As I was working on an archaeological dig in Cambodia last year, I quickly discovered that almost every home in Cambodia has a spirit house. What is a spirit house? It’s a small bird-house like roofed structure that sits on a pillar. They are generally made with extremely bright colors. Spirit houses are found outside of one’s home, and no matter how simple the actual home, the spirit house is almost always much more eccentric. They generally cost the equivalent of $600 or more to buy. You will usually find these spirit houses with incense or other offerings left on them. But what is it really? Why is it there? The way it was explained to me by the locals was as follows: A spirit house is put outside for any spirits in the area to live in. If you appease the spirits and they live in the house outside, then they won’t haunt your home. It’s basically a home built for spirits to live in. If you provide the spirits with an acceptable home, they won’t come haunt your home or make your life harder. This is why you will find people continually placing offerings outside on their spirit houses. (Please note that in my header photo, a sleep kitty decided to take a nap in the spirit house. I promise it is not a sacrifice. :P)
And it was true at most places we visited that the spirit houses were always nicer and more decorated than one’s own home. Why are these found everywhere? Why is it so easily believed by Cambodians? Cambodia has gone through many dominate religions, and the idea of spirit houses fits within all of these religions. It follows Buddhist principles, Hindu principles, and even works with the ideas of animists. In the Buddhist traditions, the offerings left in the spirit houses are thought to provide recently deceased loved ones with the fuel to make it to the afterlife to be reincarnated. Animists believe more that the offerings are appeasing the spirits of nature. One thing, however is universally certain: Spirit houses are found all across the Southeastern Chinese lands. I hope you get a chance to make it out to Cambodia and experience these for yourselves. They are breathtaking. They are eye-catching, and they represent the complexities of other cultures and religions.