Spirit Houses of Thailand

Featured Image by Chainwit

(I thought I had done a Post about this subject but I can’t find it although I had the word part in my folder, so here it is, and I hope it’s not the second time).

It’s rush hour in Bangkok and the noise from the klaxons of the grid-locked traffic is deafening.   Under the impassive gaze of the police, vendors erect their stalls for the illegal evening street market, laying out the fake Rolexes, the Versace tee shirts and the Calvin Klein jeans.   On the narrow pavements all is hustle and bustle as tourists browse and stall-holders finger their calculators in readiness for the haggling.

There are pockets of quiet though.  On islands in the middle of the road, on forecourts of the hotels, banks and shops that line the streets, people are quietly praying, their heads bowed and hands joined before what appear to be pagoda-roofed miniature dolls’ houses perched on top of posts.   But these are not dolls’ houses, these are spirit houses, shrines to the spirits of the land on which they are built, and the people really are praying in the midst of the mayhem that is often found in cities and towns in Thailand.

Worshipers at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok (Copyright; Ninary from Helsinki. https://creativecommons.org/licences/by-2/0)

            One of that country’s most endearing symbols, these shrines fascinate and baffle the first-time visitor to the Kingdom who has read that 98% of Thais are Buddhists.  The gentle tolerance that typifies the Thais however, allows for compatibility of many beliefs, and a belief in the spirits finds easy acceptance among virtually all Thais.    

            Every dwelling, whether private or public, has its spirit house, situated where the shadow of the main house doesn’t fall upon it.  The spot will have been chosen in consultation with an astrologer and in design it will resemble a miniature temple, sometimes painted red and gold, sometimes in plain wood and sometimes plain, dazzling white – public buildings seem to favour white alabaster or marble – and it will be high above the ground to show respect to the spirits who reside in it, but low enough for offerings to be made to them.

            When the shrine is first erected, a house-warming party is held for the spirits, who are invited to move in, the host spending as much money on the party as he can afford in order to do honour to the spirits.  If any misfortune should subsequently befall the house – a robbery, a fire, or a spouse running away, it would be a sure sign that the owner had skimped on the house-warming!   

            Servants will be represented by tiny terracotta or wooden figures placed inside the shrine as well as carved wooden elephants to transport the spirits should they wish to go visiting.   Family spirits are usually housed indoors, but spirits of the land and the highly respected spirits of rice, water, trees and wind always live outside, working within an inviolable division of labour.

Most spirits are benevolent, but some are mischievous and some can be downright dangerous: they are always unpredictable.  Some are restless and troublesome – the spirits of those who have died violently (the Phi Tai Hong) or those who have died in childbirth and who spend their time searching for another body to inhabit (the Phi Tai Tong Klom), and there are some so dangerous that they must be bribed to stay out of the house.  Fortunately, they respond to bribery.

            This can take the form of offering extra special food, walking a number of times round the shrine, or in some cases, if the owners of the property on which the shrine stands fears a personal attack from the spirits, they may wear their clothes inside out for a week or two and change their name in order to confuse them. 

            Offerings are chosen to suit individual spirits.  In the South of Thailand where Islam moved steadily down the coast from Malaysia, the spirits that inhabit the land may be Muslim and the dietary rules that forbid the offering of pork and alcohol must be strictly adhered to.  Others are known to be partial to the odd glass of beer or whiskey and there is a famous roadside shrine just outside the village of Cha’am in Petchaburi province where, it is rumoured, a daily offering of marijuana is left for the spirits.

            At festivals it is usual to offer elaborate meals consisting of whole chickens, coconuts, honeycombs and other delicacies, as a thank you for past favours received, or to secure a favour, a win on the lottery, a new job, recovery from illness, a new wife or husband or even a partner for the night. There is no limit to the kind of request that can be made.  Bribes are frequently offered and being a pragmatic race the Thais, as often as not, withhold part of the bribe until the request is fulfilled.

            The offerings are placed on the small ledge in front of the shrine, like a mini altar.  The food may be eaten by the birds or it may blow away, but if say, a chicken or duck were offered, then this is sometimes removed and given to needy people in the area.  The merit lies in the giving.

            Some shrines are credited with miraculous powers, like the famous Erawan complex of spirit houses next to the hotel of the same name in the heart of downtown Bangkok (see header picture).   Stalls selling candles, joss-sticks, carved elephants and lotus flowers ring the central shrine, and a professional group of dancers and musicians in the sparkling costumes of old Siam can be hired to sing and dance for the spirits.

         There are no hard and fast rules, but when making offerings there are three essentials – water, rice, and joss sticks – and there are a couple of basic things to remember.  Do not offer food left over from a meal, or a piece of chocolate hastily broken off as a token.  Everything must be specifically for the spirits: don’t even smell the flowers if you’ve bought them as offerings.

This shrine with the elaborate roof and carved frontage was one I saw in Chiang Rai.

            The Thais are not possessive of their spirits.  Before travelling onwards, you will often find yourself invited to join them in making offerings for your safe journey.  Whichever method of travel you choose, at the point of departure you will find spirit houses and at Bangkok’s International Airport, where the noses of all planes in Thai Airways fleet have been blessed by the Supreme Patriarch, you can calm yourself before take-off by visiting the spirit house by the runway.

            Just follow the Thai pilots, they never fly without first visiting a spirit house. 

These two very plain looking spirit houses are in the grounds of the Old Royal Palace at Hua Hin.

Header Image of People Praying at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok is copyright of Chingwit https/creativecommons.org/licences/by-sa/4.0

Life in Colour: Orange

Linked to Life in Colour at Jude’s here

A few more oranges before the month is out.

This first one is a hard-hat day. On holiday with Thai friends in Hua Hin, Thailand, I was shown around the site for the new Conference Hall at the Hotel Dusit Thani and then stayed on for the ceremony to appease the land spirits who had been disturbed by the building work.

Inspecting the site for the new Conference Hall at Hotel Dusit Thani, Hua Hin with GM Khun Victor Sukseree

In contrast we have here some lovely Koi at feeding time as one can guess from the fact that they are all swimming in the same direction, towards the food.

A Koi Pond at Feeding Time

Eton -More than a College

There are few people who have never heard of Eton College but the town itself is less well-known as it sits in the shadow of its nearby sister town of Windsor.  Situated just across the river from the Royal Borough and accessed via a pedestrian footbridge, the town of Eton, a settlement since at least Saxon times, has a rich and diverse heritage.

Eton College

The mile-long High Street leading down to Eton College has remained unchanged for many years but the name has always been Eton, or Eyot-tun, meaning ‘settlement on an island’.  In the 1086 Domesday Book, the town is listed as ‘Ettone’, with two mills, a meadow, woodland and fisheries and it was concentrated on the higher land.  Many royal processions have made their way along the High Street, most notably the funeral procession of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, in 1537.  

This elegant little town is an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary retail outlets catering to its local population and a year-round tourist trade, with high-end gift shops, antiques and modern art establishments sitting alongside shops selling traditional medicines and complementary beauty therapies.   The traditional shop fronts and the boys in their traditional school dress (often seen around town) give a sense of stepping back in time.

The Thames has always been important to the town which initially flourished due to fish farming, and goods into and out of Eton were conveyed by barge – including the stones used to build Eton College Chapel.

Connected by the footbridge from Windsor, Eton has an importance of its own, and the Eton Walkway, a 2-mile/one-hour circular walk, connecting 18 points of interest in the town starting at Windsor Bridge is the perfect way to find out about the historical importance of the town.  This walk is marked out by permanent, bronze, lozenge-like symbols set in the ground to identify the route, the 18 shields marking: The King’s Stables, the Cockpit, Porny School, Baldwin’s Bridge, Eton College, the Burning Bush, Eton Wall Game at the Timbralls, Skinners’ Bridge, Herschel Observatory, the Gormley Statue, Keate House, the Natural History Museum, Museum of Antiquities, St John’s Church, Jubilee Square, the Brocas and Eton Boat House.  Information on each point of significance is included on the Outdoor Guide website

It’s impossible to speak of Eton without reference to Eton College which occupies the whole of Eton north of Barnes Pool bridge and is second only to Winchester as the oldest public school in England.   The College was founded by Henry VI in 1440, modelled on Winchester which had been founded by William of Wykeham, and Henry decreed that there were to be 70 King’s Scholars, who were to be educated for free and housed in the College. Outside the College, so-called Oppidans were lodged in the town and received the same education. Originally the houses were run by Dames, but more recently they have been run by House Masters. Today there are 24 boarding houses for Oppidans and over 1,300 boys in all.

The College looks after thousands of historic, artistic and natural objects, and welcomes visitors to its Museum of Eton Life, Museum of Antiquities and its Natural History Museum, which are open to the public free of charge on Sunday afternoons between 2:30pm and 5pm. 

So if you are in Windsor and find yourself with an hour or two to spare, just walk across the bridge into another world where time seems to have stood still. The shop-fronts look almost Dickensian but in Eton they are cleaner than those depicted in any of Dickens’ books – this is one of the cleanest towns I have ever visited. You will be amused by the items for sale in some of the shops, the old-school tailors, the haberdashery, even a sweet shop selling long forgotten sweets from jars.

And when you’ve had enough, just stroll back across the bridge into the real world again. Or nearly. It is, after all, the Royal Borough of Windsor.

Life in Colour – Orange

Linked to Life in Colour at Jude’s here

Just a couple more orange pictures. My dwarf climbing rose is just about to give up the ghost for this year but I managed to take this picture a couple of weeks ago when the Indian Summer we are having persuaded it to give out a few more blooms. They all came together which is unusual at this time of year.

Dwarf Climbing Rose

There have been lots of terracotta pictures from people which reminded me of the market in Valencia where I always buy some cooking dishes, easily broken by someone as clumsy as me, but I love just having them on the worktops as they remind me of sunshine.

Pottery for sale – Valencia Market, Spain

Linked to Life in Colour at Jude’s here

CESENATICO AND THE LEONARDO DA VINCI CANAL

Some comments on a recent photograph makes me think that a re-posting of this blogpost might be useful.

MARI'S TRAVELS WITH HER CAMERA

Leonardo da Vinci Canal

For years now I’ve been totally in love with the region of Emilio-Romagna in Italy, mostly, I admit, because of its food, but my first flirtation with the area came when I visited Cesenatico. It was here that I discovered that the canal that runs through the centre of the town, was designed by Leonardo da Vinci and I was immediately charmed. That the genius who produced so much art could also put his mind to something so mundane, seemed so wonderful. Is there nothing he didn’t design? How had it escaped me?

Canal and Port

Cesenatico has been a popular seaside resort for Italian visitors since the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until the end of the Second World War when people began to seek pleasure in sandy beaches and sun that its tourist trade really took off : Cesenatico’s beaches stretch for over…

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