Ever heard of a babysitter ghost? Every Thai child has one
All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Day was an ancient pagan holiday held to ward off evil spirits, but is now marked as Halloween – the day when people dress up in fantastical costumes and children go “trick or treat” to collect sweets.
In Thailand, however, ghosts have traditionally been part of daily life and have been given many forms. For instance, there’s Mae Sue, or the babysitter ghost that “purchases” newborns to protect them from evil spirits.
Kongkaew Weeraprajak, an expert in ancient languages at Department of Fine Arts under the Culture Ministry, said Mae Sue was created at a time when childbirth was unsafe. Many babies died in delivery or were stillborn, and their deaths were blamed on evil spirits that had allegedly stolen their souls.
Mothers traditionally tricked these evil spirits by giving their child an ugly name and “selling” it to Mae Sue to prove that even the mother doesn’t love the baby enough. The Mae Sue guardian spirit then watched over the baby for the first year of its life.
Pathom Jinda, a scripture on traditional Thai medicine, says: “If the baby's placenta is buried in Mae Sue’s home, it will make Mae Sue love, care, protect and play with the baby. However, if the mother does not do this, the Mae Sue will haunt the baby, making it cry and bringing it illness.”
The scripture gave each day of the week a different babysitter ghost with a different name. For instance, the babysitter for children born on Sundays is called Vichit Nawan, has the head of a lion and lives on an anthill. A Monday-born is watched over by Wanna Nongkran with a horse’s head, who lives in a well, while a Tuesday-born’s babysitter is called Nangyak Burisuthi, who has a buffalo head and lives in a shrine.
Wednesday-borns are watched over by Samsamomlatat, an elephant-headed guardian angel that lives on a Bodhi tree. Thursday-born children are protected by Galo Thuk, a deer-headed angel that lives in a pond, while Friday-borns are looked after by Nang Yai Nongyao with a cow’s head who lives on a banyan tree.
Saturday children are watched over by Ekkalai with the head of a tiger who lives in a spirit house.
Though these beliefs have no scientific basis, they are still observed by many mothers. In fact, mothers still believe that when a baby burbles and chatters, it is actually talking to its babysitter ghost.