Spiritualism and Thai tattoos are so entwined that they are practically inseparable. Although Buddhism permeates Thailand's society, there is an even deeper belief in Animism that is woven into the very fabric of the culture. Animism is all about the union of spirit and matter - there is no separation of the body from the soul, and all forms of life have their own personal soul. People, animals, insects, plants are all imbued with a personal life force that is indestructible. Animism is not tied strictly to living things either. This belief system also maintains that material objects have their own souls that have some bearing on their destiny. The average believer would then encounter countless souls as he goes about his daily life; some good, some evil and some indifferent. How does this relate to tattoos? In Thai tradition, getting a tattoo is a deeply spiritual experience, just as it can be for many people the world over. However, a genuine Thai tattoo received from one of the Buddhist monks is believed to act as an amulet that carries powers of its own.
Believers seek them as a form of empowerment and protection from the spiritual realm and, to some degree, a bit of control over it. As the monks work away at the flesh, they pray over the tats they are creating, instilling each design with the qualities traditionally associated with it. A tattoo of a particular god might gain that god's favour, protection and guidance over the wearer's life. The tattoo of an animal like a tiger might protect the person wearing it from evil and physical harm, for example.
Tom Vater is a writer working in southern and Southeast Asia. He writes both in English and German. His articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications including the Asia Wall Street Journal, the South China Morning Post, Marie Claire, Penthouse, and many others. His books on South Asian themes include a novel, several nonfiction titles, travel guides, and photo books. His travels have led him (on foot) across the Himalayas, and given him the opportunity to dive with hundreds of sharks in the Philippines. On his journeys, he has joined sea gypsies and nomads, pilgrims and soldiers, secret agents, pirates, hippies, policemen, and prophets. Aroon Thaewchatturat has been shooting assignment and stock photography since 2004. Her features have appeared in magazines such as GEO and The Far Eastern Economic Review, while her stock imagery has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, The Financial Times, Lonely Planet, MERIAN, Spiegel-Online and many other publications.