What is a Spirit House?

Recently I was driving past another row of shop-houses being built in our area of Phuket, and I glanced a couple of men dressed in white performing some sort of ritual on a newly placed spirit house. It was just really out of the corner of my eye, but it appeared they were in a trance of some sort, so I decided I needed to know more. What was it all about?

What is a spirit house?  Wikipedia defines a these ornate miniature houses/temples as “a shrine to the protective spirit of a place that is found in the Southeast Asian countries of BurmaCambodiaLaos, and Thailand.” Here in Thailand, it is rare to find a building without a spirit house. Our house has a fairly small one, but they can be quite large depending on the size of the building or lot.  The local Tesco Lotus has one that I swear is bigger than my house!

spirit house
By User:Mattes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Thai people are mainly buddhist, but before Buddhism even arrived, the region was practicing spirit worship. So the Thai people have incorporated it into the religion. The spirit houses are believed to be shelters for good or evil spirits that previously lived in the land and would then move into the new actual house or building. Because of this belief, Thai’s provide them with free tiny housing and offerings of drink and food. The spirit houses are erected in specific locations on the land, for example, according to Travelfish.org the buildings shadow cannot fall on the spirit house. According to my friend JoJo, you cannot sit above a spirit house either… this means that the sitting area we wanted on the top of our garage was a big no-no. (There is a whole article on placing a spirit house if you are interested here.)

By Banphot Nuchleang (Octahedron80) (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Banphot Nuchleang (Octahedron80) (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Some of the traditional offerings placed on a spirit house include flower garlands, bananas, rice, chicken, duck, and Fanta. Candles are often used while incense is usually lit daily before a spirit house, though we don’t do that at our house. Every Chinese new year, our landlord and friend Jojo comes and cleans the spirit house and leaves new offerings. We do not believe in spirit worship at all, in fact we think of our spirit house more as a pretty garden decoration, but it is interesting to watch the process.

Spirit house with offerings By Ddalbiez (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Spirit house with offerings
By Ddalbiez (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
When a spirit house is placed, it is blessed by a priest with chanting as it is raised by the audience. There is a lot more to it , but that is what I saw that day as I drove past. I could go on for days about this subject, but I don’t want to take up all your time… so if you want to know more about spirit houses, please check out the articles in Bangkok.com, Travelfish.org, and Wikipedia.


 

Now it’s your turn! Have you ever seen a spirit house? Do you believe in spirit worship? Leave a comment and let’s chat!

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