Spirit Houses in Bangkok
If you've been to Bangkok, you've seen them. They're everywhere! Beside houses, offices, schools, car dealerships, construction sites, trees, demolished buildings, malls and even high-rise office towers - very little that sits still and points up in Bangkok escapes the company of a cute little spirit house. If you've spent some time near one, you'll also have seen locals giving them a deferential 'wai' before heading on their way, or delivering daily offerings at the doorways of these elaborate constructions - gifts of food, incense, flowers, figurines and candles.
An understanding of the spirit house demands firstly an understanding of how deeply superstitious and spiritual Thais are. Around 97% are Buddhist, but their supernatural inclinations are deeply entwined with Animism and Hinduism. Many elements of these distinct belief systems demand daily prayers and religious ceremonies in Thailand, and aside from the teachings of Lord Buddha, many Thais believe in local spirits, land gods, tree nymphs, wayward ghosts, 'nagas' (mythical water snakes) and Hindu deities, among many other kinds of celestials.
A new place to call home
They also believe just as strongly in their ability to affect their daily lives, and at no time is this truer than when a new home, business or hotel is built. When this happens, resident spirits can lose theirs, and if left homeless can turn nasty. Reports abound of accidents or bad luck afflicting those who fail to acknowledge the rights of the spirit world, too many Thais surefire proof of their ability to make mischief or deliver disaster (see Erawan Shrine for a famous example). Fortunately, a solution has evolved over millennia which - rather than calling in the Ghostbusters -involves pacifying these spirits by offering them a new place to call home.
This new home is the spirit house: a tiny building that resembles an ornate doll's house but in fact serves a very important function, both in Thai society and the greater cosmos. On one level it's a kind of spiritual home insurance policy, a four-walled investment to ensure the landowners and the inhabitants' future health, prosperity and happiness. Knowing they have pleased the spirits gives people confidence and comfort when going about their lives. On another, it also has a controlling effect on society. Many people don't dare to misbehave for fear of enraging guardian spirits, or worse, offending Lord Buddha.