One of the first things I noticed on our drive from Chiang Mai airport was that nearly every store, home and institution has at least one miniature house in its garden or entry.
These spirit houses are a representation of the Thai people’s belief in animism, or spirit worship, which is generally practiced in tandem with Thai Buddhism. Thai people believe that, by offering a home, humans show respect to the various spirits that surround us.
It has been uplifting to leave a society that is generally turning away from religion and spiritual connections and immerse the family in a culture that is still strongly tied to the belief that humans are only one part of a larger spiritual universe.
Just as there are all types of houses for all types of people, different spirits also have different spirit houses. The two main types of spirit houses are those for the guardian of the land and those for the guardian of the home.
The guardian of the land includes separate spirits for gardens, and spirit protectors for rice fields, stairwells, animals, barns, forests, mountains, temples, waters and defense.
The guardian of the house protects the home. I have been told that this spirit house is also for the ancestral spirits that belonged to the house or lived on the land. Many Thai people provide a daily offering of incense, food, or orange Fanta (supposedly spirits in Chiang Mai love orange Fanta). The guardian of the house also helps in business matters, and most businesses, including our apartment complex, have a spirit house for the these spirits.
We have seen all sizes and types of spirit houses, from simple wooden structures to ornate mini-mansions. They are almost universally well tended to and stocked with flowers, incense and treats.
I would love to bring a spirit house for the guardian of our home back to New York City, but even the smallest one will take up half our foyer. I wonder what Thai people in New York City apartments do…