Thai Spirit Houses: The Guardians of the Galaxy

Religion in the Modern World, Thailand’s Spirit Houses

Sacred and revered, Thai Spirit Houses are a unique aspect of the country’s culture.

Sacred and revered, Thai spirit houses are a fascinating and unique aspect of Thai religious culture. You can’t walk through any Thai town or city without seeing these little houses in the front yards decked out with flowers and incense.

They’re great to look at and beautiful to photograph but what are they and why are they there?

What are spirit houses?

Locals believe that the spirit world is very much connected to our modern-day world. They pay homage to the ‘Lord of the Land’, a spirit guardian who holds much influence and power over our success and failure in life. If you want a good crop or a successful year in business then you need to keep the Lord of the Land happy. They also revere the ancestors and the spirits of the people who have lived and worked on the land in days gone by. What’s the best way to pay respects to both these types of spirits? Build a beautiful miniature spirit house of course!

Spirit houses, or san phra phum in Thai, are built to be the resting place of the spirits. They can be simple wooden affairs with crude carving and a few candles, or they can be ornate carved marble masterpieces with tiling and inlaid mosaics. They can be built to bless everything from homes to fields and offices to train stations. The only constant is their positioning and the respect that they command.

Traditional white Thai spirit houses in Bangkok

Where should a spirit house be located?

The positioning of a spirit house is a very important decision. Put the house in the wrong place and you may as well not have built it! The first thing to consider is the orientation. A spirit house should be facing north or northeast if possible. The second thing is the location on the site that it is blessing. In a mirror of superstition in the western world, a spirit house should never be to the left of a doorway, and should never be facing a road or a toilet. The third consideration is the spirit house should never be left in the shadow of a building.

A Brahmin priest is often summoned to make sure the house is located in the most auspicious place possible. Take a wander around the streets of Thailand and you can see these rules in action. Some of the locations are very innovative to make sure that they comply!

What’s inside?

If you get the chance to peer inside a spirit house then you may be surprised. Instead of just incense and candles these houses are filled with life in miniature- models of people, toy animals, emblems of successful business and sometimes miniature portraits of ancestors and grandparents.

As times have changed, so the contents of the spirit houses have modernized too. Where once you may have seen livestock you may now see a small airplane, and where once you may have seen farming tools you may now see pictures of a computer. Anything that can be blessed can be represented in a Thai spirit house!

Thai Spirit House Local Tip

In your travels around Thailand you’ll almost certainly see spirit houses with red liquid set outside as an offering. While this looks a bit strange, it’s actually strawberry Fanta! This isn’t just a drink for the spirits however, but a religious offering. Travel like a local by making your offering if you have the chance. The red color of the liquid actually signifies blood and is a replacement for the animal sacrifices of days gone by. Fanta is a much easier way to gain blessings!

 

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