USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘spirit house’
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Thai Spirit Houses

Not sure if it is a Buddhist thing or just a general thing, but a lot of Thai people have little miniature houses on a pole or a stick called spirit houses. The Thai belief is that every house or every dwelling has a spirit who inhibits the house, so the Thai people build a house which they keep outside in which the spirits may reside. It is where spirits live, usually right on the property in front of the house, and they give it food and water and take care of it so that the spirit of their house may be kept happy. This is also so that the spirit of their house may protect them from outside threats.

This tradition may also be found in an article by Michael Pearce, who writes about it in The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief in Volume 7, Issue 3, 2011.

Michael Pearce (2011) Accommodating the discarnate: thai spirit houses and the phenomenology of place, Material Religion, 7:3, 344-372, DOI: 10.2752/175183411X13172844495939

http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175183411X13172844495939

Background: I had first heard about the spirit houses from my mom, who did not know too much about them. But then she reached out to her aunt (my great aunt) and told me a little bit more about the tradition of keeping spirit houses, which can be seen all over in Thailand. This interview was conducted live; this story was given to me in person. I thought this was a really interesting combination of folk beliefs and folk objects — mainly a folk belief carried out through the implementation of a folk object. I really enjoyed hearing about this and how it really is believed in Thai culture and that is why so many people have spirit houses outside their own houses, apparently usually out front. This is also something my mom remembers really well from her childhood in Bangkok because she said that she would see them everywhere — in front of every house.

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Lesson from the Spirits

Uncle Albert was insensitive. I had just gotten a real Tag Heuer. We had just gotten there and I lost my watch. And I asked him if he had seen my watch and he did not know. This was in Phuket resort island. And so I was rooming with my brother, and your mom and dad were rooming together. This was our vacation, our return to Thailand, seventeen years since we left Thailand to move to Los Angeles. We vacationed in Phuket. And I was enjoying this day very much… my brother Albert was my roommate, and at this time Albert was 15 years old. He was very insensitive about the fact that I had misplaced my watch. As I prepared myself for a morning jog, I was searching for my watch, my expensive Tag Heuer watch which I purchased recently. I couldn’t find it, I kind of just nudged Albert who was asleep at the time and asked if he had seen the watch and if he could help me look for it. And I went outside running anyways for my morning exercise ritual. As I was enjoying my jog along the beach I was still a little bit upset about my missing watch. And how insensitive my brother was. Let’s see. As I ran past the spirit house in the hotel I just had a thought that maybe my brother should be taught a lesson of humility, empathy, and sensitivity. And then I continued on with my jog, returned to my hotel room and found my brother Albert startled because he had just had a horrible experience. He had pressing of his chest and he could not move. He claims it was sleep paralysis but I believed the spirit was teaching him a lesson just as I had thought earlier as I passed the hotel’s spirit house.

 

Background: I conducted this interview in person, live at my uncle’s house. This story is something my aunt experienced herself when she went back to Thailand for the first time after moving to the United States 17 years earlier. She was angry about her brother’s lack of sensitivity and wished that he would be punished for such, and she really believed that she inflicted some sort of lesson upon him from the spirits. I think this piece is actually very humorous, as it sounds like something I would wish upon my brother or sister if they were being insensitive – I would do the same thing probably out of anger and not expect anything to come of it, just like my aunt. I thought this piece was really interesting and also creepy, which makes for a great story.

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