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Lions Roar : November 2019
see but often feel. Most homes and businesses host a spirit house, like a miniature temple, where humans honor unseen visitors with flowers, incense, food, and water. Many highly educated Thai people, along with millions of the rural popula- tion, believe in the tutelary spirits of place. From spirits, ghosts are hardly a leap: many people in Thailand believe in those rest- less beings trapped between realms and lives, often because of crimes committed in a previous existence. After learning about spirit houses and ghosts, the water witch who lived under the bridge didn’t surprise me. Her presence prevented the village children from going down to the water at dusk (when malarial mosquitoes came out) and at night (when the danger of having an accident was higher) or, most dangerous of all in a profoundly communal culture, alone. When I joked to my friends that I planned to swim on my own, they reminded me of the witch, who’d cause me prob- lems and possibly even drown me. I never did swim there alone. For me, in Thailand, the unseen became an exciting, wonderfully awful part of existence. As much as we fear external sources of uncertainty and danger, we also fear our own shadow—the complex human darkness with which every individual and culture wrestles. In Thailand, these forces of danger were projected outward but close—near the houses we lived in, under the bridge where we played, into the abandoned schoolhouse of the village where the ghost of a girl who killed herself could be heard sometimes crying at night. This was the supernatural made natural, the frightening but real part of daily life, the lived experience of a small community. Now my son has grown into the rationalist I always knew he’d be and he’s already declared that this year, his thirteenth, h e’s not trick-or-treating. “And if I change my mind and go at the last minute,” he says, “it will only be for the candy.” But I hope that in some dark recess of his being, he’ll venture to visit the haunted house down the street and the neighbor who dresses up, almost too convincingly, as a witch. KAREN CONNELLY is a writer, educator, and therapist who lives in Toronto and Greece. She’s written several books about her experiences in Thailand and Burma, including The Lizard Cage. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2019 71