological influences. You can have an idea about whether you’re being influenced by something else. And you can watch your mind and attempt to behave and try and calm it down, so, it doesn’t cause which as much trouble. Yeah? And all these are core practices within Buddhism and Eastern philosophies.

ANDREW: Yeah. For sure. Yeah, that ability to step back [00:31:13] from what’s going on in your head and basically be like, oh, take a look at that. My brain is … my brain is doing this thing in the same way that my stomach might be doing another thing in my … You know, my knee might be acting up or whatever. It’s like, I’m not even those things, right, but sort of tuning down the emotions and the mind to kind of a place of somewhat lesser value or more specific value than the sort of overriding quality that we often associate with them. You [00:31:43] know, that’s not easy, right? That’s … for a lot of people, especially Western people.

PETER: You know, if you ever visit, an example of one of the wonderful things to do is to go and see someone like Ajarn Su, who was a monk for 18 years. So, this guy’s got focus. Yeah? And recently, we went along with somebody who wanted a head tattoo. A head young [not sure if this is right? at 32:08] for metta. Yeah, for loving-kindness. Higher, the highest of the high Buddhist-style tattoos. You know, head tattoos [00:32:13] hurt.

ANDREW: Yeah, I can imagine.

PETER: This is done with a gun. Ajarn Su can only use a gun because he’s got an arm that won’t do as it’s told, and, you know, the lad doing it had great difficulty controlling the screaming. And I was … I was helping out, being a bit of an assistant. And I was watching Ajarn, and he just went into his quiet place and not thought, but [00:32:43] no thinking, he was just chanting Qatar while he was doing the inside, while doing, while performing this tattoo, which took way longer than the recipient really wanted it to, and he pretty much screamed all the way through, so when we let … And then the worst thing was that if you have a tattoo with Ajarn Su, he will then give you his Yant Kru, which is, it gives … Everybody he gives tattoos to and it’s a line [00:33:13] of script going along the front line at the bottom of the palm, and man, it’s painful. Yeah? And as soon as, as soon as he said to me in Thai, “Oh, just hold his hand,” I thought, “Oh my God, he’s really going to scream now.” And, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He did. He really let go. Yeah, and then when, and then when we left Ajarn, after about 10 minutes, the guy just lit up, and he got the sun inside his face. And [00:33:43] he actually said, “Wow, now I know why I’ve had it done. I wasn’t so sure for the last half an hour,” and it looked amazing, and we were actually leaving. But then once we left, Ajarn’s neighbors from across the road came over to see him to make sure everything was okay. [laughing]

ANDREW: Right?

PETER: And Ajarn is such a sweet man. He kept stopping and going, “so [00:34:13] soo,” which means, you know, “you have to fight a little bit,” but doing it in such a cute way, it was like an anime, you know. And watching him not be drawn into somebody else’s pain, not be influenced by somebody who is having difficulty, and retaining his own presence was a lesson in itself. It was quite astonishing, it was an amazing 30 minutes.

ANDREW: It’s [00:34:44] such a … I mean, I hear in that story what I would call a profound sense of compassion that doesn’t match what we normally, you know, people might go to as a sense of compassion, which is, a sense of that deeper purpose of what’s at hand, a loving acknowledgment of the struggle, and a commitment to the outcome that was what was meant to … like what was agreed to, as opposed to an avoidance of a kind [00:35:14] of suffering for that person, right?

PETER: Yep, that’s exactly right. And also, when he finished the tattoo, Ajarn told him, instead of keeping the five precepts, he only has to keep one. He said, “But you keep this precept,” and when he told him the one, I’m not going to say which one it is, I’m not going to divulge anything about what he said, but he said, “How does he choose the most difficult [00:35:44] one he could possibly choose for me?” I said, “Oh, he always does that!”

ANDREW: Of course.

PETER: I said, “Otherwise what’s the point?” And the guy just fell around laughing? You know, he said, “How does he know?” I said, “He’s an ajarn, my friend.”


PETER: “He probably knew as soon as you walked in.” And it was again one of those comical moments when we realize how much we have to grow in the situation we are in. But the [00:36:14] levels of metta, loving-kindness and the beauty of what they are trying to do is, it’s just breathtaking.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. So, I mean I guess, let me ask this question, and I imagine there might be a few different answers to it. But, how does, how does a person become an ajarn?

PETER: In the usual route.

ANDREW: [chuckling]

PETER: Okay, those … From what I can see at the moment, and this is going to change over time, as [00:36:44] the more time I spend with them, but basically everybody starts off as being some sort of devotee, using their amulets, learning the Qatar, becoming kind of known as somebody who makes an effort towards those spiritual practices. They might go off and do a few weeks, or a month, or even three months as a monk. Yeah? Which is all [00:37:14] set up within the community, and most times men will be a monk at some point in their life, for a short period of time, and then they may start helping the ahjan with rituals and helping the people who visit the samyat, which is the place of work. It’s like his spiritual shop, his temple, yeah? And then, the [00:37:44] studying begins.

Now the studying, we discovered, has actually got levels. And each level, it’s a bit like going and getting different degrees. Each level has got what is called the khan kru associated with it and the khan kru is a construction of various objects. Like sometimes swords, sometimes flags, and [00:38:14] they’re always quite different, a lot of betel nut, flowers. It depends on the lineage of the ajarn that’s giving it and there are various levels of the khan kru, depending on what you study. So, the earlier levels tend to be directed towards satyam, the Thai traditional tattooing, after which you tend to learn about sunay sunay magic, which is the magic for attraction. [00:38:44]

Eventually … I’m trying to remember the levels. It’s something like the 8, 12, 27 but it ends up at 108. There’s men. There’s about eight different levels of the khan kru, and at each level you attain a certain understanding, but the khan kru is actually considered to be alive. It’s considered to have life, and it helps you teach [00:39:14] you, and it can also knock you back if you’re not studying enough, or being erudite enough, or not trying enough or you’re just getting it wrong. Yeah? So, I … it’s weighed like everything in this system. The book kind of introduces the subject of the khan kru, but the khan kru in itself could probably be a book on its own.

Ajarn Su holdes the khan kru 108, which [00:39:44] is the full witcha, which comes from a similar root word as Wiccan, by the way, the witcha is the knowledge, and a very famous monk called Kru Badung Dev, still alive, but he’s bedridden and 105 and his witcha collection, his book collection is really quite something, it’s off the planet and his knowledge to go along with it. When he was a monk, he had the khan kru 227, [00:40:15] which only monks can have, and then you go back to the 108, when you stop being a monk. So, often you’re going to see … In Ajarn Su’s samyat, there’s one khan kru and it’s a 108, everything, and there are a certain color to show that his teacher is still alive and they change the color when he dies.

In other samyat, you go and they’ll have like five or six khan kru [00:40:45] for different subjects from different ajarns. Yeah, so you have some that stick to a certain lineage and some that go around collecting different witchas, almost like create their own lineage to start their own path, which then they can help other people along as well. It involves learning at least three scripts. It involves learning an enormous amount of Qatar, understanding the Qatar, [00:41:15] and it involves practices such as various meditational practices, like the 32 parts of the body practice for which you need a teacher but there’s a brief outline in the book of it. We’re about … we get to know our physical body by traveling around it. And it’s split into 32 parts. There is also various meditational practices [00:41:45] towards cutting four elements within the body, but all these kind of roll along through the different levels of study.

ANDREW: And so, is the title conferred by the teacher then at some point? Is that the …?

PETER: The teacher decides when you move to the next level. To become an ajahm, you know, you can say, I could now turn around and say, “I’m ajarn, I’m [00:42:15] an ajarn,” but I’d be a bit of an idiot to do so, because it’s really obvious that I’m not, right? Yeah. Yeah, in the same way as mastership in martial arts. You know, you always get … there’s always a number of [pillocks? 42:26] who call themselves a master and they have to go through the very painful process of being beaten up by an eight-year-old at some point. You know what I mean? Yeah. Similar, you prove yourself by being good at your ajarn.

ANDREW: That’s interesting. I also … I’m also really fascinated by … I mean, we were talking about nature [00:42:45] earlier. Do the ajarns, like, are there any living, like do they practice in Bangkok in the center of town? Do they out in the woods?

PETER: Yes, woods. Yeah. Yes. They did. There is … There are some remarkable magicians in Bangkok. Normally, they will deal with the things that people who live in the metropolis need, will help them with the promotion at work, will help them find a lover. Yeah, and [00:43:15] be more attractive, and there is those … One ajarn called Ajarn Weaver Ted [? at 21:32] who’s now very famous. He’s the first photograph in the book. And he’s got very rich clientele, that he does spiritual work for, whatever that may entail. Yeah, some of it will be aggressive. Some of it will be protective. Some of it, you know … because in Thailand basically, [00:43:45] it’s really the rich and the poor that use magic, not necessarily the middle classes. Yeah. And there’s also people like Ajarn Samat, [43:57] who is one of the most remarkable satyan ajahms I’ve ever met. Man, he has it. He has it. Yeah? And for me, he’s the best satyan ajarn in Bangkok, but he’s difficult to see, he has a mostly retired clientele. His work is not beautiful. It’s very old [00:44:15] style. It’s very ancient witcha, but man, he has it, whoo! You know, so all these things are available for people who need it, finding the very traditional Thai ones will only be done by the Thai people, but then there are other ones who become famous outside the country as well.

ANDREW: So, let me ask you this question then. So, where does where does morality fit in these kinds of practices, you know?

PETER: [00:44:45] In what respect?

ANDREW: So, if someone’s coming to have work done to bring a relationship back together, is that … is that seen as both people should be there and consent? Is it seen as one person who wants this to happen can do the work and that could work? You know we talked about defense and aggression and these other kinds of things. Is there a morality in [00:45:15] there? Or is that sort of purely a Western question and not even relevant?

PETER: Well, it’s, well, there’s a morality in everything in life. It just depends on your personal standpoint. And, many ajarns nowadays, a lot of the really heavy stuff has gone back in the cupboard, because it’s not needed anymore, yeah? So, but I’d say Ajarn Cau, who’s a particularly lovely ajarn who I got along very well with in towards [00:45:46] Doi Saket, the mountains to the east. He only pulls lovers back together who were already married, and they have to prove it to him. Yeah, he will ask them for impossible things to get. You know, if they can, the skin off the bottom of his foot or her foot, depending on which partner wants the other partner to come back, and, and he will help them get back together, because that is an act of metta, he [00:46:16] is helping keep the couple together.

At the same time, he will basically attempt to get the person who is bringing the … paying for the ritual to understand that all the ritual does is bring them back. It’s not going to fix your relationship problems. So, if you turn around and be angry, it’s not going to keep them there. This is not making a slave out of somebody, [00:46:46] yeah? So there isn’t really anything aggressive within that. I mean, really, you know, people often ask the question: What is black magic in Thailand? You know, yes, then you get a different answer from everybody, but when they ask the same ajarn, the ajarn always said, well, you know attraction. He said, I might use part of somebody’s skull for attraction. Esanay, [47:12] we call it, and he said, but it’s just an air magic. It’s not … it’s [00:47:16] not black magic. He said, you’re just attracting somebody, where’s the harm in that? You’re not kind of turning them into a slave. You’re just attracting them.

ANDREW: Right? If the work isn’t … The work isn’t geared towards removing people’s free will. The work is geared towards providing opportunity, and that opportunity, especially sort of based on what you said in the earlier part of the conversation too, that opportunity is both access [00:47:46] to the opportunity of that thing and also the opportunity to grow as a person to embody that thing.

PETER: Exactly.


PETER: Yeah. So, you know other people think the use of any human materials is black magic in itself, which I don’t, I don’t consider it to be. There’s all sorts of … We’ll not get into the Thai thoughts about death, because you know, everybody does … they’re not … well, you know, it’s just part of life. And generally, most … some ajarns [00:48:16] think that anything with human materials is black magic. Some ajarns only think that anything that is forceful is black magic, anything that is cursing is black magic, and they really try not to do it nowadays.


PETER: Yeah, they will do something called a kong ritual, which is a ritual. It’s like a controlling ritual you do in the graveyard and it’s to rebalance [00:48:46] some sort of relationship. A work relationship, your boss is being a bit of a bastard to you, etc. You’ll bring a kong ritual just to slap him down a little bit, slap him down for a few months, let the relationship become better between you, and then it wears off. And they are extremely effective, these. But then, you know, you get people coming forward wanting people hurt or dead or [00:49:16] forced into bankruptcy or something serious and to be honest nowadays, yes, it can be done, but most ajarns will say no. And the only … And there’s some very knowledgeable people about cursing in this city. Terrifyingly knowledgeable, but they just choose not to do it unless it’s for the right reason. Yeah, because you know, they’re bringing … They’re forcing something, they’re bringing something [00:49:46] difficult to themselves. Everybody nowadays is now trying to strike the correct balance.

ANDREW: Hmm. And do you see that shift as coming out of a shift in cultural values, or is it a shift in the difference in the quality of life now versus in the past?

PETER: It’s both, you know, the government’s also … 10 to 15 years ago, they started clamping [00:50:16] down, they started stopping people who had died violently being buried. Yeah? Originally …. Only anybody who died a difficult death, which basically reflects like a really bad karma was buried, everybody else was burnt, right? So, these ground … And they’re exactly the people that the ajarns want to use the [00:50:47] products from, yeah? And they basically stopped doing that 10 to 15 years ago. So, slowly but surely, that source is being exhausted. You know, Thailand is becoming a very developed country, access to the human materials is becoming extremely difficult, and, you know, it’s not as wild here as it used to be, people need more, less protection in many ways, more metta, [00:51:17] more senay, … Because now you know the times have changed. Gone are the days where they could just chop a corpse’s head off and leave a watermelon. You know, now they believe that a better protection is to have so much metta that somebody doesn’t want to hurt you anyway, is to be such a lovely person that attracts other people, it makes you difficult to attack, you know, so as cultures develop the way they use [00:51:47] their magical knowledge develops, which is actually the sign of any living form of magic, isn’t it?

ANDREW: Well, it reminds me of martial arts practice, right? You know, I mean, a lot of people start off in you know, something a little harder like karate or whatever, and you know, they want to fight and use their muscles and whatever, and as you, you know, hopefully as you age and get a little wiser, you know, you move to something more circular and more soft and you know, like, you know, nothing … Not that you can’t, you know, throw [00:52:17] that punch if you need to but it’s often more like, oh, I can just redirect this and just flow with things in a completely different manner and therefore I won’t have that problem any more.

PETER: Oh, I always recommend running away. It’s fucking great for avoiding problems.

ANDREW: Yeah, exactly, right? Exactly. [laughing]

ANDREW: Just don’t be there in the first place, right?

PETER: And also … Exactly, the greatest defense! I mean, this is not counting somebody who comes up being an absolute idiot. In which case, finish it and then run away. Yeah? I mean, [00:52:47] I’ve [? 52:49] done martial arts for about 20 years. But really, it should just be about happiness, physical comfort, you know, nothing more difficult to attack than somebody who’s happy, you know, and that relates to what we were just saying about the magic as well. You know, it’s … As soon as you’re aggressive, it gives people something to hang onto.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Well, and possibly puts you off balance, then, right?

PETER: Well, [00:53:17] everything goes to your head.

ANDREW: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

PETER: And if what you’re trying to do is not to let it go, though, because that raises your center of balance as well, and you become slow and you tense.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yep.

PETER: So, it’s all … they’re very interrelated in many respects, actually, you know, and just retaining that open clear mind rather than being pulled by your emotions all the time, you know. It’s … and in many ways, to get the martial arts, is one of them. Meditation [00:53:47] works. You know, what have you found works, Andrew, for you?

ANDREW: Yeah, I mean meditation. I did martial arts for a long time. Martial arts was a good road for getting over being angry, to me. You know, I sort of worked through my anger there in an environment where I could sort of explore power dynamics very openly. And yeah, just, you know, returning, you know, returning my attention back always to like, I [00:54:17] don’t know how to put it. So, there’s you know, there’s that transcendent sort of samadhi kind of loss of attachment to yourself and your daily life. You know, so that piece of it combined with just very practical cultivation of self and a sustainable life, right? Like just, what do I need? What do I need to do? Where am I showing up? Where do I feel I’m lacking? Why do I feel I’m lacking there? Is [00:54:47] there something I actually need and just, you know, kind of cycling through those different patterns of, I guess, growth-orientated questions. And, you know, it’s … It does wonders for removing unhelpful hungers and, you know, and sort of recognizing the own … my own internal bullshit for what it is, which, then, allows me to show up more, right?

PETER: Well, there’s nothing like … Yeah, there’s nothing like a good bit of bullshit within ourselves as well, you know? There’s [00:55:17] many things that we can pull on.


PETER: You know, there’s many, many, there’s many advantages to these things, but it’s just knowing what they are …

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yep.

PETER: … Is the difficult thing and not being led by them, you know, and I’m sure you’d agree that when we get, you know, when you get past the monkey mind, as they call it here.


PETER: You know the relation … Your relationship with time changes, your relationship with people changes.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm.

PETER: You know, the way you can [00:55:47] sit with people changes …


PETER: The way, you know, the joy of life changes.

ANDREW: And the way in which people receive you changes.

PETER: Completely.

ANDREW: Right? Because when you … When you show up and you’re genuinely present with other people, they feel that, you know, and if you have, you know, if you want to call it metta, it’s not really a word I would use, but you know, but you know, compassion or you know, those … That sort of openness to other people and seeing them for who they are without judgments or overt attachments. That’s a [00:56:17] completely different dynamic, right? That goes to a completely different place than, you know, when you show up and you’re just like, oh my God, I so need this or that or whatever from you. Right?

PETER: Well, it’s also, I mean, I’m very lucky to be able to go anywhere in Thailand, literally, anywhere. You know? My partner’s family, we were there a few months ago, and I said, “oh, I’m gonna go to Surat Veree [? 56:43] because I want to photograph this particular shrine for the book.” And I said, “Where is the bus [00:56:47] go from, the minibus? She said, “Oh, from there.” And so, I’ve got up at like 4:00 o’clock, I got the 5 o’clock bus, I was there by 6, and the driver dropped me off as close as he could to the temple. Ten seconds later, a motorbike boy came up, took me to visit the temple. We had a quick bit of breakfast together, which I paid for, of course, it was very nice. Then I did the photographs, he waited for me, he drove me back. I jumped on the next mini bus which arrived seconds later, and I rode back up to Bangkok and back to [00:57:17] family home in about four hours, three and a half hours. And the response was, “How have you done that? How?” Yeah, I said, well, it just kind of happens. If you just connect to people, you know, he’s not the driver of a minibus. He’s a man who’s having to get through a day and hopefully support his family, you know? He is not just a motorbike guy, he might be an older [00:57:47] man who’s had a very interesting life, and you treat him with some respect. You know, if you look, you look people in the eye, you make those connections, you open your heart.

ANDREW: Yeah. Well when I was in India, I wanted to go to Bodghaya, where the Buddha was enlightened? Or, I’m sorry, where the Buddha first preached the dharma, right? And, you know, and I went … So I wanted to go to these places, but there’s [00:58:17] nothing there, right, there’s just temples. It’s just a city of temples and a few restaurants, things to support people, but nobody … I don’t think people really live there or whatever and there’s definitely no trains or whatever. So I arrived in the nearest city and–which wasn’t that far away–but there was this huge strike there that day, and I was trying to find somebody who’d be willing to take me, ’cause I was only there for a day because I left it to sort of towards the end of my trip, [00:58:47] because I was trying to kind of hit a couple of important places, and two things happened, which remind me exactly of this conversation.

So, one was, I was walking down the street, and it was a long street with a big park and government building, I think, on the other side, and it was just this huge fence that ran along this massive park all the way along. There’s no easy way there, no gates, you would have to climb it and it was all houses on the other side and all the houses were basically [00:59:17] attached and there’s no roads or alleys or whatever. 

And I’m like mid-block, and then I hear this huge ruckus and the people who are protesting are coming down the street, and there’s this mob of people, with sticks and signs, and they’re yelling and screaming and whatever, and I look at the crowd and I turn around and I look and there’s this gentleman standing in his door, and I just look at him and I point at myself and I point inside his house and he’s just like, yes, [00:59:47] like just, waved with his hands, like yes, come in my house [laughing], and so we go in his house. He closes the door. We wait for everybody to pass. And he had no English, you know, my Hindi is not particularly, you know, I knew a few things like hello, and thank you, and whatever, and we just waited in his house and stood there and looked at each other very pleasantly and peacefully and whatever. And then you know, when it was obvious that this, the sound had passed and the people were gone. He opened the door, and looked out, and then he gave me a pat on the back [01:00:17] and you know, sent me on my way. 

And then a few minutes later, I ran into this guy who was driving a, like one of those cycle rickshaws, this really older gentleman, and I got … I just like looked at him and I’m like, “I want to go here,” and he’s like, “sure!” And so, he took me and we rode this bicycle through the countryside and stopped at a couple farms and all these amazing things. And then, when we got there, on top of paying him for his time, I also bought him lunch. And we just [01:00:47] sat there. He also had, you know, basically no English and we just sat there eating together and looking at each other and smiling. And you know, there’s such a connection that can happen when you’re open to those things, and like I say, when you’re going for a purpose and when you go in with a certain way, that road can just open for you, right? You know?

PETER: It just happens … and it really happens because you’re not thinking …

ANDREW: Mm-hmm.

PETER: And by not thinking, you’re taking away the barriers that people can come, [01:01:17] that generally stop people relating to you…

ANDREW: Yeah, for sure.

PETER: You know, it’s a remarkable period of time here, you know, but, especially this last few years, going through the process of doing all this work, because it just, it just happened. Just, it was just, doors kept opening and things kept telling me what to do next, and you [01:01:47] know, and then we got to the point where this, you know, we managed to finish this work.


PETER: And yeah, there were bits where it wasn’t easy, but it’s still found a way to be done.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. For sure.

PETER: And you know, it’s … Even my partner sometimes says, “How have you done this?” [laughing]

ANDREW: Mm-hmmm.

PETER: You know. “How have you done it?” Well it kind of just gave me the opportunity to do it and then it kind of did itself.

ANDREW: Yeah. They meet you [01:02:17] halfway. You know? Or more than halfway sometimes, right? Yeah.

PETER: Yeah, they do. And also, I’ve really been wanting, you know, I’ve kind of resisted it for the first, God, 20 years of coming here …

ANDREW: Mm-hmm.

PETER: Because that was apparent when I first came over.


PETER: And kind of waited until I was ready to kind of do it.


PETER: You know, it’s been quite old and extremely rewarding and rather wonderful.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm. It’s [01:02:47] fantastic. Well, I mean, maybe, we’ve been on the phone for a long time here. Maybe we should wrap this up, because I could talk to you all day. This is a wonderful conversation. So, first of all …

PETER: It’d be nice with a cup of tea and a biscuit, wouldn’t it? [laughing]

ANDREW: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Well, you know, I’ll let you know when I’m going to be in Bangkok or Thailand, some time. And we’ll make that happen. For people who want to check out this book, and you know, if this stuff really interests you, and you’re, you know, you really should [01:03:17] check out the book. It’s quite a, it’s quite an amazing work. Where do people find you, and where do people find your book?

PETER: I’m easy found in two places. One is on Facebook through the Thai Occult book page, and the easiest place to click on the book to get the Timeless editions would be through the Thai Occult.com, all one word.

ANDREW: Perfect.

PETER: I can’t … And there’s [01:03:47] two book pictures on the front cover, one from the Sak Yant book and then the new one on the Thai occult. Of the … to be honest, I’m very very very proud of the new one, the Sak Yant book and yes, we have some superb interviews with the guys, some of the makers in there, but having just produced something really good, I’d love to go back and rewrite it.

ANDREW: Isn’t [01:04:17] that always the way, right? Isn’t that always the way?

PETER: Though to be honest with you, I don’t think I’m going to do … I don’t think I’ll be in that position, with the new one. I don’t think I could have made a much better job, to be honest. There’s always more, it’s going to come up, but as a broad taste as a buffet of the Thai occult, I don’t think … It’d be difficult to do a better job than this, in my opinion.

ANDREW: Perfect. Well, go and check it out, and support [01:04:47] Peter’s work and you know, thanks for being on, Peter and thanks to everybody, as always, for listening.

PETER: It’s been lovely. Thank you.

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