Spirit Houses in the Land of Smiles

by M-Gillies
Small decorative spirit houses in Thailand

Spirit Houses can be found at homes, businesses and even on the side of roads in Thailand to appease spirit and bring more good luck to the living.

Just as Japan is home of millions of spirits, Thailand is equally as overrun with ghosts. Known as LOS for Land of Smiles, due to the welcoming smiles from Thai people, Thailand has also been colloquially known as the Land of Spirits. In fact, spirits have had such a prominent affect on Thai society that ghosts and spirits have been ingrained in their religious beliefs. Not only have the spirits or Phi influenced TV programs and films but also businesses and home life, particularly with the use of Spirit Houses being installed on properties as a means of bringing food and gift offerings to placate the ghosts and spirits which may dwell on the property and to further attract good luck.

In nearly every home and every business; from hotels, hospitals and commercial buildings, Spirit Houses have found their own dedicated spot on proprietary properties throughout Thailand. Modest, yet brightly painted, these carefully positioned shrines are generally slightly above eye level and are homes to the Phra Phum, the lord of the land. Used to offer shelter to spirits in order to ensure that harmony and serenity will descend upon the land and the property owner, the role of building and blessing a Spirit House has become a general practice among the Thai people. The idea being that if spirits have their own dwelling in which to reside they will not feel it necessary to haunt the main house or building.

To ensure the spirits are content in their abode and to prevent them from becoming malevolent, they are provided with offerings of food, drink, garlands and incense sticks. If properly provided for, the spirit guardians will protect the dwelling and bring wealth and prosperity.

Taking the form of a miniature temple, Spirit Houses are mounted on a pillar and placed on the land as determined by a Brahman priest. It is the task of the priest to locate the best position for the Spirit House, which ideally should be to the north of the main building and positioned so as to ensure the shadow of the main house never reaches the spirit house, which in Thai culture is considered unlucky.

Further, the priest will determine the best day for the ceremony to invite the spirit into the Spirit House, which is calculated using certain dates. The best days are said to be on Wednesday or Thursday in the second, fourth, fifth, ninth and eleventh waxing or waning moon. However, the priest also must take into consideration dates in the calendar which are regarded as unlucky and schedule the ceremony to fall on a favorable day.

Once the site is determined, a hole is dug for the main post to be positioned. Using nine stakes of lucky wood, each 12 inches in length which taper toward one end are driven into the ground. These are made from the following trees:

1. Pudding Pine: To provide more power;

2. Jackfruit Tree: To ensure support for wealth and fortune;

3. Javanese Cassia: To grant luck and victory;

4. Indian Coral Tree: To promote money and gold;

5. Bamboo: To ensure happiness;

6. Kalamona: To provide strength and stability;

7. Teak: To provide honor;

8. Siamese Rosewood: To ensure wealth and fortune;

9. Tembus: To provide protection from any harm or danger

Prior to inserting the stakes into the ground, the priest will chant an incantation 108 times to cast a spell on the woods being used, followed by another incantation being chanted as the stakes are driven into the ground until they are all level with each other and ready to receive the column for the Spirit House. In order to acquire wealth, it is recommended that the inhabitants toss jewellery such as gold, silver or copper into the hole. Finally a plate bearing the image of Yantra made from copper or silver is placed in the hole.

Once the spirit house is built, a figure of the Phra Phum is placed in the spirit house. Generally, the Phra Phum will be holding a double edged sword in his right hand for conquering demons and a book in the left hand to record births, deaths and marriages which may occur in the dwelling. In order to please the spirits who will be residing in the Spirit House, furnishings are to be placed within the house in order to keep the spirits comfortable. While these can include household objects such as chairs, beds and in some cases, even a miniature television set, other figures can be placed on the spirit house to keep the spirits company, these additional figures can range from animals such as horses or elephants to statues of Thai dancers.

Once the spirit house is fully furnished, garlands of flowers are placed on the house, incense sticks are lit and the offerings of food and drinks are placed in front of the house at which point the priest will then formally invite the spirits into the house.

Though the style and construction of the spirit house may be as simple as a typical Thai-styled shelter, some have gone as far as installing elaborate Thai palace-styled Spirit Houses, and depending on the type of spirit the person wishes to invite and how much they can afford for the spirit house construction, these elaborate houses can range in aesthetic beauty. Often the construction of a Spirit House is a specialized field and it is only advisable to use expert Spirit House builders when considering a proper Spirit House construction.

However, based on Thai folklore, the spirits are neither good or evil, and while most are mischievous; demanding respect from humans, they are capable of disastrous interferences if they don’t get their way. For some, such as the Spirit of the Land, they expect to be informed when a human intends to start a business or engage in improvements to an existing business. If the spirit is not informed and if the human does not respectfully request permission, the spirit can indeed cause the venture to fail.

While spirit worship is as old as mankind itself, in Thailand the phenomenon goes back to the ancient days when the Thai people were beginning their slow migration from the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam to all parts of the Southeast Asian region. Spirit worship or Animism was a religion by which the entire world lived at one time, and when Buddhism came to Southeast Asia, it developed side by side with the ancient spirit religion. Since the growth in spirit worship, the Thai people have become known for not only building Spirit Houses on commercial and residential properties but also on the sides of the roads. ¬†Whether they’re built to pacify tormented spirits who died in vehicular accidents or to ensure safe passage for those who travel on the road, the Thai are well known for their respect for spirits, so much so, they honk their horns as they pass by any Spirit House on the road to acknowledge their existence.

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