Thai Belief in Guardian Spirits for Babies
The other day our house helper was holding our baby Caitlin while I (Sun) grabbed a bite of lunch. She suddenly realized that Caitlin had a double cowlick on her head and, after confirming that the baby was born on a Monday, foretold that Caitlin would be feisty and strong-willed just like one of her sons who had similar traits. The week before she had told me that as an infant her son was so strong-willed and hard to please that she went through a Thai ceremony in hopes of making her son more manageable. With a group of elderly people around, the ceremony required her to ask aloud, “Who’s baby is this? Whatever spirit or ghost or demon out there that owns this baby, come and claim him.” At this point, the group of elders assuming the role of a “Mae Seu” (แม่ซื้อ) would respond by saying, “He’s ours and we will take him.” This ceremony is supposed to make the baby be less difficult to raise. However, it didn’t work for her, she confessed. He was still keeping her up all night from 7 pm to 7 am and sleeping during the day for a long, long time.
What is this “Mae Seu”? According to our house helper, it’s a “pi saht” (ปิศาจ) which is a ghost or spirit of some kind, similar to a guardian spirit for infants and little children. This spirit is believed to be the one that protects young children from harm or death. Our house helper is firmly convinced that that is why infants are the only ones who often survive accidents involving planes, trains, and automobiles when almost all adults die from the same incident. She also cited a recent news report in which a baby in a stroller rolled down onto some train tracks seconds before the train came but amazingly the baby suffered only a slight bruise. The baby’s mother, however, became mentally insane as a result of watching the train pass over the tracks where her baby had fallen.