Spirit Houses and Red Fanta
Red Fanta is a magical beverage that comes in a little glass bottle and tastes like liquid rubies. When in Thailand you cannot eat Som Tam, Pad Ka Prow, or oyster omelette without a chilled bottle of Red Fanta to dull the pain rushing to your brain. The 7-11’s and minimarts have enough Red Fanta for everyone, even for the ghosts that dwell in the spirit houses all over the country.
In front of every family home, every business and every building in all of Thailand, there is a spirit house placed on the left side of the property. These special houses are made of wood, cement, ceramic and even sculpted glass. The ceramic and plaster ones are usually painted all different colors or left stark white, and the wooden ones are made of teak. Most of the time the spirit houses are placed on elevated tables. A little ladder is set up for the smaller ghosts to climb up.
Whenever any kind of building is constructed, there has to be a spirit house set up in order to shelter and appease the spirits that live on that land. Spirit houses come in all sizes and resemble temples or traditional Thai houses and temples. Family houses have small spirit houses, apartment buildings have medium ones and hospitals have huge ones! Inside and around the spirit house there are figurines of people, ceremonial dancers, animals.
The spirit houses are surrounded by offerings of fruit, flowers, candles and incense, but the most special is red strawberry Fanta! When you eat spicy Thai food, red Fanta cuts that fire down to nothing; maybe the spirits like that too. It is also quite common to see spirit houses surrounded by animal figurines left as offerings such as zebras and giraffes.
Thai Ghosts and Spirits
Typically, the spirit houses are for the earth spirits that live on that particular piece of land and for any humans that might have died in the vicinity. Every morning the people that live or work in the area leave an offering of food or flowers and a reverential Wai to appease the spirits and keep them happy. Thais believe that spirits can be good, evil, violent or mischievous. By giving them food, flowers and red fanta, the ghosts will be content and not be bothersome; they will rather protect the living who take care of their little houses.
Thais are Buddhist and Animistic, meaning that they worship spirits, and believe in all sorts of ghosts, which they call “Phi”; these are not only ghosts of dead humans but also the spirits of living things like plants and trees. Thai ghosts, or “phi” have different personalities and stories associated with them. The spirit houses are decorated specially for specific spirits and their preferences. For example, spirit houses are not only found next to buildings, houses and stores; they are also found in fields and forests because there are ghosts and spirits there too.
While we were in Bangkok, a Peruvian friend was living in an Artist Community outside the city. One day we were talking about spirit houses and she told me about a resident artist that had totally flipped started stealing them! He eventually had about 40 different spirit houses piled up in the garden of the studio. I wonder how many spirits he angered by doing that!
The Thai workers in the residence became quite worried about what the artist had done; they were scared because some ghosts can be quite cheeky. A group of artists and workers managed to return some of them but others had to be put to rest. A ritual was made for forgiveness and many red fantas were given as gifts.
We love Spirit Houses too
We spent a year in Bangkok, always finding different and special spirit houses. My favorites were the ones under the trees that looked old and full of stories. Our son really enjoyed finding the modern glass ones with three headed golden figurines.
When we left Bangkok for Phuket I finally saw the marvelous spirit house cemeteries under trees and on mountain tops. The ground under the trees was littered with broken houses in different states of disrepair. In an easy to reach spot was a new spirit house where visitors leave offerings for the fallen spirits.