Spirit Houses like Doll’s Houses
One of Thailand’s most endearing symbols is the spirit shrines that stand outside each building.
In design, they resemble miniature temples, sometimes painted red and gold, sometimes left plain and unvarnished.
They are always placed high above the ground to show respect to the spirits who reside within, but low enough for offerings to be made to them.
Choosing the Sprit House Site
Every dwelling, whether private or public, has its spirit house, situated where the shadow of the main house doesn’t fall upon it.
The spot will have been chosen in consultation with an astrologer and a house-warming party will be held to invite the spirits to move in.
Servants will be provided, tiny terracotta or wooden figures as well as carved wooden elephants to transport the spirits should they wish to go visiting.
House Warming Party for the Spirits
As much money as the host can afford will be spent on this party in order to do honor to the spirits.
If any misfortune should subsequently befall the house – a robbery, a fire, or a spouse running away, it would be a sure sign that the owner had skimped on the house-warming!
Most spirits are benevolent, but some are mischievous, and some can be downright dangerous.
Some are restless and troublesome – the spirits of those who have died violent deaths.
Fortunately, they respond to bribery which can take the form of special food or walking three times around the shrine.
If there seems a danger of a personal attack from the spirits, the owners may wear their clothes inside out for a week or two in order to confuse them.
Muslim Spirits, Buddhist Spirits, even Marijuana-loving Spirits
In the South of Thailand where Islam moved steadily down the coast from Malaysia, Muslim spirits often inhabit the land, and the dietary rules that forbid pork and alcohol must be adhered to.
Others though are known to be partial to the odd glass of beer or whiskey and there is a famous shrine just outside the village of Cham in Petchaburi province where, it is rumored, a daily ration of marijuana is left for them.
At festivals elaborate meals consisting of whole chickens, coconuts, honeycombs, and other delicacies will be offered, a thank you for past favors or to win the lottery, a new job, recovery from illness, find a new wife or husband – or even a partner for the night.
There is no limit to the kind of request that can be made.
Bribes are frequently offered and being a pragmatic race the Thais, as often as not, withhold part of the bribe until the request is fulfilled.
How to Make Offerings
The offerings are placed on the small ledge in front of the shrine, and the food may be eaten by the birds or it may even blow away.
But if say, a chicken or duck was offered, then this is sometimes removed and given to needy people in the area.
The merit lies in the giving.
There are three essentials when making offerings, water, rice, and joss sticks, and a couple of basic rules.
Everything must be specifically for the spirits; do not offer leftover food, or offer a piece of chocolate broken off from a bar you were eating – don’t even smell the flowers.
Offerings Before Travelling
Before traveling, Thais make offerings for a safe journey and you may be invited to join them.
Whichever method of travel is chosen, at the point of departure are found spirit houses.
At Bangkok’s International Airport, where the noses of all planes belonging to Thai Airways have been blessed by the Supreme Patriarch, you can calm yourself before take-off by visiting the spirit house by the runway.