Have you ever wondered what the structures that look like little replicas of temples or houses in front of buildings, hospitals, shop fronts and houses in Thailand are? The ones that usually have beautiful flowers adorning them with fruits and red drinks placed in front? If you are familiar with Thai culture and know how intertwined spiritual beliefs and traditions are in the daily lives of Thai people, then it will be no surprise to you that these are houses made for spirits!
Unoccupied spirit houses (Image source | Sanook)
Although my family never had one for our house, I’ve always been fascinated by the different designs I see at various places. Some are big and grand made with concrete and intricate paint details, others more simple and made from wood. Funny story, as a kid after learning what they were I started giving each spirit house a nod of respect as I went past, this became very tiring though as you would drive past so many in a short period of time!
Who lives in the spirit houses?
There are two different spirit entities that people build the spirit houses for – the guardian angel spirit and the spirit of the land. Sometimes people will have two separate shrines for each of the entities but it is also not uncommon to have one for both or either.
‘Saan Phra Phum’ (‘saan’ means shrine) is for the guardian angel spirit Phra Phum who is the eldest son of 9. His duty is to look after and protect houses and businesses, while the rest of his siblings take care of other areas such as city gates, temples, water bodies and mountains. ‘Saan Jao Tee’ or ‘Saan Ta Yai’ translates to the shrine of the land owner or shrine of grandpa and grandma. This houses the spirits of the traditional owners of the land or the ancestors of the land owners.
You can easily spot the difference between these two by how they look and where they are placed. ‘Saan Phra Phum’ will always be on the left on a higher single pillar with a more temple-like design, whereas the shrine of the land spirits will look more like a thai style house often with a pair of little male and female figurines inside, sitting on 4-6 pillars instead of one.
Despite their differences, people believe that both these spirits can help bring peace, wellness, good fortune, and protect them from bad spirits and harm.
Keeping the spirits happy
Having spirit houses on your property is not a set and forget thing but more like a committed long term relationship where lots of care needs to be taken along the way. Apart from having to find an auspicious date and time to bring in your spirit houses, there are a few other considerations.
The area around the spirit houses need to be clean, not near any toilets, kitchens or garbage bins. Most important of all is that the shadow of your house should not hover over the shrines at any time and that the front of the shrine should not be facing the front door of your house (this is why some spirit houses are on rooftops of buildings!).
To keep the inhabitants of the spirit houses happy, the shrines need to be frequently cleaned and maintained – any dust swept, any broken components fixed, and any withered flower discarded. Apart from daily offerings of fresh flowers, food and fruits, many also provide offerings of a grander scale during special occasions that will also include freshly cooked rice, curries or soup, meat such as chicken, duck or pig’s head and desserts. Fun fact – it’s bad luck to offer fruits with unfortunate names, durian is one of them!
Offerings for the spirits (Image source | Baania)
People believe that by offering gifts and keeping the spirit houses maintained, they are building a positive relationship with the spirits and therefore are able to receive their blessings and protection in return. Whether you believe in these spirits or not, it is very important to never damage, steal or disrespect their houses when you come across them.
In the modern day, spirit houses resembling various styles of architecture are now available to match the modern homes in Thailand (I’ve even seen some that look like little beach bungalows online). Next time you’re in Thailand don’t forget to keep an eye out for these mysterious little houses!
I’m sure the spirits are loving these beach bungalows! (Image source | Post Today)