A 65-year-old Buddhist monk being held by police is accused of looting graves for skulls to be used in black magic rituals, authorities said Tuesday.

The monk, who was disrobed on April 19, allegedly raided two cemeteries near the northeastern city of Udon Thani with accomplices. Police accuse the monk and two younger disciples of digging up skulls to be used in rituals - which may include making amulets said to protect the wearer and confer power.

‘The monk took five skulls, including of siblings - an eight-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy - who died from drowning,’ Santhan Intharajak, commander of Kumpawapi Police Station in Udon Thani province, told AFP. ‘He has been conspiring to steal skulls and moving, destroying and desecrating corpses,’ said Santhan, adding that the maximum penalty is five years in jail.

According to police the monk denies the charges, instead saying he visited the cemeteries at night to talk to spirits in an attempt to foresee lottery numbers. Rituals led by monks claiming to foresee the numbers are common among people in Thailand especially in rural areas, Santhan said. ‘It is a strange case but it does happen for real in this society,’ he added.

Many Thais believe in black magic and occult rituals to bring good luck or dispel bad fortune. Thailand’s notoriously fractious political scene is also known to draw on the occult. Competing camps have openly used black magic curses against each other, while protesters often deck themselves out in amulets which they believe make them impervious to bullets or other forms of harm.