Dhidhaj Sumedhsvast, a Thai masters student, didn't believe in fortune-telling or supernatural powers until the coronavirus epidemic began two years ago.
He has now been able to recursively seek the advice of fortune-tellers, wears lucky amulets, and has pictures of tarot cards as his wallpaper on his phone.
"The epidemic has brought so many challenges that make us feel dissatisfied," said Dhidhaj, 30, who began praying to Kubera, the God of Wealth in Hindu mythology and a Buddhist deity, for protection against the economic effects of the epidemic.
"When I started doing this, I was confident. While others were affected by COVID and lost their jobs or income, I wasn't. I believe in it much more. "I trust it in every detail."
Many Thais' anxiety-gripped young population have begun to embrace fortune-telling and other forms of divination, as well as Dhidhaj.
The epidemic has displaced Thailand's diverse cults, from streets and storefronts to youth-focused social media, aiding fortune-tellers to reach an increased audience.
"With this world, people need spiritual anchors," says Pimchat Viboonthaninkul, a 26-year-old fortune-teller who works exclusively online and co-founded Mootae World, which started the trend of tarot card phone wallpaper last year.
Thai culture has long been encased in astrology and divination, such as palm reading, tarot cards, or numerology.
According to a study conducted by Mahidol University's College of Management (CMMU) in 2021, 78 percent of Thai population believes in the supernatural.
Thai traditions lie comfortably in the dominant Buddhist religion, from consulting with Feng Shui masters to wearing monk-blessed amulets.
Thailand's largely informal fortune-telling business is expected to draw $5 billion in funding per year since the epidemic started, up from about 4 billion, according to A Duang, a company which has grown to over half a million users, mostly aged 18-30.
Some of the 7,000 fortune-tellers use the app daily livestreams to get started, and users may pay 10 to 100 baht ($0.3-$3) for quick insight. It also offers private one-on-one card reading sessions at higher rates.
According to Duang's managing director, average per-user expenditure has increased fivefold to 500 baht monthly from its pre-pandemic launch in 2019.
According to Jomkhwan Luenglue, a board member of the Thai Psychological Association, this trend represents a "breaking point" in stress levels that pushes many to seek immediate answers from someone else rather than from inside themselves.
Picha Kulwaraekdumrong, the 30th co-founder of Mootae World, shows cards during a live demonstration on an online platform, as many young Thais increasingly seek divination for quick answers, at their office in Bangkok, Thailand February 23, 2022. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
"It's mental first-aid," said Jomkhwan. "It might jeopardize your ability to make judgments for yourself in the long run."
New digital products have exploded.
Mootae World, a mobile phone wallpaper company, has created tens of thousands of images for customers' phone screens, each with different tarot cards and symbols.
Each of the clients, priced at 249 baht ($7.44), is custom-made according to their specific star positions at birth, as well as their deepest wishes, whether financial or romantic.
Non-fungible tokens are also available as traditional Buddhist amulets, often portraits of guru monks or the Buddha made from bronze, brass, or gold.
Crypto Amulets, a Thai startup, has sold around 3,000 new NFTs since its initial launch in 2021, each for about 2,000 baht ($60) on the Ethereum and Solana blockchains.
In Surin province, a huge market of Thailand's Buddhist amulet, each digital amulet is printed on paper, the first to be blessed by monks.
"We tended to wear physical amulets around our neck, but now we can carry NFT ones on our phones," said Ekkaphong Khemthong, who owns Crypto Amulets and also collects traditional amulets.
MARKET IN REAL TIME
Mainstream business brands recognize the new Thai psychic entrepreneurs as the key to the growing market of young people with limited income.
Mootae World received Cigna Corp insurance due to their followers in Chinese astrology's "unlucky year" belief that in each zodiac animal year, individuals who have the same animal sign will bear the curse of Tai Sui, the god of age.
"A new marketing trend has arisen," said Muratha Junyaworalug, a head researcher for the CMMU study.
"All brands want to tap into this market."
($1 = 33.48 baht)