Monday, January 21, 2013

Here's Hoping That Third Time Is Really the Charm

Our Spirit Houses - Relocated Once Again
Here's hoping that the saying "Third time is the charm" or perhaps the saying "If you want a job done correctly the first time, hire a professional"  well maybe not "hire" in this case but rather "use the services of" is true.

When we moved into our home in Udonthani in September of 2008 there was a special ritual to install two spirit houses on our property.  Spirit houses (san phra phum) are shrines to the animist spirits. The houses are found throughout Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The spirit house is built like a miniature Buddhist temple mounted on a pillar or platform. They are meant to be the homes of the land spirits.

Spirit worship, referred to as "Animism", in Thailand goes back to the migration of the Thai people from northern Vietnam. Animism predated Buddhism in Thailand and Buddhism developed side by side with Animism in Thailand. The two religions are very intricately interwoven and many practices today in Buddhism are actually Animism beliefs and rituals.

The spirit houses are a shrine where offerings of food, fruit, flowers, candles, incense, water, soft drinks as well as whiskey are made.

The san phra phum provide a dwelling for the wandering guardian spirits for the buildings and areas of  land. The spirits can cause problems and suffering if they are not kept happy. There are spirit houses at homes, shopping centers, businesses, government buildings, factories, oil refineries - everywhere but at a Wat. The spirit houses are not part of Buddhism.

The spirits are kept happy by offering them gifts frequently. People believe that the spirits can influence coming events, grant wishes, and keep people healthy. I have seen the daily ritual of offering candles, incense, fruit and whiskey made at some Go-Go bars prior to opening for the night.

I wrote about the installation of our spirit houses in a previous blog back in September 2008.

Everything seemed to going just fine until 2010.  In 2010, Duang's uncle, who had selected the location for our spirit houses and performed the ritual associated with installing them, became ill.  He was hospitalized and was eventually sent home when the doctors said that they could not do anything more for him.  In October 2010, another Shaman had told Duang and her relatives that the uncle would be dead within two weeks unless our Spirit Houses were relocated.  According to the Shaman, Duang's uncle was not fully qualified to do a spirit house installation ritual.  We went ahead and had the Shaman do a relocation ritual of our spirit houses.  He actually ended up leaving one in the original location in the front yard and moved one house to our side yard.

The relocation ritual was subject of a blog entry on October 29, 2010.  Amazingly Duang's uncle who had been sent home to die survived well into 2012.  We were fortunate to be able to visit him a few times upon our return to Thailand before he died this October

Amazingly Duang's uncle who had been sent home to die survived well into 2012.  We were fortunate to be able to visit him a few times upon our return to Thailand before he died this October

Recently my wife has been dealing with a health issue along with family issues in addition to a number of funerals that we have been attending since our return from the USA.  Apparently in consultations with people, Duang became convinced that the problem was due to our spirit houses.  Even though the spirit houses had been relocated by a second Brahman, the spirits were still not happy which was manifested in the issues that Duang and her family were dealing with.

I do not get into metaphysical discussions with my wife regarding her beliefs.  I support her because those beliefs provide her comfort and a moral compass.  It is her heritage and her culture. Her devotion to those beliefs was part of what attracted me to her in the beginning. I am content to just know what her beliefs are.

Mass Transit In Isaan - 14 People in a Pick Up Truck
Duang made all the arrangements to have the Monk from the Wat outside of her home village to come to our home and preside over the relocation of the spirit houses.

Last Thursday, the Monk, his handler, Duang's mother, our grandson, Peelawat, and 10 grandmothers from Tahsang Village arrived at home in the early morning for the relocation ritual.  The grandmothers were a combination of aunts and friends.  Personally I suspect that they were Tahsang Village's answer to the "Red Hat Society".

Monks are not allowed to drive motor vehicles or to travel unaccompanied with women so each Wat has a layman who will assist Monks in these activities.

Under Peelawat's Watchful Eye, Women Prepare For Ritual
While the Monk determined what should be done with the spirit house, the women helped Duang to prepare for ritual and common meal for after the ritual.

Preparing Petals for the Ritual
Part of the preparation was to strip a bunch of chrysanthemums of their petals and place them on a religious pressed metal stand.  Other preparations include setting up plates and trays of bananas, oranges, grapes, coconut  and other fruits as offerings to the spirits.  Duang had also had me buy a box of beer, Leo, but that turned out to be an offering to the old ladies rather than to the spirits.

After the Monk had finished the ritual he came inside and ate his only meal of the day.  When he had selected his food to eat, I went upstairs to get a break from the animated conversation of the old women while they outside underneath our car port.  Later in the day, I thought that I would treat myself to a beer.  I was shocked to discover that the ladies had drank all the beer.  Perhaps that was the reason for the animated conversations.

Duang and Tey's Grandmother Prepare White Candles for the Ritual.
Besides having a Monk performing the spirit house ritual, this relocation involved me more greatly.  I had to stick some of the burning Joss sticks into the fruit offerings that Duang had placed before the spirit houses.  In previous rituals, I had only held on to three lit Joss Sticks.  Perhaps that is what was missing?  Maybe it was the white candles in addition to the yellow candles?  We also did not use chrysanthemum petals previously.

Duang Places Lit White Candles

The Monk Lights Joss Sticks

The relocation ritual concluded with Duang placing some long garlands over the relocated houses.

The morning went along well with the only "issue" being our grandson, Peelawat. starting to sing out a sort of snake charmer music that I hum to him when we play Muay Thai boxing.   The music is played when the boxers perform their "wai khru ram muay" but is definitely not appropriate to do when a Monk is chanting as part of a formal ritual.  His great grandmother quickly stopped him.

I am optimistic that having had a Monk perform the ritual, the spirits are happy now and the spirit houses can remain where they are now.

Duang is feeling more secure and confident now that the houses have been properly installed in the correct location - at the side of our yard.  She says that it will all be better for us and the family now.

As for me, I am wondering and perhaps I am somewhat confused.

In late September, I was contacted by a client in Europe who wanted to use 23 of my photographs in a public display.  We had agreed on pricing and I had sent a Limited Copyright License Agreement for use of the photographs along with an invoice.  In late October I contacted the client and informed them that the invoice had not been paid nor had they returned the conformed Limited Copyright Agreement for use of the photographs.  The client informed me that they would check with the public institution where the photographs would be displayed.  After almost two months of no word, I believed that there was no longer an interest.

The very night that the spirit houses were properly relocated, I received an email informing me that the project had been approved and the funds allocated.  By the end of the next day, I had received both the conformed LCLA and the license fee.  When I told Duang of the developments  Duang just knowingly smiled and said "Buddha take care, now"

This is not the first time that unexplained things, for me, but ordinary based upon Duang's faith and beliefs have happened.  I often joke that I have no hope if she decides to use her powers against me.

I have written that in my blogs that I write of what I have seen and experienced.  I do not try to proselytize.

I wrote earlier in this blog that I support Duang in her beliefs because those beliefs provide her comfort and a moral compass.  It could also be that after having witnessed and experienced several things with her  ... I am keeping my options open or at least keeping the spirits happy.

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