Monday, August 25, 2008

Spirit Houses

Nearly all of the hotels and shops I’ve gone past have little spirit houses on some corner of the property. Apparently this is where the spirits of the land or former inhabitants of the place live. They’re really pretty little statues and the people who live in the particular place offer food, flowers & incense to the spirits to keep them happy and content. I guess the idea is, keep them nice and happy in their own home so they don’t haunt you in yours! In any case, it’s just cool to walk by and see all these little houses decked out. Because seriously – they’re everywhere. The restaurant I was in tonight had a little alter – covered with blinking Christmas lights, there was an offering of fruit in front of it. All along the street you’ll see little alters or spirit houses with a glass of water (vodka?) set out by some incense, a little fruit or flowers. At the 7/11 they set out a bottle of soda with a straw (they drink everything with a straw here). And the couple of times I've gone out early in the morning I see people making offerings, showing respect, to the spirit houses. It just reinforces to me how spiritual the Thai people are... or rather how their spirituality & rituals inform their everyday life.

When I was at the SF airport I picked up a book for my flight – Lisa See’s Peony In Love. I didn’t read much of it on the plane, but I read a fair bit at the airport and I’m in the final chapter now. The story is set in China in the 17th century, just after the Ming Dynasty fell and the Manchus took power… I’m not sure why I mentioned that… because seriously, how many of you are up on the order of the Chinese Dynasties? (total aside here… despite the fact that the Olympics are on just about every TV I’ve passed here, I haven’t actually gotten to sit down and watch a single event. I’m sad – I LOVE the Olympics!) Anyway much of the novel is narrated by a ghost and it’s really interesting because she talks about how the ancestor ghosts are fed by the food left on their alters, and what happens when the ghosts are not fed or properly tended in the afterlife. I know China and Thailand are different… but there are clearly some cultural overlaps and it’s just interesting to be reading this book while actually sitting next to an alter like that.

All of my Grandparents have passed away now… and the only physical reminders I have of any of them is my father’s mother’s knitting needles… and she’s the grandmother who died before I was even born. They’re all buried … well, clearly far from here… but not even close to where I used to live – back in New Jersey & South Carolina. I was not especially close to any of them after my family moved to CA… but still, it would be nice to have some kind of link with them… some way of acknowleding their influence on my life. I didn’t just come from nothing after all. It’s something I’m going to think about while I’m here.

* editing to say that when I was at the Night Market I was thinking about spirit houses and that there might be another spirit floating around me needing a home. I found an absolutely adorable carved cat and thought of Sally. It had one of it's paws up like the good-for-business cats you see at Chinese restaurants - very fat and happy. I haggled, but I'm sure overpaid. Then of course a few stalls down I saw a cat carving that was *actually* like Sally - curled up in a ball sleeping! I mean, Sally was not the playful, cheerful cat, and wouldn't have her paw in the air unless she was attempting to scratch someone's face off. =P So I got the curled up cat and a hand crochetted doily for her to sleep on. I'm sure I spent too much on it - which is fairly in keeping with Sally when she was alive. I added a couple of her hairs from one of my shirts (I think I'll be finding those for *years*) and put her name tag there. I don't plan on making any offerings of food or anything since she ate more than enough in this life to last through the spirit world! But I will give her a little scratch behind the ears now and then to keep her happy. The last thing I need is Sally haunting me the rest of my life.


Magatha said...

I did not know about Sally until just this minute. I guess I missed something this summer.
I don't know about spirit houses and not being haunted. I still dream about my chilhood cat and my mother. said...

Beautiful! it's always amazing to me where and when "spirit" finds me.

Bezzie said...

The Eklutna tribe back home does something similar. But it's a meld of their own beliefs mixed with a dash of Russian Orthodox where they make the same type of houses--but they're confined to the cemetery.

Ah sweet Sally. She'd never haunt you, well unless like you said, she was hungry ;-)

Karin said...

Now every day is Caturday.

Doug Anderson said...

Thai houses and spirit houses have pointy bits at the corners so that the ghosts and spirits cannot sit on the corners and jump down on you. Apparently, ghosts like elevated corners.

This is true in other Asian cultures as well, including Japanese and Chinese.