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!

  18 comments for “What is a Spirit House?

  1. Roma
    August 21, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Some of the spirit houses at the markets have SO MUCH delicious food on (in? outside?) them, I have to wonder if they’ll miss a dish or two 😉 One thing’s for sure… selling spirit houses is a good business in this part of the world!
    Roma recently posted…Travelling Goggles (or, differences between travelling and living abroad)My Profile

    • andthreetogo
      August 21, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      No doubt about that at all Roma! Also those flowers they hang, I admit I often hand them in my car because they smell sooo good!

  2. Amy Viets
    August 22, 2015 at 7:16 am

    Fascinating! I’m so glad you wrote about this – I learned something new. ?

    • andthreetogo
      August 22, 2015 at 9:49 am

      I am so glad you liked it! I learned a lot as well. 🙂

  3. thehomeschoolingdoctor
    August 22, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    That was fun to learn about! The restrictions sound a little, um, restrictive! (I’d so want that sitting area over the garage…) No spirit worship/houses here, but I do like to pray over each house we live in, even the nooks and crannies (although I pray from the comfort of my bed) 🙂 . And I like to think that when we move out of a house, we leave a happy spirit behind for the new owners. Silly thoughts, eh!?
    thehomeschoolingdoctor recently posted…Hemp BarsMy Profile

    • andthreetogo
      August 22, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      I don’t think that’s silly at all! I love it! I may start doing that!

  4. Lani
    August 22, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    When I lived in CR, I remember seeing a row of discarded spirit houses on the side of a road. I thought, “Hmmm, I guess this is where spirit houses go when they die.” 😛
    Lani recently posted…At home in Siem Reap (part 2)My Profile

    • andthreetogo
      August 22, 2015 at 8:47 pm

      Apparently they place spirit houses on some streets because so many people die on the street. Helps keep the drivers safe. 🙂

  5. Vilma
    August 23, 2015 at 1:45 am

    A new concept to me but they look pretty!
    Vilma recently posted…Helsinki Night Market at Teurastamo 2015My Profile

    • andthreetogo
      August 23, 2015 at 8:30 am

      That often are quite beautiful, some of them covered in sparkles and painted in gold… Others are just simple little wooden houses. It’s fun to check them

  6. kemkem
    August 23, 2015 at 2:48 am

    I wonder if it’s like Santa’s visit? I would steal the duck :-). Surely the spirit wouldn’t mind. Interesting practice though.
    kemkem recently posted…While We’re Young – Fab Friday Find FilmMy Profile

    • andthreetogo
      August 23, 2015 at 8:30 am

      Considering that I don’t believe in spirit worship, I would take the duck as long as it was just placed hahah

  7. benay
    August 23, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Great article – thanks Jenny!
    benay recently posted…Uncover 50-200 Possibly Perfect Coaching Niches (in 60 min)My Profile

    • andthreetogo
      August 23, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      Thanks B! One great thing about writing a blog is it spurns me to want to learn more to write more. 🙂

  8. Melanie
    August 25, 2015 at 4:08 am

    I’m glad you posted this! All the time I was in Thailand I always wondered what those were and what they meant. Very cool story!!

    • andthreetogo
      August 25, 2015 at 6:38 am

      Thanks Melanie! Hope all is well in

  9. Chamisa
    August 29, 2015 at 4:40 am

    I had never heard of spirit houses. It’s the little things like this that you probably see every day and don’t think much about any more that make life interesting and different :). What do they do with the food once it goes bad?
    Chamisa recently posted…The Reluctant Homeschool: Our Educational Journey Thus FarMy Profile

    • andthreetogo
      August 29, 2015 at 7:47 am

      It just rots away or birds and animals eat it as far as I know. At least with ours that’s what happens… Then Jojo replenishes the offerings on certain Buddhist holidays. It doesn’t stink so that’s good.

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