You may have seen these little colourful, pagoda-shaped shrines all over Cambodia.
Spirit houses come from the tradition of keeping spirits housed and happy, whether they are spirits of nature or spirits of ancestors. These miniature temples are often erected at the entrance of almost any type of private houses or public buildings in Cambodia. You cannot miss them!
Spirit houses are often constructed to be a miniature roofed structure that’s affixed on a pillar. Like real houses, spirit houses range from the crude and basic to the fancy and elaborate. The construction may sit atop a simple bamboo pole that is colourfully decorated, or it may be a concrete edifice adorned with images or figurines of people and animals.
It’s a common practice to leave offerings of food and drink at spirit houses. Snacks, fruits, and desserts are some of the more typical offerings, and incense and flowers are also frequently seen. The animistic idea behind the offerings is to have friendly spirits gather to enjoy the food and drinks while helping to keep the more malicious spirits away. The Buddhist idea behind the offerings comes more from a place of respect, where the houses are seen more as a place for the souls of the dead to rest before they move on from this world and onto the next life. The offerings are often weekly, and sometimes even daily.
Although spirit houses are compatible with multiple schools of tradition, there are many people who buy spirit houses to use more as an ornament than for religious purposes. As you wander through town, you will see numerous spirit houses along the streets, each of them unique. Whatever its purpose, a spirit house is a significant part of the Khmer culture and an indispensable part of the Khmer identity.
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