They are everywhere. Large or small, clean or not, ornate or austere, the spirit houses of Thailand shelter the spirits of the land. Most Thai are Buddhists but they are also animists and spirits hold an important role in their lives. At homes, coffee shops, massage parlors, hotels, restaurants or small repair business, the Thai spirit houses sit in a place of honor, never in the shadow of the house, and guard the land.
The spirits live in them. People cherish them, honor them, share their news with them – they tell them when somebody died or somebody was born or something important happened – and give them offerings to keep them comfortable and happy. The offerings are many. Incense and water always.
Fruit is often offered and so is rice. Flowers are must, whether natural or made of silk.
Candles and and garlands are seldom missing.
The coffee shop down the road shared what they do best.
Food is always a good bet. Also cigarettes since some spirits smoke. Sometimes beer. And money. The spirits have to do their shopping too.
You’ll often find toys and statuettes. Elephants and horses and even cars are there for transportation, dancers and clowns for entertainment.
Some get decorated with Christmas lights so that spirits can also celebrate Christmas.
The local hospital, Chiang Mai Ram, is obviously very popular. I wonder what offerings you’d find at an American hospital’s spirit house? McDonald’s? Hydros? Coke?
Some houses are glittery and ornate.
Some are old and cherished.
Some are derelict and and look abandoned.
Each spirit house is unique to the plot of land it’s built on and to the people who live there. When they move out, the spirits move out too. The new people moving in have to get their own spirit house. Rich, if they happen to be rich, small, if their house is small.
The spirits get neglected when the people move out.
The old spirit houses who have nobody left to care for them and bring them gifts end up in spirit house cemeteries at Buddhist temples or they get to rest forever under a holy banyan tree where they slowly fall apart.
Even then strangers will honor them with offerings – a garland? a flower? a little soda? in the memory of the good old days.
Are you still with us on our journey through the Thai culture? I hope to see you next week. We’ll be talking about the Chiang Mai Flower Festival. Maybe. Unless something else, more exciting, happens.
Stay safe, have fun, and stay in touch, please?