In the 3 years that I have now lived in Thailand, I have learned a lot about Thai Spirit Houses, and worship, in fact we have a Thai Spirit House in our garden.
Spirit Worship is as old as time, practiced since the beginning of man. Almost every Thai house, business or government establishment will have a Spirit House.
Spirit Worship or Animism was originally a religion by which the whole world lived. Today, many of the animistic beliefs are intertwined with the Buddhist religion. Spirit houses will always be in a prominent position, on a pedestal usually in the front or front corner of the property. They are built similar to a Thai Temple, but can be a basic shelter or like a lavish palace. They usually have a considerable amount of Gold decoration.
The purpose of the Spirit House is to provide shelter for celestial beings or spirits who would otherwise live in heaven. Spirits, according to folk law, are either good or evil but most are finicky or mischievous demanding the respect of humans and capable of undesired effects if they are upset or do not get their way. If you want to start a business, and the spirit is not consulted, your business will surely fail. Only expert Spirit House builders are considered to be suitable people to construct a Spirit House, and perform the necessary rituals to install it. These consist of prayers, burning of incense, placing certain consecrated objects in the foundation, providing food, drink, fruit, alcohol and cigarettes for the Spirit at the time of final installation. The Spirit house will be adorned with; A bed for the spirit, animal and human figures, flowers, garlands, ribbons, candles, water, other drinks (a bottle of Red Fanta seems to be quite popular, but you must add a straw or the Spirit will not be able to drink it) and other symbols. There will often be a ladder to the floor or to a table with food and drink on it so that the spirits can climb up and down to the Spirit House. A lot of work goes into the placing of the spirit house, often they are built on elaborate plinths, with ceramic tiles, stainless steel corner posts and chain, and other adornments. Some houses or businesses will have more than one Spirit House, particularly if they believe that more than one spirit is watching over their home.
The Spirit becomes the Guardian of The House that watches over the occupants. Some Thai’s will pray to the Spirit every morning or evening and light incense sticks, others will only do so occasionally or on special occasions. There are some very famous Spirit Houses such as Chiang Mai City Pillar which is large enough to walk into. People will come here to ask for help, but in return a promise of future offering is required in the event that the task they requested help with is successful. For example, my wife prayed to a particular Spirit at a Thai Temple to help her get her visa for the UK. Astonishingly the visa application went much easier then most others had described to us, and without the usual interview. In return the promise to the Spirit had to be fulfilled, and we returned to present the Spirit with 100 hard boiled eggs, which after presenting to the Spirit we could take away, but not eat ourselves. We were, however, allowed to give them to others, particularly those less fortunate.
When a Spirit House is replaced there has to be a ceremony to transfer the Spirit from the old house to the new one. The old Spirit House is then discarded, usually near a temple, or where other Spirit Houses have been discarded. It is commonplace to see a pile of discarded Spirit Houses.