Spirit house

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Spirit houses in Bangkok, Thailand; the two are a san phra phum (ศาลพระภูมิ, shrine of Phra Phum [th]) on the left and a san chao thi (ศาลเจ้าที่; shrine for tutelary deity) on the right.

A spirit house is a shrine to the protective spirit of a place that is found in the Southeast Asian countries of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. The spirit house is normally in the form of small roofed structure, and is mounted on a pillar or on a dais. They can range in size from small platforms to houses large enough for people to enter. Spirit houses are intended to provide a shelter for spirits that could cause problems for the people if not appeased. The shrines often include images or carved statues of people and animals. Votive offerings are left at the house to propitiate the spirits. More elaborate installations include an altar for this purpose.

In Indochina, most houses and businesses have a spirit house placed in an auspicious spot, most often in a corner of the property. The location may be chosen after consultation with a Brahmin priest. Spirit houses are known as နတ်စင် (nat sin) or နတ်ကွန်း (nat kun) in Burmese; ศาลพระภูมิ (san phra phum, 'house of the guardian spirit') in Thai; and រានព្រះភូមិ (rean preah phum, 'shrine for the guardian-spirit') or តូបទេវតា (tope taveda) in Khmer.

Balaua, the largest spirit house for anito among the Itneg people (1922, Philippines)

In maritime Southeast Asia, spirit houses are connected to the various traditional animistic rituals involving spirits. In the Philippines, spirit houses are dedicated to ceremonies or offerings involving the anito spirits. They are also referred to as shrines. They are known magdantang in Visayan; ulango or simbahan in Tagalog; tangpap, pangkew, or alalot (for various small roofed altars), and balaua or kalangan (for larger structures) in Itneg; maligai in Subanen; tenin in Tiruray; and buis (for those built near roads and villages) and parabunnian (for those built near rice fields) in Bagobo.[1][2][3]

Spirit house offerings[edit]

In Cambodia, the most common offering are fruits (e.g. banana, orange, grape; some people even offer different fruits at the same time.) In neighbouring Thailand however, it is a long-standing tradition to leave offerings of food and drink at the spirit house. Rice, bananas, coconuts, and desserts are common offerings. Most ubiquitous is red, strawberry-flavoured Fanta.[4] The idea seems to be that friendly spirits will congregate to enjoy free food and drink and their presence will serve to keep more malign spirits at bay. The popularity of red Fanta offerings has existed for decades. Opinions as to "why Fanta?" vary. Most point to the significance of the colour red, reminiscent of animal sacrifice, or perhaps related to the practice of anchoring red incense sticks in a glass of water which promptly tints the water red. Sweetness is explained by the observation that sweet spirits naturally have sweet tooths.[5]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Henry Scott (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 9715501354.
  2. ^ A. L. Kroeber (1918). "The History of Philippine Civilization as Reflected in Religious Nomenclature". Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History. XXI (Part II): 35–37.
  3. ^ Fay-Cooper Cole & Albert Gale (1922). "The Tinguian; Social, Religious, and Economic life of a Philippine tribe". Field Museum of Natural History: Anthropological Series. 14 (2): 235–493.
  4. ^ Bengali, Shashank (2019-04-18). "The spirit houses of Bangkok keep watch over a frenetic modern Thai city". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-04-20.
  5. ^ Winn, Patrick (2017-04-06). "In Thailand, blood sacrifice is out. Strawberry Fanta is in". Public Radio International (PRI). Retrieved 18 August 2018.