The viral trend for “child angels” may be a passing fad, after restaurants offered discounted meals for those who want to eat with their dolls and some Thai airlines allowed passengers to purchase an extra seat for them, but the roots are buries deep in ancient occult lore, writes JIM ALGIE.
The doll that has been supposedly imbued with otherworldly powers is one of humankind’s most ancient vessels of magic. Predating any of the world’s great faiths, these fetishes were often depicted as crude representations of people or animals, or some monstrous hybrid of the two from a folktale.
But the hoary figures of yore have gotten a beautiful makeover in today’s Thailand. Far from their horrific origins, these lookthep (“child angels”) resemble the kind of dolls that children play with, and that’s because they come from the same factories.
Listening to one of the vendors at Pantip Plaza 2 talk about them, the high-end dolls that can retail for as much as 20,000 baht each are imported from the US, the medium-priced dolls come from China, and the cheapest ones are homegrown. Though each vendor tends to stock a few different molds of boy and girl dolls with different features, they customize them with an array of clothes, hairstyles, glasses and even piercings.
Strip away the fashions and you find that the dolls are covered with yantras: an occult diagram designed to ward off evil or, in this case, contain the spirit of a wandering child ghost within it. That is their most controversial aspect. Some vendors claim that the lookthep house a genuine spirit that can bring good fortune to owners who treat it well, while others say that the spirit must be animated by an adept in white magic who blesses it, and skeptics recast them as figures of fun, making wisecracks about the malevolent doll named Chucky in the Child’s Play series of hokey horror movies.
Naysayer or true believer, the dolls are part of an arcane tradition, says Peter Jenks, who runs the Facebook group Thai Occult Magic and is writing a book on amulets in Thailand. “These dolls go all the way back to shamanistic societies, but they’ve been given a Thai and Buddhist twist in the way they perform benevolent acts as opposed to vengeful ones.”
The lookthep craze, he explains, has only gone viral recently after restaurants offered discounted meals for those who want to eat with their dolls, and some Thai airlines allowed passengers to purchase an extra seat for them. But the English expat in Bangkok credits the mor phi, literally “ghost doctor,” Ajarn Thep, with inventing them, some five or six years ago.
The dolls may appear to be a new phenomenon, but Jenks believe that they are “a new brand or manifestation” of the ancient kuman thong (“golden child”), an age-old tradition of the Thai black arts. Instead of having to find a dead fetus to grill, now the modern-day occultist or devotee can simply choose a doll that is factory-made.
Even the forces of the supernatural, it seems, are still subject to the gravity of consumerism and the human need for convenience.