The Guide to Spirit Houses
Choosing a Spirit house
If done properly, a landowner looking to erect a spirit house must consult the services of a priest, usually a Brahman, sometimes a Buddhist monk. Finding the right kind of spirit house suitable for the job is very intimately connected to the landowner, or, rather, their astrological chart. A priest will consult their horoscope, using it to calculate everything from the time and day the erection ceremony should take place, to the colour of the spirit house.
Next find an auspicious place to put it. There are many rules about where a spirit house should and shouldn't go, and getting it right is very important. In Bangkok, urban planning sees influential spirits, not tenants getting the most prominent spots. A priest's advice may even lead to the architect's designs being altered.
Here Are a Few Pointers:
- It is good if it can be placed in front of a tree
- It should not be on the left side of a door
- If there's a Buddha room in the building, the spirit house should be in line with it
- It should not face a toilet or a road
- It's lucky if it points north or northeast
- It should not be in the shadow of the house
In a built-up city like Bangkok, it's difficult to satisfy all these rules. Areas like Silom Road, for example, where there is very little sunlight, create an urban dilemma for spirit house planners: where do you go? The solution - head to the roof - shows how the serious business of placing a spirit house is about finding the most auspicious location possible given the circumstances. Fingers crossed the spirits find it!
Raising the Stakes
Each priest has his own quirks and elaborate rituals, but all will have a sacred erection ceremony. It's such an event that it's not only a local draw but also a cosmic one. However, while family, friends and relatives of the landowner attend without coercion, for invisibles - everyone from angels, gods, house gods, 'nagas', guardian spirits to ancestor spirits - more effort needs to be made with invitations.
Once the chosen date arrives, this effort usually begins at an auspicious time of 05:52.32, when an inviting feast of colourful, auspicious foods is laid out. The ceremony begins proper with the land buying ritual, the priest summoning and paying respect to the Goddess of the Earth, Mae Thorani. She in return clears away negativity from the land. To remove any curses on the land the priest then infuses the hole for the pillar with goodness, placing nine lucky leaves, flowers and stakes of lucky Lanna-inscripted wood inside it to drive out evil spirits. A matrix of geometric figures and nine gemstones, each one relating to the astrological planets is also dropped in.
How It All Comes Together
After some priestly chanting, the gathered audience help erect it. This done, he calls in the angels, as well as all other witnesses from different realms, recites another chant before invoking all the summoned energy signatures into a statue of the Hindu angel Phra Chai Monkon. Known for guarding businesses and homes, this figure holds a money bag and sword and can be seen in most 'San Phra Phooms'. Once the spirit world's energy has been directed into the statue, gold leaf is placed on top of it, and the landowner - and only they - reaches inside to place the statue inside the spirit house. Then they offer attendants, flowers and tie multi-coloured cloth around it.
Next up is the 'San Jao Tii'. In a briefer, more literal ceremony, the priest invokes the landgods, saying prayers that communicate their wish to honour them. Statues of the old couple that represent the land spirits are placed inside. Finally, incense is placed in every dish on the table, the priest chants for 30 minutes, before giving a sprinkling of holy water to each spirit house. The job is done: the spirits have a new place to call home.
Look After Your Neighbours
Once the spirit house is erected, the landowner's job is by no means over. If it's to be happy families with their elusive neighbours, they need to be aware of the daily duties that come with having one.
More than anything this involves keeping it as enticing and eye-catching as possible, more splendid than the bigger, usually uglier real thing. To do so, landowners and associates bring incense, candles, food and garlands of flowers regularly, daily if possible. To keep spirits occupied, tiny figurines of men and women are placed inside to serve as their playthings, models of horses and elephants their transport. In line with the modern face of Bangkok, more modern-day (and faster) modes of transport may also be offered, toy cars and plastic jet planes parked incongruously outside. Lines of flashing electric lights may also be stylishly draped around it to give it modern pizzazz; that and to catch the eyes of resident spirits on their way home after a night on the town.
The Death of a Spirit House
Removing a spirit house is to be avoided. Spirits are tenants that would be very unwise and possibly bad for your health to evict! Where possible, new landowners leave an old spirit house intact and build a new one alongside it (incidentally it's not uncommon to see a demolition site where all that remains is a solitary spirit house). However, if it really must go, a ceremony just as auspicious as the one marking its birth needs to take place. A Brahmin priest or Buddhist monk will determine the right date and time for its removal. Then, and only then, can a spirit house make its funeral march to its final resting place - a designated and blessed spirit house graveyard. If in death it doesn't rest in peace, the landowner is thought doomed to find none in life.