The History & Origins of Animism in Thailand Culture

By | October 9, 2013


History & Origins: In modern Thailand culture, both in the cities and in rural areas, most homes will usually have erected in the corner of the garden, a “Spirit House”which is called “Baan Phra Pume” in Thai.

The origins of Animism “Spirit Worship”originated both in the island world of Indonesia and on the Indo-China mainland. The people who inhabited these lands in the pre-Christian era were largely animists. They believed that inanimate objects such as trees, rocks, mountains as well as people,had spirits which could affect the well-being of those around them which then manifest itself through the worship of ancestors and spirit worship.

Burial mounds usually included special items to honor the dead or assist them in their next life, such as the bracelets and utensils found in the prehistoric site of Ban Chiang in North East Thailand, a site which goes back, it is thought to around 3,000 BC.

Spirit worship is often accompanied by ritual chants and dances, special folk drama or masques such as the “shadow play”.

This tradition is commonly found throughout agricultural, rice-growing communities of SE Asia, and among the often nomadic rural hill tribes peoples. These social and religious beliefs originating in Spirit Worship have persisted since ancient times and have become part of the syncretic system of SE Asian cultures.

Two thousand years of penetration by Buddhism ,Hindusim,Islam and both Catholic and Protestant Christianity have not annihilated Spirit Worship beliefs and practices from the normal, everyday world of SE Asian people.

The basic origins of Spirit Worship are perfectly characterised by the primitive social structures in tribal, often nomadic communities. It is typically associated with the early bronze age cultures of the pre-Christian era which lacked a writing system or written history. Without such written records, archaeologists piece together suggestions of what the societies practising animistic beliefs might have been like based on the artefacts found in burial mounds or excavations and the rituals and folk beliefs which have survived to the present time.

Symbols: There are no exclusive symbolsthat represent Spirit Worship,a common feature seen throughout Thailand is the Spirit House which is typically made out of either teakwood or concrete, and is made in the shape of the classical Thai house, with a high roof, windows & a balcony around the outside.

Each day fresh flowers & food as well as litcandles & incense sticks are placed either on or close by the Spirit House to ensure that the spirits maintain karma, and protect the family.

Within Thailand you will also see large old trees within public areas that are also used for Spirit Worship, usually they will have large coloured ribbons around them, and people will bring daily “offerings” to them.


Animism “Spirit Worship……..
Location & Followers The total number of followers of Spirit Worship are unknown,it would include almost all practising Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu and Christian devotees of present day SE Asian societies. There is no one centre, Its geographical distribution would include the village and rural communities of certain T’ai hill tribes in the mountainous parts of northern Burma, Thailand, Laos, VietNam and Cambodia as well as the rice growing and agricultural communities in the Indonesian island world. Spirit Worship today has been assimilated to the mainstream script religions of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.