Cultural Insights: Ghosts and Spirits

We have touched on the subject of spirits briefly in our first post about cultural insights, but today we want to talk a little more about the animistic beliefs in Thailand. Despite being mainly influenced by the Buddhist religion, the belief in spirits and ghosts (known as Phi) never left the minds and hearts of the local people. It is said that spirits reside everywhere around us; may it be in rocks, trees, the wind, the rice, the threshold of houses – there is no place, where they can’t be found. A good example, where you can “find” a spirit is when you see a tree with colorful cloth wrapped around it. This is a sign that a ghost resides in it. 

When we hear about spirits or ghosts, we usually think that they are bad, thanks to horror movies and books. This is partially true in animism, but spirits come in all kinds of characteristics and not just good or bad. Some can be loyal or treacherous, benevolent or malevolent, hateful or kind – the list of ghosts, each with their individual story, is long. So, how do the Thais live with their immaterial fellow neighbors? In order to live in peaceful harmony with the spirits, people build so-called spirit houses, where the ethereal beings can rest. You will find those miniature houses everywhere around Thailand like in hotels, parks, households, shops, sanctuaries and temples. A monk from the local temple needs to visit each location in order to find the best possible spot for a new spirit house.

Daily offerings to the spirits need to be made as well in the form of food and beverages. Strawberry fantas are commonly found in all places for reasons that don’t seem to be completely clear-cut. Some say it’s because of its red color that replaces the ancient blood offering, others deny this popular theory and say it’s simply a tradition. Whatever the truth is, you can be certain to come across hundreds of those sugary bottles. 

The main reason for the offerings is to appease the spirits. Happy spirits create happy households and thus, everyone can live in perfect harmony. If on the other someone forgets to make their daily offerings, then this person is asking for trouble. For example, when someone is involved in a traffic accident, then this can be seen as a sign that the spirits were not happy and need to be appeased. The worst case scenario is a haunting; something that we’ve seen in many horror movies to some extent. When this happens, a witch doctor needs to be called to perform an exorcism in order to purify the haunted place.

This superstition is not just something you will encounter in rural areas and small villages, but also in the major cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. In cases, where ghosts are presumably being spotted, the police are often called to investigate the supernatural disturbances to their fullest capabilities. These stories are then found all over the news and it also gives the creative artists enough material for books, comics, movies and even soap operas. So, it seems that animism is not likely to leave anytime soon and the Coca Cola Company can be quite happy about it. After all, Thailand is their fourth-largest market. All thanks to the spirits with a sweet tooth, who enjoy sipping on strawberry fantas.