The Thai Spirit House
Thai Spirit House, San Phra Phum “house of the guardian spirit”, and San Chao Thi can be seen in front of most Thai houses and buildings. Normally it will be placed at the corner of the property. They are located in front of the houses, shops, shopping malls, trees, even by the roadsides, there is much more hidden out of sight, to protect the land and to bring good luck. The miniature Spirit House is usually in the form of a wooden house made of rich teak wood, or more often nowadays it is made out of concrete but enlivened with bright paint. The Brahman priest or Buddhist monk will guide them to the best location according to ancient belief. They are beautifully decorated with flowers and surrounded with offerings like incense, candles, fruits, rice, chicken, flower garlands, betel leaves, and glasses/bottles of red drink (strawberry Fanta) toys, and many more.
The Spirit houses cannot be located just anywhere and anytime as they like. A Brahman priest or Buddhist monk will use the owner’s astrology to determine the suitable location, colour and size of the Spirit House, the sizes can be from very small to a very large size, and the correct date and time to have the erection ceremony for it. A better place to erect the Spirit House is in front of a tree. The location of a spirit house are very important, it shouldn't be placed where the shadow of the building will fall on it. The colour of the Spirit House is also to be specified according to the birth date of the owner.
There are two common styles of Spirit House and you will often see them together, they are often side by side, one will stand taller than the other, the taller one stand with a center pillar, and the other standing with four pillars often has a Khmer architectural roof. They often have an offering table in front of the Spirit House, where the spirit was invited to live in the house with an elaborate and sacred ceremony, together with offerings of auspicious food and drink are placed. One of these which are practiced by every Thai is the Spirit House. Often a new Spirit House will be commissioned and installed before or at the start of the construction.
The purpose of the Spirit House is to provide an appealing shelter for the spirits, or any celestial beings, which otherwise reside in heaven. If everything has been set up properly. Brahman priest or Buddhist monk are engaged to elaborate ceremony to show respect to the Gods of Mother Earth when they have position the Spirit House. Votive offering are left on the offering table on a daily basic to soothe the spirits. The spirits are believed to live in the Spirit House assigned to them so that they don’t bother the inhabitants of the house.
Worship of the spirit, or animism, was a religion which existed in this world, when Buddhism came to Southeast Asia, it developed side by side with the ancient spirit religion. Today, many of the old animistic beliefs are intertwined with Buddhism and some of the animistic practices still exist in Thailand. These Spirit Houses are a place for the spirits to live after the land on which they used to dwell. The reason for this is to keep the spirits happy and keep them out of the owner house or establishment and to help them to bring them good luck and prosperity.
Although Thailand is a land of Buddhism as a predominant religion, their beliefs and traditions are rooted in Hinduism and animism. Thai people strongly believe in mysticism and the presence of spirits everywhere. They believe that there are all types of spirits around us – good, bad, mischievous and helpful spirits. According to Thai beliefs, each spirit has its own unique role to play and it cannot interfere in another spirit’s role. For example, to get a good harvest, you need to call the rice spirit. But it cannot provide protection to your house. For houses, you need to call the guardian spirit. To avoid upsetting the spirits and to ask them for protection, wealth, and prosperity, Spirit Houses are to be constructed.
Types of Spirit Houses - San Phra Phum – This Spirit House stands next to San Chao Tii and is erected a little higher. It tends to be more formal and impersonal. San Phra Phum is constructed for the guardian spirit – Phra Chai Mongkol. She represented by a gold-painted statue holding a sword in her right hand and holding a money bag in her left hand. Offerings are made to the spirits in exchange to watch over and protect the house, abundance, prosperity, wealth, good fortune and to fulfill many other wishes. Constructed of a thick center pillar, it resembles a Thai Buddhist temple often with a Khmer architectural roof. The single pillar represents Mount Meru or Mount Sumeru (Is at the center of the world). It is also believed that Mount Meru is the home of the Buddha Cakrasaṃvara.
San Phra Phum
San Chao Thi
San Chao Thi – This Spirit House has four pillars ground into the earth. Its inhabitants are the lords of the land who are represented by figurines of an old man and an old woman, called ’Da Yai’, which means ‘grandfather and grandmother’. Thai believed that the spirit may have lived here before, and invited them to live in the Spirit House and protecting them from the bad spirit to come to them without their permission. Figurines of servants, butlers, gatekeepers are there to take care of them. In addition to these, there you will see some figurines of elephants, horses, miniature cars, etc. That symbolizes the means of transport for the spirits. These Spirit Houses are built to pacify the spirits rather than revere them. Thai devotion is reserved for Buddha and the celestial beings.
Spirit House Graveyards
Most Thai people don't keep the previous owners Spirit House. They will have a new one to replace the previous one, and the previous shrine will be removed, the old Spirit Houses cannot merely be dumped. A ceremony just as auspicious as the installing or building of the Spirit House must arise. A Brahmin priest or Buddhist monk will decide on the correct date and time to transfer the spirit from the old Spirit House to the new one. After that, the old Spirit House can be discarded, and then laid to rest in a communal blessed Spirit House graveyard. Areas around holy trees can be used as graveyards for spirit houses in the belief that the tree’s protective power counteracts the negative energy of discarded dwellings.