Pram and San Phra Pom – Spirit Houses in Thailand
There are a lot of misconceptions about religion in Thailand. Even though Buddhism in Thailand is the dominant system of spirituality and is the national religion (there was a bit of dispute over the declaration of that actually, as it was thought it might offend the pre-dominantly Muslim south), it does not exist in a pure state, without contamination from older belief systems that were in place before Buddhism came to Thailand.
Nothing makes this fact more glaringly evident than the spirit houses in Thailand that adorn so many businesses, houses, parks and really any significant area in the country.
Without knowing what you were looking at, you might think you gazed upon a Buddhist shrine or monument of some sort and that the people who approached it with garlands and hands pressed together in front of them were practicing Thai Buddhism, but you would be mistaken. They are practicing Phram, a very old belief system that focuses on the spirit world and ghosts.
The big ornate spirit houses that you see in the cities and in front of nicer houses and businesses are called ‘San Phra Pom’, which translates to more or less “house of head holy being’.
These are constructed for the highest of spirits, who is invited to come and stay, bestowing blessings on the home, land, or business and keeping any evil spirits from interfering with the activities of the people there. People make offerings here to keep the spirit around and happy, and also to add weight to requests for special favors they often bring to the spirit.
There are other spirit houses, too, in the countryside which are called ‘San Chao Ti’. These are usually smaller and less ornate than their big city cousins, and are built on 4 posts instead of just one with the lines of the houses themselves looking much more like those of a traditional Thai house.
These are intended for any spirit that might be in the area, not any particular spirit usually. Offerings of food, drink, and flowers are left here in order to garner the good will of the passing spirits so that they might bless your land, or at least not blight it. These play a vital role in religion in Thailand’s north east and west, in the farm lands.
Thailand is alive with spirits, in fact it might be the most haunted country in the world. Slow down when you pass spirit houses and take a moment to pay your respects for the spirits and ghosts of the oldest religion in Thailand, you don’t want to make any enemies you can’t see.
- The Openness of Thai Culture (bangkokbeyond.com)