Many households and businesses in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand have a shrine placed in a corner of their establishment. Some are simple in design while others literally look like miniature palaces. Contrary to what some people may believe, this is not a Buddhist tradition but rather one stemming from Animism before the arrival of Buddhism in the area.
Spirit houses are placed in the front corner of homes and business buildings because in Animism, it provides an ideal shelter for the celestial beings that would protect the establishment if given the proper respect. According to the belief’s oral history, the spirits are good or bad but usually mischievous more than anything else. The spirits demand utmost respect from humans or else disastrous interferences would happen. For example, if a person wishes to start a business or expand on his/her current one, the spirit can cause the business to be unsuccessful if the person does not inform or ask permission from the spirit.
Spirit houses may come in many different sizes and styles and can be made of wood, concrete or brick. At certain times the spirits are invited down only for special occasions and this is when temporary spirit houses are built. The style of the shrine depends on which spirit the home/business owner wishes to invite and how much money the person is willing to spend on the spirit house. For luck, people may place small statues, figurines or symbols in the spirit house, such as animals, furniture or a married couple. Surrounding the spirit house is a balcony where people can place incense stick, candles, flowers, food or drinks as offerings to the spirits.
Home/business owners will have to invite a medium for advice on when and where to position the spirit house, which are both determined through astrological calculations. The best days are usually on Wednesday or Thursday during the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th or 11th waxing or waning moons. Most mediums suggest the spirit house be placed on the north side of the establishment and not under the shadow of the building. Once a site has been determined, the home/business owner will choose between nine types of ‘lucky woods’ to use as a foundation for the shrine. Each of these woods symbolizes different aspects the owner may yearn from the shrine and spirit such as wealth, protection, luck or happiness.
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