These are little houses on pedestals, ranging from simple wooden domiciles to elaborate glory-days-of -Ayuttayah- Khmer-spired manor houses, that are meant for spirits that were displaced in the construction of the human home, so they will be happy and content and won't trouble the people who have taken over their space.
At first I thought this was a charming idea and a pretty custom. I happily bought garlands of jasmine and roses to drape on the little structure but without any feeling behind the gesture. Then I moved into a house that had two spirit houses--one of dazzling white concrete, one small and lovely and made of wood. As part of the moving-in process, I cleaned the little houses and gave each one its own elephant as a housewarming gift. When Jessia arrived, she took over the duties of providing the spirits with what they might need, and I contributed the occasional garland. Then the baht plunged and the economy began to disintegrate.
Money was tight to the point of almost being a mythical substance. One morning I found myself with two baht to my name, which wasn't enough to buy the three baht cupcake that often was my breakfast. So, in a whimsical mood, I put one baht on the threshold of each of the spirit houses and asked them to do what they could about this miserable situation.
Within a couple of hours, Rodney came home with an unexpected sum from a class that had just signed up for English lessons, and I took part of my windfall and bought the spirit houses very elaborate garlands as thanks.
This happened several times, this two baht crisis, and each time it did I turned to the spirit houses, and each time they came through with enough money to keep me going. My friend Usa, who worked in our nearby office, began to do the same thing with the same results.
"I don't believe in God but I believe in the spirit houses," I said to Usa one morning, who responded, "Me too."
This is why I feel bereft without a spirit house in my new home. I've always believed that trees are sentient beings with spirits at their core--my mother taught me that when she would weep at the destruction of trees for no reason in Alaska's changing wilderness. And the trees that surround my Bangkok home bear mute testimony to the ones that were removed to make space for our house.
There are spirit houses for sale on our soi and choosing one to bring home would be an easy matter. But it can't just be plunked down in any old spot--I know from conversations with students in the past that the right corner must be carefully and knowledgeably chosen and a ceremony observed. And what that is I have no idea--but the act of finding out and learning a little more is why I live in Bangkok. And once I do, this house will have a residence for the spirits and perhaps everybody--the seen and the unseen-- will sleep a little better.