My spirits fancy straws

Aug 17, 2013 in

Part I: My spirits fancy straws
Part II: Big Business
Part III: Thai Religion

Religion is amongst my favourite topics to write about. But it is also one of the most difficult ones. It’s hard to wrap yourself around it and I don’t want to jump to conclusions too quickly.

In India, when I asked people about some aspects of their religion, they gave me at least a half-decent explanation or told me a story about it. In Thailand, the religion is in my opinion much less … approachable because it is less apparent, there is the language barrier and it is interwoven with this whole submissiveness and hierarchy shit they practice here.

Recently I walked into a 7-Eleven mini-supermarket and saw some small shrine on top of a cupboard behind the cashier’s counter. It consisted of a few open red Fanta bottles with straws inside and some religious decoration around it.

I asked what this is for but the only answer I got from them after minutes of discussion in Thai amongst each other was “Religion of Thai people”. In general they seem to be embarrassed even to be asked about such things. And to embarrass someone or to make him feel insecure is considered rude – as Lena never misses to point out to me.

By the way, I already figured out what the shrine was for from what Lena told me about it but I would have liked to hear it from them first-hand:

Those are offerings to the spirits of the house. A tribute to the spirits to leave the humans alone. Spirits like blood, that is why they fancy the red Fanta (strawberry flavour in case you wonder) because apparently they mistake it for blood.

Spirits live in every house occupied by humans, they are not the ghosts from the deceased but ferocious beings which must be appeased or fooled. (And fooling them seems to be quite easy.)

Spirit houses are a common sight in Thailand. These miniature houses are often found in front of family houses and yes, also sometimes in front of Buddhist temples.

I did not find out the reason for the little statuettes in and around the spirit houses yet, do they resemble or somehow imprison the spirits? Or do they “serve” the spirits like the Egyptian Ushabti served in the afterlife? Or something else entirely? What’s the deal with those statuettes of those happy-baby-monks? Are these perhaps just the Thai counterpart to the German garden gnomes?

And the reason for the straws? Well, that one is easy actually. Thais simply put straws in everything!
Bought a can of Coke? Here is your straw with it.
Buying a litre of milk? Don’t forget your straw!
You ordered a beer, Mister? There you are, and here is your straw!1

No reason to make an exception for the bottle of blood offered to the spirits, is there? Who knows, perhaps the spirit will even get suspicious about the nature of that “blood” if there is no straw in the bottle.

In reality, ants do really fancy the red Fanta and use the straws to climb down the bottle, rats and other vermin take care of the rest at night until it is replaced with new offerings.

But these animist practices are all quite unusual if you note that the state religion of Thailand is Buddhism, isn’t it? “Buddhism” in Thailand is not at all like what I learned it to be in India and Nepal. But well, more on that next time…2

1 Bought half a dozen of yoghurt cups for home? Here are your half a dozen disposable plastic spoons with it!
2 See the orange bucket on top of the cupboard on the first photo? This will be a topic in the next article about religion.