Bangkok: They can cost a small fortune, resemble 1980s disco jewellery, and are arguably un-Buddhist, but many Thais seeking psychic insurance in troubled times are snapping up so-called Jatukam Ramathep amulets, coin-shaped talismans with supposed magical powers.

The Jatukam amulets, coveted by millions of people in Thailand - and available on eBay for those living elsewhere - have become big business, as believers, collectors and speculators drive a thriving market. Rare ones reportedly command prices of more than 1,000,000 baht (Dh1101,000).

The amulet craze has also led to robberies and at least one death, when a crowd stampeded for the opportunity to get a limited edition.

As Thailand muddles through political insecurity and nervousness about the economy, people are more openly grasping at supernatural aids. The fad vividly illustrates how belief in astrology, the occult and animism remain a major part of a modern, industrialised Thailand.

Silver dollar

The amulets are typically the size of a silver dollar, and come in a variety of colours, including bronze, silver and clay.

Prices depend on the materials used, the circumstances under which they were anointed - some were recently taken aloft on a jetliner to be blessed by monks - and how rare the model is.

It is not unusual for them to be encased in a gold frame hanging from a heavy link chain around the neck and worn outside the shirt - an awkward fashion statement, at best.

Many Thais carry or wear amulets, usually small ones depicting images associated with Buddhism, the religion of most Thais, though amulets are not formally part of its doctrine.

Most amulet owners are fairly discreet, wearing them under shirts and blouses. Serious believers carry more than one and as many as a dozen, though such ostentatiousness is usually associated with policemen and criminals - who understandably seek all the protection they can get. But Jatukam amulets are everywhere; affluent businessmen, political protesters, teachers in the insurgency-wrecked south, curbside food vendors, all wear them proudly with the shared hope that they will ward off danger and attract good fortune.