» Country? Thailand.
» In a few words, what is the idea? Often the Ancestors’ Spirits dwell there, but Why? We give western references to understand the reason for these small houses in the courtyards and gardens.
» For whom? Travellers who are curious about other people’s customs very different from their own.
» When? When they see the dollhouses in courtyards and gardens.
From your very first day in Thailand, you will see something like dolls houses in private yards, hotels and also in many institutional buildings. If you ask about them, they will tell you that they are where the local spirits or those of their ancestors reside, to whom they offer food, drink and gifts.
Although that is true, it is too simple an explanation.
To understand their significance, you need to know a little more about what Animism is.
We live in a world that is regular and repetitive, as well as unpredictable and chaotic. Very often, it is welcoming, but it is always full of threats for the living beings that inhabit it.
From very early on, the different groups of humans on Earth have striven to understand how and why things happen, and, if possible, to control them.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, the answer involves the existence of an Almighty God who created the Universe and humans as part of that universe, classed as a particular category of being, the only one to bear His image and likeness.
For centuries, everything that happened or failed to happen, what things were or should be, was related to that way of thinking, to the divine will.
Animist groups also wonder what the world and the beings that inhabit it are like, as well as the forces that move it. In this respect, they are very similar to all of us, although their response is very different.
There is no God the Creator such as the one in the western world, nor does the human being hold such a privileged position in nature but is just one amongst all.
Prominent among their beliefs is the existence of other beings that lack a physical body, i.e., like many people, they believe there exists more than our eyes and ears manage to perceive. They call them phi or spirits.
These beings also influence events in everyday life and we have to cope with their existence, know how to handle them to prevent harm and, as much as possible, to convince them to help us.
Some of them are especially influential, such as the spirits of ancestors, who are to be remembered and honoured. That is why they build altars and the little houses you will have noticed.
And of course, they do not expect a spirit is coming out to devour the food or tea, in the same way as we do not expect our dead to come out to smell the flowers we lay on their graves as a sign of affection and respect.