Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Animism Rules Okay!
One of the chapters in my new book, MY THAI GIRL AND I tells the story of how we set up a spirit house for the spirits of the place and of the ancestors to live in. So that they do not come into our new home and disturb us, we have to make a house for them and provide occasional offerings of water and food.
It fascinates me how older animist beliefs coexist happily with Buddhism, the philosophy on which Thai society is said to be based. One of the themes of another of my chapters is how very strong the belief in the spirits still is and how intermingled with the rites and practices of village Buddhism. Which leads me to ask a provocative question.
Are the beliefs of rural Thais primarily animist with a garnish of Buddhist ritual sprinkled on top?
Concrete spirit houses that look like tiny Thai temples can be bought at builders’ merchants everywhere and are consecrated with a short ceremony conducted by the family at home. Ours we brought back in the jeep from a few miles down the road and it was a major job setting it up as it weighed a ton.
I’ve often wondered what happens to so many of these substantial spirit houses when they are broken or no longer needed and I’ve recently found out.
Along the side of the road you sometimes see a chaotic jumble of spirit houses where they’ve been abandoned by their owners. They seem to retain a residual sanctity though and demand respect but to what extent I’m not sure.
Sometimes at dangerous points beside a road there are similar concrete shrines but these may mark a point where someone has died. I’m not sure how to tell the difference though and there’s one striking example on a road in Koh Chang along the side of the mountain. Many must have been killed on this crazy stretch of road, but equally this could be an auspicious place where spirit houses have been laid to rest.
Many of the spirit houses there are still in good condition and I’m very taken by the tiny granny and granddad figures that embody the spirits of the dead. Nobody will steal them though because if they did something terrible would befall them.
The spirits seem to be powerful and ever present. They really command respect.
Copyright Andrew Hicks The 'Thai Girl' Blog.