Thailand’s spirit houses

You can’t miss them if you visit Thailand; they’re everywhere, in Bangkok and the countryside. Travelers are surprised to see them in front of so many buildings: homes, hotels and office and government buildings. Why are they there? Because Thai people believe in good and evil spirits.

By constructing a little house that they install close to the main building, Thais purify the land and ensure that the occupants of the new building will live in peace. In other words, they sign a form of spiritual pact with evil spirits to keep them away.

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Thais often turn to astrologists to determine the exact location of the spirit house. Or they may turn to a Brahmin, called a “phram” in Thai, a priest who dresses entirely in white.

Most of the time, spirit houses are positioned so that you have to look up to see them. The little houses are built near the main door, facing north or, even better, south. The shadow of the building they protect should never fall on the spirit house.

Spirit houses are mass produced, often in concrete. Their shape should never evoke anything negative. A long house wouldn’t be wise for example, because it calls to mind a coffin. A t-shape is also out, because it looks like a vulture in flight. The little houses often resemble miniature temples.

Friends and relatives are invited to a ritualistic ceremony by the future owner of the building. This ceremony is held when the spirit house is installed. According to the Gallimard publishing house, you scatter small coins around the site and under the foundations during a particular ritual.

Spirit houses are decorated with statuettes and figurines of dancers, horses and servants made of wood, plaster or ceramic. You could say that Thais are well-adapted to today’s reality through this spiritual practice, because we see ever smaller cars and other consumer goods.

People regularly leave offerings at the spirit house: money, candles, flowers, food, and incense are placed in the skull of a pig. These small gifts are often left daily.

And here’s a bizarre fact: Thai women hoping to conceive leave penis-shaped offerings in wood, wax, stone or cement at the spirit house located close to Nai Lert Park Hotel in Bangkok. We saw a picture: the phallic resemblance is quite realistic!

Along country roads, you see spirit houses placed near sharp curves, next to ravines and on mountain passes. Once again, the spirit house is there to protect Thais from danger. Drivers sometimes honk when they come across them or stop to leave offerings.

According to Wikipedia, the wealth of the spirit house is proportional to that of the building that it protects. And spirit houses are never destroyed. Thais simply leave them in an isolated spot so that the spirit will continue to have a home.

 

Photo: iStockphoto

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