POSTCARD #161: New Delhi: Ghosts are pretty convincing in Thai culture – not overly dramatic or garish, very realistic and intense. Thais take care to appease these invisible entities so that they will bless them with good fortune (save them from ill-fortune). Every home or building has a dollhouse-sized shrine on its premises, called a Spirit House. The shrine serves as an altar for gifts to appease guardian spirits of the land. There are offerings of fruit, flowers, bowls of rice, beverages and figurines of people and animals. It’s widely known that accidents or bad luck afflict those who fail to acknowledge the rights of the supernatural beings who rightfully dwell on the grounds.
There’s no Halloween in Thailand maybe because the seasonal change is not so clearly defined, no harvest coming to an end in October/November. But spirits are everywhere, in the same way, the ancient Aos Sí (usually spelled Sìth), in Celtic countries would appear, and offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their old homes at this time, seeking hospitality. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. These Aos Sí, were the supernatural race who were said to live underground, across the western sea, or in an invisible world that coexists with the world of humans. They would be able to cross the boundary between this world and the Otherworld during the Gaelic festival of Samhain celebrated from sunset on 31st October to sunset on 1st November, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year – halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
Samhain was observed in Ireland, Scotland the Isle of Man and in other Celtic lands; the Brythonic Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall), and Kalan Goañv (in Brittany, North of France). There is evidence of Samhain since ancient times; the Mound of the Hostages, a Neolithic passage tomb at the Hill of Tara, is aligned with the Samhain sunrise. It is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain.
October 31st was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. There were rituals involving special bonfires, deemed to have protective and cleansing powers. It was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated at Samhain, to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Performers were part of the festival, and people going door-to-door in costumed disguise, reciting verses in exchange for food. Divination rituals and games were also a big part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples.
Halloween suits the East very well where animist beliefs and superstitions are a part of everyday life for Thais. My Thai niece M (aged 11 years) sent me pics of her halloween party, there’s one where she’s staring at the camera with an intensity that’s a bit scary and hair all spiked out. Also this pic of a halloween pumpkin lamp carved out of a pineapple, something I’d never seen before.
You hide me in your cloak of Nothingness
Reflect my ghost in your glass of Being
I am nothing, yet appear: transparent dream
Where your eternity briefly trembles [Rumi]