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Spirit Homes in Thailand

 Hannah Beech writes for the New York Times about Thailand's spirit homes:

IMG_5277In Every Corner of Bangkok, Spirits Need a Home and Maybe a Strawberry Fanta

BANGKOK — These spirits were not wearing face masks. They appeared well fed, untroubled by the hunger pangs that have afflicted some Thais during the lean times of a pandemic.

But despite the spirits being so coddled — or perhaps because of it — the spiritual adviser accompanying them looked nervous.

These spirits, or at least the pair of figurines representing them, were too tubby to fit through the door to their new spirit house at the Baan Pitak condominium in Bangkok.

For the next hour or so, incense and incantations swirled. A gong pierced the steamy air of Bangkok.

Then, holding his breath just a little, Kitsana Phattharasirisap, the spiritual adviser, rose to his tiptoes and nudged the statues through the intricately carved entry to their new abode. Magically, they fit. A diet of prayers had slimmed them down in under 60 minutes, he said.

“If you don’t believe,” Mr. Kitsana said, “then it won’t work.”

Many Thais do believe in such spirits, and Mr. Kitsana, 47, thinks this may help explain why the coronavirus pandemic has so far largely bypassed the country. Thailand, a nation of 70 million people, has recorded only about 3,130 cases of the virus, with 58 deaths, despite having had the first confirmed case outside of China.

“Thai people respect ghosts and spirits,” he said. “Every day we pray and, you will notice, our country has not had many cases of coronavirus. The spirits listen to our prayers.”

In every crowded corner of Bangkok, whether by a tin-roofed shack, a glass-plated skyscraper or a marble-pillared government hall, there are said to be spirits who need placating. A coronavirus lockdown is no excuse.

The spirits also require spirit houses, which look like dollhouses mounted on pedestals. These range from a few pieces of plywood hammered together to create a miniature bungalow to gilded structures with ornate spires that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The figurines, sized to live inside, typically fit easily in the palm of a hand.

Spirit houses are common throughout Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, although the architecture differs by country. While not everyone believes, the practice is widely respected and the houses are an ordinary and integrated part of Bangkok’s cityscape, like church spires in an American town.

All these spirits expect sustenance, like a bunch of bananas, a cooling coconut or a mound of sticky rice. The offerings are usually placed at the front of the spirit houses in the morning by homeowners or building staff members, along with incense and garlands of marigolds and jasmine. Ants or rats may raid in the afternoon.

The spirits are not unreasonable, said Nongrak Puwasawadi, a self-employed spirit communicator, who enters a trance and advises people on the spirits’ druthers. In times of economic crisis, they will scale back their expectations.

“Like now, with the coronavirus, they will be happy with a glass of water for refreshment,” said Ms. Nongrak, 75. “But if it’s a more fortunate time, Kuman Thong would like a remote-controlled car.”

Kuman Thong, a young boy with a topknot and pantaloons, is one of the more popular spirits. Today, he is represented in spirit houses and on family altars by plastic dolls with cherubic features.

In an earlier era, his worship used to involve the preservation of stillborn babies with layers of lacquer. The practice of using fetuses in rituals has been outlawed but has still been seen in recent years.

Like many spirits, Kuman Thong favors certain brands, and he is especially fond of strawberry Fanta, according to Ms. Nongrak.

“Red is a nicer color than the brown of Pepsi,” she said.

In their houses, many spirit figurines come with entourages of servants, dancers and bestiary. There are the elephants and tigers that are native to Thailand, but also zebras. No one seems to know for certain why zebras, although some theorize it has to do with the safety associated with zebra-striped pedestrian crossings.

There are spirits that organize other spirits, and there are spirits that are standoffish. There are spirits that are evil, and it’s worth ensuring that the good spirits are on your side.

Some spirits live in trees, and the mightiest ficus trees are wrapped in multicolored sashes, with incense and sweetmeats placed among the roots.

The cosmology of spirits in Thailand — a Buddhist-majority nation with crosscurrents of Hinduism, Chinese ancestor worship and animism — is vast. Some spirits are family forebears. Others are demigods in the Hindu pantheon. Still others come with the land and stay on the land.

And this shared occupancy is something that developers and homeowners must contend with each time they build on the land.

It was early this year, as construction progressed, when the spirits of the Baan Pitak condominium made their unhappiness known. The former owners of the land — the human ones, that is — had built spirit houses. But they were, frankly, a bit plain. And they faced in the wrong direction.

The construction workers, who were living on-site, began receiving nightly visitations, they said. Two of them got sick and were convinced the spirits were to blame. The workers talked to the forewoman, the forewoman talked to the building manager, and the building manager talked to the landowners.

“I don’t believe in this stuff but my wife does,” said Pitak Nopprapun, who owns the land with his wife. “I listen to my wife.”

The $1,100 ceremony to sanctify the new spirit houses took place on a particularly sticky day in late May. Most everyone was dressed in white, even the spirits, although one spirit overlord figurine was decked out in gold, clutching his usual sword and pouch of money.

The spread laid out for the spirits, to ease their transition from one set of houses to the others, was sumptuous: papayas, bananas, tangerines, pineapples, watermelons, mangoes, coconuts, corn, taro, sweet potatoes, rose apples and, at the center of it all, a pair of pig faces.

After the ceremony, the pigs’ faces were given to the construction workers to eat, minus a chunk of one ear, which was sliced for an offering.

“I believe in science,” said Nutthikan Bunthanalaksamee, 29, the building manager, who was recording the ceremony with her cellphone. “But I respect people who have their beliefs.”

Mr. Kitsana, the master of ceremonies, is a one-stop spirit shop. In addition to communing with the spirits, he sells spirit real estate. His priciest cement spirit houses cost more than $12,200 in a country where the average yearly income is about $8,000.

After the ceremony, the pigs’ faces were given to the construction workers to eat, minus a chunk of one ear, which was sliced for an offering.

“I believe in science,” said Nutthikan Bunthanalaksamee, 29, the building manager, who was recording the ceremony with her cellphone. “But I respect people who have their beliefs.”

Mr. Kitsana, the master of ceremonies, is a one-stop spirit shop. In addition to communing with the spirits, he sells spirit real estate. His priciest cement spirit houses cost more than $12,200 in a country where the average yearly income is about $8,000.

“Young people have forgotten about the spirits but maybe with the coronavirus they will slow down and worship more often,” he said.

Their obsession with social media, all that careful tending of virtual spaces, he said, came at the expense of nurturing the spiritual realm.

“If you take care of the spirits,” Mr. Puvisit said, “they will take care of you.”


Horoscope for the Week of June 29, 2020 - Venus Direct and Mars in Aries

The Starry Eye
By Madam Lichtenstein

Angelina jolieRetrograde Venus in Gemini redirects while Mars moves into Aries. We can finally act on our emotions and get some pretty good results. Whatever you need to do, do it with a little extra love.

(Angelina Jolie has Mars in Aries)

Never miss your horoscope again -- free sign up here. Here is my favorite book on astrology and a "must" for anyone interested in learning more: Secrets from a Stargazer's Notebook: Making Astrology Work for You and here's a guide to the best books available this month. This column is (c) 2020 MADAM LICHTENSTEIN, LLC., All Rights Reserved. For Entertainment Purposes Only. Madam Lichtenstein is the author of the best selling astrology book “HerScopes ” now in its 10th printing and available as an eBook.

ARIES (MARCH 21 - APRIL 20)
We are coming into one of those rare times where you might be caught up in the moment, Aries. Normally you are powerful but calculated. Now with a flood of emotion, you are able to not only take decisive action but also craft some positive empowering results. So don’t let this moment pass you by. Speak from your heart to the crowd and many will follow.

TAURUS (APRIL 21 - MAY 21)
There is so much going on in the background that you might be forgiven for taking a step back and contemplating where you are in life. What moves you? What excites your heart? There is a lot you can achieve by just sending out good vibes, calming contemplation and general charitable efforts. Who knows what the cosmos can then deliver back to you, Taurus?

GEMINI (MAY 22 - JUNE 21)
Your best attempts at mending emotional rifts might have hit a roadblock recently, Gemini. But that doesn’t mean that you should not try again. The road now opens before you. Now is a great time to reach into your heart and find more commonality between friends. Connect with groups that connect with you. Joint efforts can produce amazing results.

CANCER (JUNE 22 - JULY 23)
Someone is working on your behalf behind the scenes, Cancer. Are you able to figure out who it is? It probably doesn’t matter. The main point here is that your path to success will be facilitated by those who love you and care about your well being. Go with the cosmic flow, float on the give and take of life and pay it forward if you can. Success comes in many forms.

LEO (JULY 24 - AUGUST 23)
Friends teach you a thing or two, Leo. Ask for and listen to their advice and see how far your mind can be opened, informed and energized. Outreach will result in a range of amazing discoveries that can set you on a new course and world view. Stay safe but also reach out and see how many friends you can connect to. Form a virtual link by link chain of camaraderie.

VIRGO (AUGUST 24 - SEPTEMBER 23)
Aspects of your career may become especially satisfying now, Virgo. That may mean that you enjoy those with whom you work or the actual work itself. For those who are not working now, you may find new opportunities through contacts and advisors. Think deeply about what you really need to feel fulfilled. You may be happily surprised at the results.

LIBRA (SEPTEMBER 24 - OCTOBER 23)
Certain relationships will require a deep reassessment this week, Libra. Maybe its because you are finally re-centering and reevaluating what you really want and need.Put the effort into partnerships where you feel fulfilled, happy and energized. Re-calibrate those where it needs some tweaks. Expand your vision of the future and see who you want to be with.

SCORPIO (OCTOBER 24 - NOVEMBER 22)
Scorpios may be surprised at how a little bit of physical work, like chores around the house, can lead to a deeper meaning and level of consciousness. Focus on exercise and accomplishment as you get physical while getting more things done. It may seem counter intuitive but sometimes we figure out the mysteries of the universe while washing the dishes.

SAGITTARIUS (NOVEMBER 23 - DECEMBER 22)
Relationships become much more fun, free and festive. Thank goodness! Not a moment too soon, Sagittarius. Too much interaction in too small a space for too long a time may have gotten on your nerves. Relax and enjoy some breathing space as a new level of awareness, a lifting of the heart and greater empathy gives you greater patience. Enjoy it while it lasts.

CAPRICORN (DECEMBER 23 - JANUARY 20)
Capricorns may have to attend to some family issues now but you are able to handle them with care and love. So don’t shy away for a discussion that needs to take place. Be diplomatic and as understanding as possible. Everyone will be happy with the results and the stress level will be much lower. Now you can really enjoy the summer!.

AQUARIUS (JANUARY 21 - FEBRUARY 19)
Aquarians sure know how to rouse a crowd. Find ways (while staying safe) to reach many people with your great ideas and opinions. You can bring folks together in creative and happy ways, spreading the joy where the world needs it most. You have a way of getting the virtual party going and making life a little more enjoyable. Maybe it’s the emojis?

PISCES (FEBRUARY 20 - MARCH 20)
Someone close to you may need a financial helping hand, Pisces. Are you able to lend some support at this time? If so, do it. If not, try to find other supportive ways to lessen their burden. There are things you can do that will help without costing money. Your kindness now will not only be a good karmic deed but will reap benefits later. Long memories never fade.

(c) 2020 MADAM LICHTENSTEIN, LLC., All Rights Reserved. For Entertainment Purposes Only. Astrology book extraordinaire is HerScopes by yours truly.


Lucky Numbers for the Week of June 26, 2020

Lottery ads tell us you only need a dollar and a dream. But it is also helpful to have a list of lucky numbers to help spur the good fortune ... or fortunes. So with that in mind, here are some lucky numbers that can be used in any helpful way. I gazed into a pool of water, Nostradamus-like, and contemplated the cosmos. Then I mixed the tarot cards and allowed the spirits to guide me to the cards that represent the lucky numbers for this week. Nothing is guaranteed but who knows ....?

I choose eight numbers because 8 is the number of of wealth.

Here are the lucky numbers for the week of June 27-July 2, 2020:

5, 14, 16, 25, 35, 44, 54, 76

There are many ways to delve into your own consciousness to find luck and intuition. Try reading Dream Power/Improve Your Luck (Super Strength Series) and see if your dreams give you any clues and premonitions. Here's a guide to the best books available this month


How to Turn Plants Into Tinctures, Like an Ancient Alchemist

Flower_Essences_1Jessica Leigh Hester of AtlasObscura offers a beginner’s guide to extracting flavors from herbs and flowers.

Hieronymus Brunschwig had a cure for whatever ailed you, and it all came down to plants. More specifically, it hinged on coaxing things from them.

In the early 1500s, the German surgeon-alchemist was sure that distillation could do some very heavy lifting when it came to human health. Brunschwig believed that distillation—one method of extracting flavors from flowers, herbs, and other plants, by boiling and condensing water—could calibrate the body, which was frustratingly prone to falling out of whack.

A tall order, but Brunschwig was not one to shy away from an encyclopedic effort. In his book one of the first printed distillation manuals, he arranged plants alphabetically, and noted their sneaky synonyms. He tallied the afflictions that various plants could defeat, and annotated which portions of flowers, stalks, and leaves were especially potent. He even indicated the months when each plant species were at their most formidable.

“Water of lekes,” distilled from roots in June, may be a balm “after the byrth of a chylde,” he wrote. “Water of lettys,” swallowed at “mornynge and nyght,” could comfort the “lyver.” The book promises drinkable salves for nearly any malady from head to toe, however ineffable. You could distill a remedy for headaches, marital discord, or bad dreams. You might chug some water of dill, or dab a bit on your temples.

There’s a long history here. Ancient Arabic alchemists made tinctures by macerating flowers and herbs, accenting them with spices, and setting them to boil and condense in glass vials over wood fires. By the Middle Ages, distillation was widely practiced by physicians, botanists, and apothecaries. The Victorians were enamored with tinctures, and during the Prohibition era in the United States, when alcohol was hard to come by, moonshiners applied the principles of distillation to make high-octane booze. (In the U.S., it’s still very much illegal to craft your own hard liquor at home, though Americans are permitted to buy and use distillation paraphernalia for other purposes.)

We asked Sarah Lohman, a historic gastronomist and the author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, to lay out a recipe for making simple infusions at home.

1. Collect your materials

No need to overthink this—most any herb or flower will do. “Lavender, thyme, basil, you can create whatever you want to add into baked goods, dinner, ice cream, whatever you’re thinking,” Lohman says.

“I guess if you’re really foolish, you could infuse something that’s poison—but just don’t do that,” Lohman adds. Only use plants you recognize. If you’re scouting for wild edibles, use a guidebook or go with a seasoned pro. “If you stick to herbs you find in the grocery store, you should be in good shape,” Lohman adds. You’ll also need a container. Plastic, snap-top takeout containers work nicely for the initial infusion.

The process is pretty, and fairly hands-off.

2. Measure out the ingredients

Besides your plant material, you only need high-proof alcohol. The higher the proof, the faster the infusion happens, Lohman says—and if it’s really high, around 180-proof (meaning it’s 90 percent alcohol and 10 percent water), you’ll likely need to cut it with water in order to douse the burn. Vanilla extract, for instance, is 70-proof, so it’s 35 percent alcohol. “You make the infusion at a higher proof, and then you usually add water to bring down the proof to a comestible level,” Lohman says.

If you have a cup of Everclear and a cup of water, for instance, you’ve slashed the proof in half—from roughly 90 percent to 45 percent. For flavored spirits, such as things you’d add to cocktails, you’d want to hover around 20 or 25 percent. Keep on adding splashes of water until you get there.

3. Walk away

Place the plastic container in a sunny windowsill, and then leave it alone for at least 24 hours.

4. Sample and adjust

Since high-proof alcohol kills whatever microbes cross its path, you don’t have to worry about things getting funky the longer you leave your concoction stewing. “The worst-case scenario is that you make something you don’t like the taste of and you throw it out,” Lohman says. That said, you’ll want to test your infusion daily so that the flavor doesn’t get stronger than you like.

A little clove goes a long way, while something like basil or thyme will be more subtle. To get a punchy flavor, you’ll either need to begin with more plant material or let the infusion sit around longer.

This is where tasting is crucial. A delicate flavor, such as wheatgrass, might take a few weeks to develop, while a more-aggressive lavender comes through in just two or three days—anything beyond that might be overbearing. On the other hand, if the flavor is too toothless, you can keep adding more of the ingredients—one vanilla pod here, a clove there. “It’s a little bit of trial and error,” Lohman says.

As you experiment, keep a log of the tweaks you make. This makes the whole thing replicable, if things go well—and if they don’t, you know what to change in the next go-around.

5. Decant it

Once you’ve arrived at the flavor you want, you’ll need to fish out or strain the plant material so that the flavor doesn’t keep evolving.

After that, you might want to pour it into a pretty glass jar. (There are lots of apothecary-aesthetic shops online.

The finished product makes a creative, inexpensive gift. “At this point, you’ve bought a bottle of vodka, plucked some stuff from the garden, and that’s it,” Lohman says. “It’s a very low-risk at-home hobby.” Not to mention a delicious way to tap into an ancient practice, with a modern twist.


Horoscope for the Week of June 22, 2020 - Sun in Cancer

The Starry Eye
By Madam Lichtenstein

Elon muskThe Sun moves into Cancer this week further setting off a range of emotions that can either spur us or consume us. The main thing to remember is that whatever we do must be carefully considered. Things have a way of going off without the ability to go back.

(Elon Musk has Sun in Cancer)

Never miss your horoscope again -- free sign up here. Here is my favorite book on astrology and a "must" for anyone interested in learning more: Secrets from a Stargazer's Notebook: Making Astrology Work for You and here's a guide to the best books available this month. This column is (c) 2020 MADAM LICHTENSTEIN, LLC., All Rights Reserved. For Entertainment Purposes Only. Madam Lichtenstein is the author of the best selling astrology book “HerScopes ” now in its 10th printing and available as an eBook.

ARIES (MARCH 21 - APRIL 20)
Don’t be surprised if sheltering place is staring is starting to get a little clammy, Aries. You yearn to breathe free and get out and about. If you can, find healthy ways to expand the confines of your existence. We are getting into summer and the sun is good for you.This is also a good time to continue and strengthen the outreach to extended family members.

TAURUS (APRIL 21 - MAY 21)
Your communication may become more emotional as the week wears on. A ranges of things have been on your mind. Taureans are usually measured in what they say and careful about when they say it. But now your opinions are not held back and are generally less controlled. There may be pushback but speak from your heart and others will hear and understand.

GEMINI (MAY 22 - JUNE 21)
Finances may become a focus for you as the weeks wear on. If that is the case, use this time to step back, look unemotionally at the situation and further fine tune your expenses. Try to become more creative with the sources of your income. For those Geminis who feel fairly secure monetarily, continue to keep a close eye on expenses.

CANCER (JUNE 22 - JULY 23)
Cancers should be feeling a lot more optimistic about their future now. Plans are beginning to fall into place and the means to get things done start to become apparent. So the secret to your ultimate success is to plan things out very carefully and reach out to those who can give you the best advice and possible shortcuts. Meet and greet virtually and it becomes a reality.

LEO (JULY 24 - AUGUST 23)
There are a lot of emotions bubbling up from under the surface of things, Leo. Your goal this week is to figure out which are worth handling and which are best left to wear themselves out on their own. Don’t react emotionally if you can possibly avoid it. Clear logical thinking and slow deliberate action makes easy work out of the most intractable issues.

VIRGO (AUGUST 24 - SEPTEMBER 23)
Friends gather around you in safe, virtual or otherwise compliant ways. If you need a helping hand, they will be there for you. If they need help, you are there for them. Keep the momentum going with your network of companions as the weeks wear on. A strong network will not only give you emotional comfort, it will also provide strength and confidence.

LIBRA (SEPTEMBER 24 - OCTOBER 23)
Libras with the opportunity to control more of the direction of their careers should take action now. A careful pivot may prove to be helpful especially in a sticky or overly emotional situation. Keep a calm, cool head and focus on all of the long term goals you want to achieve. Success is measured on your own terms. Not on the opinions of others.

SCORPIO (OCTOBER 24 - NOVEMBER 22)
There is nothing stopping you from expanding your horizons in a safe way, Scorpio. Any class you want to take is only a click away. In fact, you may be able to conjure up a safe vacation getaway with careful planning. Don’t let the cobwebs grow on you. There are more and more ways to enliven your life while not taking too many risks. Let your fingers do the walking.

SAGITTARIUS (NOVEMBER 23 - DECEMBER 22)
You seek closeness and may become a bit more emotional than usual. But this is not a bad thing. Nor is it a sign of weakness, Sagittarius. In fact, opening yourself up to embracing your personal feelings can feel liberating and strengthening. You can find the deeper connection from others in a variety of safe ways. We all need a bit of a (virtual) hug sometimes.

CAPRICORN (DECEMBER 23 - JANUARY 20)
Certain relationships may become more emotional and clingy now, Capricorn. Is that what you are looking for? If so, embrace the moment and seek to make it more permanent. If not, find respectful ways to carve out the type of relationship you want at this time. And if you need and want more alone time, that is good too.

AQUARIUS (JANUARY 21 - FEBRUARY 19)
Aquarians with cabin fever may want to get up, out and going. If that is what you are feeling then do so but obviously in as safe a manner as possible while keeping a close eye on your health indicators. Stress is never good. So if you can find more ways to relax, recharge and rejuvenate, do so now. You will feel much better. This life is a marathon not a sprint.

PISCES (FEBRUARY 20 - MARCH 20)
You may be feeling extra creative nowadays, Pisces. If so, there will be a range of fun and artistic projects that you can undertake that will not only free your mind, tap into your senses and also have some wonderful results -whether edible, visual, tactile or aural. Who knew that it was so easy to create a masterpiece? Show them all what you can achieve now.

(c) 2020 MADAM LICHTENSTEIN, LLC., All Rights Reserved. For Entertainment Purposes Only. The best astrology book ever is HerScopes