Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Need of a Spirit House

I was travelling in Thailand with friends. We noticed that many houses had a small pagoda on a platform outside of the house, and we asked what it was. We were told that it was a "spirit house", a shrine where spirits could live so that they wouldn't bother the people who lived in the actual house.

While we were travelling, we stayed at the home of a British ex-patriot who owned several houses and cabins on a piece of property. Unlike the Thai homes that we had seen, his property did not have a spirit house. We thought that this was interesting, but didn't make anything of it.

The first night that we were there, I was laying in bed with my friend Dawn. We heard the dog growling outside, so I got up to see what he was growling at. When I opened the door and looked to where he was growling, I say nothing. He continued to growl for a little while, maybe five minutes, and then whimpered and took off. I thought this was strange, but didn't make anything of it.

I went back to bed, and picked up the book I was reading. Then I started to hear the movement of the hammocks that had been strung up ont he patio, and heard some other noises I couldn't identify. After a few seconds of this, the lights turned off - and these lights were controlled by an old-fashioned switch, one that took some real force to turn off.

Maybe the owner should have set up a spirit house.

Commentary: This story came from a coworker who had spent a considerable amount of time travelling in Asia.

The belief in household spirits, whether conceived as the ghosts of the ancestors, the household gods (such as in ancient Rome), or as the spirits of nature is common across many cultures and across time. Religions and folklore that attest to the existence and importance of these beings ranges from ancient Rome to modern Asia, and appears to have been a strong element in many ancient versions of modern religions.

The measures necessary to appease or curry favor with these spirits likewise varies across time and space. In some cultures, it is necessary to give them their own dwelling place and make offerings. In others, veneration through prayer is necessary. Regardless, in most of these places, stories about what happens to those who fail to make proper respects indicate that the spirits will act malevolently, whether through acts of mischief and nuisance, or through more sinister actions including injury and death.

Sources: Personal Account

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