Every Thai property — be it a humble hut or a giant mansion, a bank, a disco, a brothel, a farm, or even a rubber plantation up in the mountains — has a Spirit House somewhere on the compound. The Thais are an incredibly devout and superstitious people, and big believers in not only good and bad spirits but also ghosts. A Spirit House, as the name implies, provides a place for these spirits to stay, and people give offerings, usually in the form of food (fruit, bowl of rice, etc), a drink (often alcoholic), and light some incense. Spirit houses are everywhere, and a property without one is very bad joss indeed.
This is precisely why I was so surprised the other day to come across what looked like a Spirit House Graveyard. Right behind the Samui International Airport is a road that runs straight for a few minutes, and all along one side of the road there are hundreds of spirit houses that appear to have been unceremoniously dumped and left to rot.
So I did a little research, and found out that in fact this is quite normal. According to the website Chiangmai and Chiangrai,
“Many people have asked about what happens to old spirit houses. When changes dictate that a new spirit house be created, a ceremony will be held to transfer the spirit from the old spirit house to the new. After that, the old spirit house can be discarded. Many are discarded near a temple or wat, but usually at a place where other spirit houses have been discarded. So it is common to see many old spirit houses jumbled together.”
Well, when in Rome, I guess. I thought that tossing away a spirit house like that would be the equivalent to throwing away a crucifix or your country’s flag or something like that but it seems to be no big deal. But I suppose there are so many things about Thai culture that an outsider would not understand, unless perhaps you live here for a long time. Each country has such different rules about what is acceptable and what is a big no-no. The trick, I suppose, is to keep not only your eyes and ears open, but also your mind.