I have mentioned spirit houses or San Phra Phum as they are called in Thai in a couple of previous blog posts but have never been closely involved with one. Well that was all about to change today.
Spirit houses are the mostly concrete but sometimes wooden structures often found in the corner of businesses and private houses in Thailand. They are often decorated with little figures, ornaments, flowers both real and plastic, food and drink.
A friend of ours called Mark, a student of Thai language at the university here, decided to buy one. He’s a Thai enthusiast and wanted to incorporate one into his garden so with the help of one of his Thai friends chose a modest structure from a warehouse sort of place just down the road from us on the 1001 in Maejo. For interest and quiz contests the ones with a single pedestal are for general spirits, the ones with four legs, such as the one shown in the photo above, are for family ancestors.
Like me Mark had assumed that spirit house philosophy was part of the Buddhist culture and so had asked another friend of his, a Buddhist monk, whether he would do a blessing ceremony on the house. The monk told him that this wasn’t the case. Buddhism doesn’t believe in spirits and the inauguration ceremony would have to be done by a Phor Pham – this is what he’s called in Isaan, Phu Jan in Northern and Central Thai. Luckily the monk knew of one, an ex-monk, and agreed to bring him along.
Mark was over for dinner at our place and told us that this was happening 7.00 am today and, despite the unholy hour of the morning for us retired people, I told him we definitely wanted to be part of this unusual experience.
Mark lives in a mostly Thai Moo Baan (village) about twenty minutes from us off the 118, which is the main road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
We were on the road at 6.30 this morning and had a super clear run to Mark’s place helped by the fact that today is a public holiday here either for May Day or Labour Day. Mark was providing breakfast, which for Thai’s means a full lunch type set-up, especially as monks were involved and I will explain that later.
The ceremony was supposed to start at 7.00 but being Thailand no one had turned up by then. I think we got started closer to 8.00 once the local taxi bus has arrived with two monks and the Phor Pham master of ceremonies. More food has appeared in the meantime and it looked like we were feeding the entire Moo Baan, rather than just handful of us.
The Phor Pham also brought additional material for the ceremony and an extra table was required to set it all out. We moved a desk from Mark’s teaching room into the garden and all was good to go.
Some of the ceremony items included the following:
These banana leaf baskets contained things like water, banana, sugar cane, a traditional cigarette made out of banana leaf, beetle nut, rice of course, cucumber, candles, a tea leaf bundle and a few other things. They were placed on this structure representing the four compass points plus the spirits above and below.
No ceremony would be complete without a bottle of Thai whisky:
As well as these more formal offerings there was also the food. All types were on display in case the spirits were fussy eaters.
Not to worry. The Thai’s are sensible too especially around the subject of eating. The food that was reusable here ended up going to one of the department’s at Chiang Mai university for what they call their “happy hour”, which is more to do with food and less to do with grog than Australia.
Everything in place the blessing ceremony itself got underway. Mark being the owner was up front and the Phor Pham started the super fast chanting process, which is done in a “dead” language called Pali, originating from Indian Buddhism, Wikipedia link HERE.
If you want to see and hear Pali being used in the ceremony then you will find this YouTube clip interesting:
A YouTube video of the San Phra Phum being decorated is available below:
The ceremony over, which took maybe 30 minutes it was time to eat. Because there were monks present they get to eat first and everyone else waits until they are finished. By tradition and following the Buddhist “rules” Monks only eat twice a day. They have a very early breakfast and then a main meal which has to be taken before 11.00 am. They can have liquids but no solid food for the rest of the day. These two monks were tucking it away and I understood why if that was it for the day.
Marks has a bird’s nest in one of his plants in the entranceway to the house. Very good luck according to Thais.
Between the bird’s nest and the new spirit house I expect to report on many blessings in Mark’s life shortly.
All done with everyone fed the monks and Phor Pham got onto their taxi bus driven by the dude and headed off as did we all shortly after.
If you are out this way you now have an idea of the effort that goes into those many spirit houses you will see everywhere in Thailand.
For the record Gaun won’t be having a San Phra Phum when we build. The thing is once you install one you then have to maintain it by feeding and watering the spirits on a regular basis plus all the special festival days of the year. The houses aren’t something you can just put in and forget. Thais really believe that sickness or other bad luck will happen if you don’t take care of your San Phra Phum. Gaun just can’t be bothered the lazy woman! I would but am just too busy with the blog and sleeping.
Thanks for reading.