Lao Tradition, Laos, Thai Tradition

The Belief of Ghost In The House

House at Tad Yuang in Pakse, Laos

  • I wrote this a while back, but never posted here, and it sort of related to the current topic that I’m posting at the moment.  All Photos are from my Laos Trip.

The belief in ghost or spirit has been in our Lao/Thai culture for generations, especially the belief of ghost in the house. The younger generations might think its nonsense, and superstition, but not according to our parents or grandparents, whom believe in ghost spirit in the house, might be because they’re thinking that eventually they’ll become the ghost of the house.

Because of this belief, there’re many things that we could and couldn’t do inside our own home, therefore this belief dictates how we live our lives, sounds a bit silly now, but if you’re Lao or Thai, you might not think it’s silly after all.

There’re basic rules that I’ve to follow, silly right? Me, following rules of superstition, don’t laugh because I might not be the only one, you might find yourself doing this also. I was told that when I sleep, I’m not suppose to lay my arms across my chest or in a hug myself position, not suppose to lay my arm (wrist) across my forehead, not suppose to sleep below the beams of the house, simple explanation given to me, “Pee See Umm.”

Pee Umm, which loosely translated as ghost controlling your body while you’re asleep, but I believe that it’s the same as a paradoxical sleep in which intense dreaming occurs during REM sleep as a result of heightened brain activity, but paralysis occurs simultaneously in the major voluntary muscle groups, which is a mixture of encephalic (brain) states of excitement and muscular immobility. Long explanation for Americans, Lao/Thai just call it Pee Umm, short and simple to the point.

Most younger generations don’t believe in Pee Umm, but they’re still experiencing or dreaming that gave them the sense of Pee Umm. However, if we’re to pay closer attention as to why our parents or grandparents don’t want us to sleep under the above conditions, then we’d see that it has nothing to do with Pee Umm, but a simple reason that we should pay more attention to how we sleep, even while we’re unconscious during our sleep, not just flop your body down and no telling which direction your feet are pointing when you wake up. This is all about mannerism, even while we’re asleep, and as for crossing your arms over your chest, you’re restricting the amount of oxygen intake, therefore not a good position to sleep and should be avoided, to prevent us from doing this, they’d say “Pee See Umm,” and it works every time.

House in Pakse, Laos

The ceiling beams above your bed are a Feng Shui nightmare, and Lao/Thai call it Pee Umm, but the term nightmare that is being used here, I seriously doubt if it means the same as Pee Umm. I think it means that the beams can be a source of cutting chi and the beams carry a tremendous load, and this pressure is focused into the beams generating chi, which continues downwards, placing direct pressure on you while you sleep.

Of course, this is a Chinese belief but has creeping into the westerner society and belief as well, everyone now a day is talking about Feng Shui. I’m not sure if that were in the back of our parents or grandparents’ mind when they told us not to sleep beneath the beams because if I were them, I’d be thinking about safety issue first, who ever is underneath the beams, assuming if the beams were to come down, whether you’re sitting, standing, or sleeping, you’d be the first to go, but this is thinking from the perspective of housing in Laos/Thailand where the houses are not as sturdy as houses in the US.

The belief of ghost in the house doesn’t stop just at our sleeping positions, but dictates our other habits and daily routines as well.

Pakse, Laos

So this belief also dictates our waking up in the morning, and it has to be early in the morning for it to be Sirimoungkhoun (lucky, karma, or prosperous.) Back when I was little, we didn’t have an alarm clock, no need to because our body has built in man clock that it became a routine and you’d wake up automatically. Lao people, in Laos, would wake up early in the morning mainly for the belief of wanting Sirimoungkhoun for the day.

As soon as we’d get up, the belief of Sirimoungkhoun would dictate which direction we should be facing, the direction for Sirimoungkhoun in the morning is east, direction of sunrise, and we should be facing east while brushing our teeth. If I’ve to do this now, I’d be in big trouble because it’d mean that I’ve to face myself away from the sink while brushing my teeth, the builder obviously didn’t know that a Laotian would be living in this house. Back in Laos, when I was little, we brushed our teeth out in the open, no sink, therefore facing east wasn’t a problem, and we faced the direction of sunrise.

Basically, we’re constantly placing ourselves in certain direction, east that is, as a constant reminder to us as to where we are at all times, facing east then became a habit, where as we’d always know our direction because it’s part of our daily routine and a simple explanation that was given to us was that it’s Sirimoungkhoun, but in reality, we’re building a compass in our body, this was very important for the survival of the people back in Laos, especially if you were to get lost in the jungle or out at sea.

Pakse, Laos

The belief of ghost in the house also dictates the way we dressed, especially in female clothing where as the buttons should not be in the back. Back in the olden days, clothing with buttons in back was for dead people, which was considered bad luck or Bor Phen (not) Sirimoungkhoun to wear. This is a good thing because it’s a constant reminder to some of us that we’re in a different world from our deceased loved ones that they’re no longer with us, and we should continue to live, but still remembering them. The symbolic of the clothing was a reminder that we’re living in 2 separate worlds, the spiritual world and the chaotic world, and some day, we’ll join our ancestors in the spiritual world.

At Boun That Luang

Blouse with buttons in the back was forbidden back then, come to think about it, it’s not a bad thing because a blouse with buttons in the back would be very difficult buttoning it yourself, and assuming if the buttons came loose then you’d not be able to see it, might create unwanted viewers. Regardless of hearing about blouse with buttons in back is for the dead, but I still see many females still wearing sleeveless blouse with buttons in the back, normally seen worn with Sinh (Lao tubular skirt.) Maybe this old belief is taken a backseat, just as many modern dead Laotians would wear normal clothing and not clothing with buttons in the back anymore.

outhouse in Pakse Laos

Back in Laos, our old house in Meung Kao had an outhouse that faced west, not a superstitious of any kind that I’m aware of, but if you’ve heard of any please let me know. I think the outhouse facing west was to face the afternoon sun light, that way it’d help to dry the dampness and help kill the bacterial in the outhouse, especially every time that you open the door to go in and use.

house in Phonthong, Laos

The direction that the house faced in Laos is also very important, the ladder most likely faced east; I’m also not aware of any superstition, but may be it’s also for Sirimoungkhoun, just like its Feng Shui for house to face east. Another reason that I could think of is that the house would be too hot in the afternoon if it were to face west, it’d get a direct hit from the afternoon sun, and we all knew how hot Laos is in the afternoon. It’s also a good idea to plant trees toward west of the house to help shield the house from the afternoon sun.

Washing our hands after a funeral service is an old Lao tradition that has been modified to fit today modern society, this tradition is seen in the US where there would be a bucket of water at the funeral home and in front of the home of the deceased, you have to wash you hands before leaving the funeral home, and also before entering the house.

Have you ever wonder as to why we’ve to wash our hands? Back in the olden days, or might still be practicing in Laos, people actually have to wash themselves before entering their home, before going to bed, the explanation given might be for Sirimoungkhoun, to wash away the bad luck, but I believe there’s more to it. I think mainly because dead people house all kinds of disease in their body, and by chance, you might have touched them, intentionally or not, even by sitting near the open casket or by walking pass when viewing the body, you’re exposed to the germs and the bacteria. Sometimes by helping carried the casket, there might be unwanted things that seep out that you might have touched, think of Laos, the condition of a corpse is totally different from here in the US, so taking a shower before entering the home makes sense.

As far as meal for Lao tradition, it’s according to seniority, of course, if you believe in the ghost of the house, then they would get a portion before anyone. In Laos, for those that believe in this, they’d prepare Par Kao Thip (a small meal for ghost spirit), then our parents always get to eat the hot steamy rice, and with them having as many children as us, the younger ones such as myself would get to eat the left over cold rice, and they said that it’s good for us kids because it’d make us big and strong. I always question this when I was little, but they would say ‘Gin Kao Yen End Yhai (eat cold rice then you’ll have big muscle), back then I didn’t care to be ‘End Yhai’ (big muscle) because the soft new rice obviously tastes a lot better.

I’m sure that there are many more things that we do because of the belief of ghost in the house, and every region in Laos have their own belief and practice. If you have some to share, I would love to learn more about our odd tradition, the reasoning behind the belief of ghost in the house.

15 thoughts on “The Belief of Ghost In The House”

  1. We had a ghost house at our farm back in Hawaii. As a kid, I remember being so afraid of it.

    I always get Pee Um by the way… usually like every other night. Sometimes it’s so bad that I see myself as the third person looking at myself getting Pee Umm. It was quite scary. Oddly, now that I liv in my new home, I haven’t had Pee Umm lately.

  2. giiid, might be a bit odd to you, it’s a cultural thing that has been passed down for generations, but I believed it has forgotten some by the younger generations.

    PaNoy, the MP3 kept froze on me, but I got through the whole thing. It is interesting that the experiences of near death experience is universal, that people experienced almost the same thing where ever you are, but the interpretation is different because of our own belief, of how we were brought up. Same with this nightmare that we’re having, those from the Southeast Asian region often think of it as Pee Umm, but there is also a scientific explanation for it as well.

    lady0fdarkness, when I was a junior in high school, we moved to Philadelphia and bought a house that someone died in it, this we did not know because a family was living in it at the time, and the person that died was the owner before this family. One time, we had out of town guests from Virginia that came to a relative’s wedding and they stayed with us in the attic which has 2 bedrooms. They were talking amongst themselves the next morning that Pee Umm them the whole night and they were comparing notes.

    Then later that year, one of my sisters came to visit and slept up there also, and there were 2 Victorian lamps in one of the bedrooms, and she also felt the Pee Umm, she heard monks chanting in the background and someone came out from one of the lamps toward her but she couldn’t get up and was aware of the movement in the room. We later on found out from our next door neighbor that an old man died in the house. The night before we moved back to NYC, my mom dreamed of an old lady dressed in black stood at the foot of the steps with her arms spread out, she asked my mom not to move because she liked our family. When we moved to our new house in Bayside, Queens NY, it was real old and looked more haunted than our house in Philadelphia. This might be why I like ghost story so much, so fascinating. 🙂

  3. Hi there, Ginger!

    I knew about not sleeping with your arm laying across the chest. It is something I’ve heard since I was a kid.

    I don’t think every home in Laos have a spirit house. If the parents or grandparents never practiced this believe then most likely the kids will do the same.

    I went to a Thai restaurant last Friday and saw a spirit house in front of this establishment. I got a picture for you but I don’t know how I can post it here. 😦

  4. Ginger, I grew up with the same teachings. My mom would always tell us if we don’t want any nightmares to not cross our arms across our chest like a dead person.

    As for spirits remaining in the house, I have to say, I kind of believe that because, there’s houses that I have been in that gives me the creep! Also, here in Yuma, we have one of the oldest prison, called the territorial prison. When I went into the prison cell during my little tour, I was creeped out because I can feel the root of my hair stand up and the darkness of the cell was oppressive. It could be the idea that the prison is haunted freaked me out or the thought that some of the prisoners had died in there. Whatever it was, it didn’t like the feeling!

  5. I get “pee um” all the time..every since I was younger and its hererity bc it happens to my mom quite often,too. I did a research paper on sleep paralysis bc I wanted to fully understand why this happens and how to prevent it….but it’s tough to believe its just ‘sleep paralysis’ when I hear things, supposely see things, feel like someone is tickling my stomach, and can’t control movement all at the same time!

  6. Hi Dallas, thanks in advance for the picture, can you email it to me and I will post it at ‘A Spirit House’ post, should look interesting.

    It’s true that if the parents don’t practice, then most likely the children wouldn’t either and might not even be aware of this, but not necessary means that things don’t exist, sometimes I think we’d feel it around us. I came across a Lao guy that mocks a Lao tradition of moving into a new home once, and he is older than me and I think he should know better because he came to the US when he was older. The family just moved into their new home and I was standing by the window looking at their Pra Kao Thip outside, and he tried to make a conversation and said, “That’s not enough for a dog,” I don’t know how others would take it, but to me it is such a turn off to mock someone’s tradition, I didn’t even want to talk to him then.

    Laotian Teacher and Audrey, I think some people have six sense and can feel and see things that others can’t. I wish I have this, but I’m sure those that do have six sense feel that it’s a curse rather than a blessing. I find older home fascinating, but don’t feel anything when I entered into one. Even when I’m at a cemetery, I kept thinking that I should feel something, but at the end, nothing, maybe I try too hard. 😦

    Laotian Teacher, thanks for sharing your story of the prison, I would imagine that it’d even be scarier at night, goosebumps just thinking about it.

    Audrey, such fascinating story that you have (to me anyway), I love ghost story. I think people can try to explain things to you, but ultimately you know it yourself of what you feel or experiences, you should start writing a book or blog about this, I would love to read it. 🙂

  7. Ginger so true, it does feel more like a curse! I feel like when I do tell my experiences, I feel like I’m telling jokes or make-belief. You know, I should write a book on my sleep paralysis bc I honestly think I have a severe case of it. *I’m not coo-coo I swear..I minored in Pysch so I learned to understand how & why I think certain things..logically at least*

    My bf parents have that little house in front of their house and when we do sleep over, omg, my feet gets tickled ALL THE TIME!And that I do believe that the spirits there know that I don’t follow their religion or maybe bc I’m weak hearted.(I’ve been told its his grandpa) I had tennis shoes on with socks the entire day..I know my feet isn’t dirty!
    I live in TX and Indian territory all over the Plains and my house is rather an older house so it’s pretty dam creepy, but I’m use to it. I tell them to get the f* out of my house when I get ‘pee-um.’

  8. Audrey, I think how people take your story is based on their background, and belief, and something like this even most non-believer can’t prove scientifically that it doesn’t exist, and I think you yourself know it more than anyone, especially when you know what you feel, and experiences, in a situation such as this, I often trust my own gut instinct.

    Even though I’ve never experienced any of this, except when I was little, about 5 years old in Laos that I heard a dead girl crying passed our house, but that’s the only time, then I had nightmares for several years, but mostly of me falling off the cliff or airplane and couldn’t find my way back home, and I believed I was traumatized by the sudden moved from a war torn country, Laos when I barely turned 6, when I understood the situation better, the nightmare went away.

    I was brought up to believe this, and always respect the unseen; stuff that we don’t experience doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist in this word. The belief in Animism is not the same as Buddhism, and you don’t have to follow the Buddhist religion to show respect, maybe next time you’re over at your bf’s parent’s house, you can ask them to show you the proper way to pay respect, and it’s actually very simple, you just have to lit an incense stick and tell them that you’re a part of this family and please don’t bother you, and this might work, but if it doesn’t, at least you pay your respect.

  9. Wow everyone has such interesting experiences on this subject. And it is an interesting subject too!

    I was just thinking about how I shouldn’t put my hand on chest when I sleep the other night. It’s so much a part of me, I almost forgot how strange that would sound to people who are not Lao.

    I don’t think ghost like to mess with me very much. What I usually do when I get that creepy odd feeling in old homes or strange places is to talk to the ghost. I just tell the ghost that I’m just a visitor and if they are here to protect me then they can stay, otherwise if they are evil then need to leave. And if I still feel a presence, I just say “Follow the light and go where you are meant to be.” And this works all the time for me! Of course I say all this to myself and not out loud 🙂

  10. Hi Salat, thanks for sharing your story, if I was the ghost I would think “you don’t look so tough.” 😉

    As I was reading what you’d say to the ghost, “Follow the light…” I often wondered if it has to be said out loud or okay in silence, but then again, believing there is a ghost spirit is a bit far fetched for some people, and talking to one, they might think we’re crazy for sure. 🙂

  11. I really enjoy reading about our culture and beliefs. I’ve had experiences with pee-umm and the whole thing about the ghosts in the house, but my parents tell me that the only ghosts the are allowed in the house is from san-pa-poum you know the building of a wooden house outside of your house. Thats suppose to be the ghost that protects your house from all the bad spirits that may enter your house. Anyways i agree younger generations dont know much about the past so thanks for posting this. ^_^ Im also young (18yrs old) ^_^

  12. Hi Lintha, thanks for your visit and comment. Sometimes I often wondered who all is reading what I wrote, if there is anyone out there that have any interest in the Lao Tradition, especially young Laotians, and very happy to hear from you.

    As for the guardian that protects your house, he is the one and only but I think if other wandering ghost/spirit needed a place to stay, I’m sure he’d allow, of course, I’ve only seen this in Thai movies, I don’t know how true this is. 🙂

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