Thai Spirit Houses

No I don’t mean bars or breweries although there are plenty of both here. While it is tempting to hit one to deal with the stresses of everyday corporate life (CORPORATES ARE EVIL!), I am talking more about a little cultural phenomenon I almost overlooked. It is so easy in the daily grind to forget that I am actually living in a foreign country and while I have moved here for work, 90% of the appeal of moving to Bangkok was the opportunity to travel and explore more of a culture that is alien to me.

One of the little discoveries are Thai Spirit Houses. Every building – house, mall, giant condo, market – has a miniature house-like structure that is draped in flowers and surrounded by incense. You will know these to be Spirit Houses when you see a couple of fruits and opened bottles of cola with straws lain in front of the mini building. Inside the building, you will sometimes spot statuettes, figurines of humans, dancers and gods. I just assumed they were little external prayer houses.

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Curiosity getting the better of me, I soon found out that Spirit houses aren’t Buddhist tradition as I originally thought. The practice goes back to pre-Buddhist times when people believed that all land is occupied by spirits of our ancestors. In encroaching their land and building your own structures, you are rendering them homeless and as such, are probably bringing bad luck to yourself.

To counter this, everyone builds a miniature home for the spirits in the corner of the property so that the Spirits can continue to live on the land but also have proper shelter to spend their days in comfort. The house is built on a prominent spot and a lot of people build it so that the shadow of whatever structure would soon occupy the land will not fall on the Spirit house. In addition to this, people leave the spirits food offerings. If the cola bottles are anything to go by, the Spirits seem to have an affinity for Strawberry Fanta!

When the room land-mates of the Spirit House decide to build a new mini-house, a colourful ceremony is conducted so that the Spirits may travel to the new house peacefully. At the end of the ceremony, the old house is discarded near a temple.

There is just something about this simple tradition that has really captured my imagination. If I ever settle down in one place and own a house someday, I might have a Spirit House of my own. Would you?