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Child's Guardian Angel
Written by Denis Segaller   
Thursday, 08 February 2007 23:40

Superstition has it that every new-born child is accompanied by its own mae-seu. The dictionary translates this as "a child's guardian angel", but according to my usual sources it is not necessarily a benevolent spirit at all; the mae-seu is simply a spirit which comes with the child. It may play with him, make him laugh, rock him to and fro (the Thai equivalent of "rock-a-bye baby on the tree-top" perhaps?) and guard him; or it may make him cry and do him harm.

Westerners believe that when a tiny baby looks as if it is smiling, winking or screwing up its face in various other weird ways, it is because the child needs to bring up wind; but the rural Thai belief is that the child is playing with its mae-seu.

The new-born baby must be protected from the spirit's playful, wayward and unpredictable behaviour. For this purpose, a piece of white cloth is hung above the head or side of the child's cradle. The cloth is roughly the size of an average magazine page, and has drawings on both side.

The drawing on the side facing away from the child represents the child's mae-seu. The spirit has different forms depending on the day of the week on which the child was born, and the drawing on the cloth must be made accordingly. The body is always that of a woman (mae means "mother"), but the head is that of a different beast for every day. The color of the skin varies from day to day - red for Sunday, cream or yellow for Monday, pink for Tuesday and so on.

The drawing on the side of the cloth facing inward towards the baby is always that of the king of the giants, Taowetsuwan. He wears a gold costume, and has a green skin.

All other giants and spirits go in fear of Taowetsuwan, and this gives him the power to protect humans from them. Anyone who is afraid of giants and spirits always hangs up Taowetsuwan's picture on the wall. His presence on the piece of cloth hanging over the new-born baby's cradle protects the child from its own mae-seu.

Taowetsuwan is a well-known personality in Thai mythology. Huge statues of him form the two vertical pillars of a large gateway at Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Taowetsuwan was originally a human, who made daily merit by offering food to monks. One day he accidentally spilt some very hot sugar-cane juice on a monk's foot, causing the latter great pain. But instead of trying to help the monk, Taowetsuwan just stood there and laughed heartlessly.

Because of this unkind act, Taowetsuwan was reborn in the world of giants, where he became king. But he suffered, and still continues to suffer, the consequences of his unkind behaviour: he has permanently hot feet! Every day, other giants must come and bathe Taowetsuwan's feet to try and cool them, but it is no use; they remain as hot as ever - just as hot, in fact, as was the monk's foot when Taowetsuwan spilt the hot sugar-cane juice on it.

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Information from: "Thai Ways" by Denis Segaller.

This is a great book for anyone who wants to learn about the Thai culture. I use it very often to answer questions about Thai culture that people asked me.