Since one night on the beach at the Sanctuary on Koh Phangan where I saw a random light hidden in some bushes, I’ve been drawn to Spirit Houses and their ornate decorations and offerings that can be seen throughout Thailand.
Spirit Houses are a Buddhist tradition that essentially welcomes and distracts spirits with an appealing place to rest as opposed to inhabiting places like trees, lakes, waterfalls or the heavens. These houses are meant to appease the spirits to bring good luck on the house, business or farm and they are everywhere. Considering that Thai’s believe that if a spirit is unhappy, they can cause the business or venture to fail, the importance of pleasing these guardian spirits of the land is very important.
The houses themselves look like little temples, complete with little statue families inside of them, sometimes there are also animals and furniture to make the home more comfortable. But they can also be huge to represent the building that they are meant to be residing over, for instance the larger than life one at the MBK centre in Bangkok, or the ones built to reside over an entire city block.
Offerings are commonly placed around the alter on the outside of the spirit house, of food, flower garlands, drinks and incense that is lit everyday. The importance of keeping up with the spirit house is seen by the fact that you’ll rarely see a spirit house with rotting fruit or incense that hasn’t been recently lit because that is seen as disrespectful to the spirit.
In Vietnam, because we were there for Tet, the offerings were exorbitant. They had everything from money, to food; to beer and alcohol to make sure that the spirits were happy with them and to bring good luck to their home or business for the New Year.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of these, but they were seriously overflowing!
In Laos, during our trek and talk with the tour guide over Lao Lao we talked about Buddhist culture and he explained that they create the spirit houses to make spirits of their loved ones more comfortable in the after life. That is why, Micke explained, some of the houses have furniture or cars and the family offers money, food and drink to make their afterlife as comfortable as their earthly life.
I was saddened when I saw a stack of discarded alters and spirit houses in Bangkok, but after a little research I’ve learned that this is because the family or business has decided to upgrade the spirit house. They perform a ceremony to transfer the spirit to the new house. Still, seeing where spirit houses go to die outside of a Wat (temple) may have been a tad depressing.