Wednesday was the last official day of Khmer New Year, but the Year of the Horse has only just begun. For those disinclined to take each day as it comes, the New Year Almanac, published annually by the government, can act as a compass to navigate the months ahead.
The book brims with prophesies on war and peace, predictions on the weather, prognoses for rice crops and even pointers for what to buy and when to buy it, depending on the relation of your birth to the lunar calendar.
The first edition of the almanac was released in 1998 and since then about 1,500 copies of the handbook have been published every year by the Ministry of Cults and Religion. Its author is Im Borin, deputy secretary-general of the National Committee for Organizing National and International Festivals.
Though he composes the predictions, Mr. Borin insists that they are not speculations, but rather insights into a complex mix of indigenous, Hindu, and Buddhist astrological traditions.
Mr. Borin first became interested in astrology as an eight-year-old boy wondering about why the sun rises and where the moon goes when the day comes. But he says writing the almanac requires more than just a boyish sense of wonder.
“The almanac’s predictions are based on traditional rules, not the author’s opinions,” he said. “My book is based on researching old documents and on traditional rules that have been written, especially those written in the languages of Laos and Thailand,” he said. Those countries share with Cambodia a number of Buddhist traditions, mythologies, and New Year’s customs.
“When we predict something bad is going to happen it is not a guarantee it will happen but a warning that we must prepare to avoid it,” he said.
But occasionally his predictions can be scarily accurate, Mr. Borin said.
“In 2000, I predicted that there would be violence in Phnom Penh and when the violence really happened I was very surprised,” he said, referring to an incident in November that year when more than 70 armed members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters attacked the Ministry of Defense and Council of Ministers buildings, leaving eight people dead and more than 12 injured.
This year is predicted to be much more peaceful, though the New Year’s angel, Koreakeak Devi, has a preference for offerings of oil, which the almanac predicts could lead to higher oil and gas prices for Cambodians.
“I predicted that the price of oil would rise. Nowadays, people are using more and more oil and when the devada [angel] is using it, it means that more oil will be used and the price will go up,” he said.
The almanac offers a number of ominous but general warnings for afflictions such as crop pestilence and an unspecified disease that will strike in the Year of the Horse. In other areas, such as shopping, the book can be highly specific.
“If you buy something on a Tuesday, the item will bring you disaster, damage to your property and separation from your wife and children,” is one warning that shopkeepers may find unwelcome.
Annual almanacs are also popular in the West, where they originated as a way to help farmers predict the weather and potential crop yields in a pre-scientific era. Today they are more likely to feature horoscopes and humorous predictions for the year to come.
Ang Choulean, an ethnologist at the Royal University of Fine Arts, said he was unsure about the relevance of the almanac to Cambodian culture and doubted its provenance in ancient scholarship.
“It is a recent thing, and it seems to me people in power may have been influenced by what happens in other countries, like horoscopes,” he said. “But it seems to me it is not inspired by traditional documents and there does not seem to be a relationship to the old texts.”