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The Spirit House

 

I have previously shared a number of strange tales about my grandmother's house in Cairnhill, with its shadowed past. During WWII, when Singapore fell under the Occupation from 1942 - 1945, several violent deaths had occurred in the area. Such troubled memories can linger on.

My elder sister, Lily and I attended school in the Cairnhill locale during the 1970s, when Singapore was not as heavily populated, nor were there as many tall buildings along Orchard Road, the main thoroughfare of the CBD. Our school comprised a series of rambling colonial-style buildings on a hill, situated off Orchard Road. A number of stately mansions from the same period lined that steep incline, under the dark shade of leafy trees. It was a quiet secluded area, with the traffic sounds from Orchard Road dying away almost as soon as we stepped onto the narrow footpath.

There was one property in particular that caught my attention. It had a sprawling overgrown garden like the one at my grandmother's house, a tropical jungle with tall grass, lush banana plants, slender nibong palms, an umbrella-shaped flame-of-the-forest and a few angsana trees. At the very front, overlooking the path, was a huge banyan tree with trailing adventitious roots that looked like a grumpy old man with a long beard. I called him Old Man Tree. Remember Treebeard, the Ent from Lord of the Rings, the shepherd of trees? In my mind, he would have taken the form of an ancient banyan tree.

A wooden shelter, complete with a roof and mounted on a platform, sat behind the curtain of roots. It looked to be a small tree house built for the children of some wealthy family, abandoned after they had grown up. I was never tempted to wander off the path and venture any closer to explore it. There was something that warned me to stay away.

From the size of the banyan tree, it had probably stood there for over a hundred years or more. It could even have dated back to the days when Singapore was covered with mangrove swamps. My Primary School classmates whispered vague warnings about Old Man Tree and how that little house was supposed to be haunted. As there was not much detail, I took them as just stories.

In the years when Lily was with me, all would be well. There was safety in numbers. But then came the day she went to Secondary School and had classes at a different time. I was left to face Old Man Tree on my own.

It was almost midday and I was in the afternoon school session that year. I would have been about ten at the time. I was on my way to school, climbing up the hill and approaching the garden when I heard someone softly call my name. The voice did not sound familiar and I could not tell if it was from a man, or woman. But I was certain it came from the direction of Old Man Tree. I could not see anyone there. To be honest, I did not want to spare more than a cursory glance.

The day was hot and humid, but it was cool in the shade. Almost cold for a few seconds.

Suddenly, I was afraid, very afraid. My senses screamed at me to run!

In a panic, I scrambled up the hill as fast as my short legs would take me. My heart was pounding, my schoolbag bumping hard into my back with every step. I ran all the way towards the protection of the main school gates, expecting at any moment someone, or something, would grab me from behind.

But no one stopped me. By the time I was seated at my desk in class, I was halfway convinced nothing had happened. Even so, in the days that followed, I would quicken my pace when I neared the banyan tree and then dash past it.

Nothing else happened for a while and I began to relax, taking my time walking up the hill. But when it was least expected, I would hear my name being called again. Quietly. With no one in sight. Unnerved, I would make a run for it. I never stopped, never looked back.

Lily showed me another route to school when I told her I did not like going up that road. The other way took me to the back gates on the far side of the property, through the Secondary School section. It was a much longer, more roundabout way from the bus stop to school, but it enabled me to avoid going anywhere near Old Man Tree and that creepy little house.

For years, I did not mention those incidences to anyone, not even to my classmates. It was easier to tell myself it was just my imagination. I simply did not want to think about it.

Then my younger sister, Cara started Primary School and was warned by her friends to beware of the spirit who lived in the old banyan tree. She came home and talked to me about it, and we decided to ask Lily.

'Lily, remember that old banyan near the Primary School?' I asked.

She gave us a guarded look. 'Yeah, why?'

'People from school say that the tree house is haunted,' said Cara.

'Don't listen to those stories,' she chided. 'It's a spirit house, that's all.'

Just then, our mother walked into the room and heard us. 'Oh, that old place. Your Uncle and Auntie knew the people who used to live there.'

Our parents had lived in Grandma's house at Cairnhill, before I was born. Mum confirmed that the spirit house had been erected as a shrine to Sun Wu-kong, the Monkey God.

It is still the practice in IndoChina and other Southeast Asian countries to appease the spirits by providing shelter for them. Offerings are placed there to show due respect, in the hope that the spirits will not cause any trouble.

Was I imagining things all those years ago? Or was it a mischievous trickster god who gave me a scare?

Note: all names mentioned have been changed.

Other hauntings by Jubeele

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Comments about this paranormal experience

The following comments are submitted by users of this site and are not official positions by yourghoststories.com. Please read our guidelines and the previous posts before posting. The author, Jubeele, has the following expectation about your feedback: I will read the comments and participate in the discussion.

Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+3
2 months ago (2020-07-15)
Hi Fenrispro, this all happened many years ago and much has changed in the Cairnhill area. A modern building complex stands in the spot where the property used to be. The Primary and Secondary Schools have moved to another locality, and Grandma's house has long been replaced by a condominium.

But there could very well be spirit houses in parts of Singapore. I've seen Buddhist shrines at the back of some Chinese restaurants and shops, like in old Chinatown. Have you seen those red altars with gold trim and a small roof sheltering the joss sticks, and bowl of food? I think they could be considered spirit houses in their own right.

Sorry to hear about your cousin falling so ill. Have no idea if any supernatural forces were responsible for that. But as far as I know, Thailand doesn't follow Voodoo or Vodou, which originally came from West Africa and is practised in places like the Caribbean, Latin America etc. I've heard cautionary tales of Siamese black magic, as something to be avoided. But the spirit house was of the Monkey God, who is considered by many Buddhists to be a protective deity.

Looking back on that period, I don't think I was in any real danger. It felt more like I had been pranked. Maybe by something or someone being mischievous, just being funny? 🤔
Fenrispro (49 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-07-05)
Oh this is a new story, I just saw it on the front pg! So the banyan tree had really been haunted? I didn know spirit houses exist here and definitely won't go to thailand. 😟 I had a cousin who went to Thai, got sick went Icu and then became mentally challenged. Voodoo
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+4
3 months ago (2020-06-27)
Brother 'Brat', thanks for that snippet of info. Never knew there was a Fanta Strawberry either. 😊

There are beautifully ornate spirit houses in Thailand provided for animal spirits in the garden, due the belief that spirits can exist in all things animate or inanimate. There's a famous one in Bangkok that was built to ward off bad luck, the San Phra Phum, translated as "The Abode of the Land Guardian Angel".

According to the 'Encyclopedia Mythica', if a spirit house is damaged or no longer needed, it cannot be just thrown away. "It must be taken to a suitable location, for example to the foot of a large, venerable banyan tree. After giving the appropriate thanks, it is left there to rest in the company of other spirit houses." Perhaps that was the case with the spirit house from my childhood?

Https://pantheon.org/articles/s/san_phra_phum.html
Https://www.thaiwebsites.com/thai-spirit-houses.asp#:~:text=The%20San%20Phra%20Phum%20%28in%20English%2C%20t
He%20Abode,will%20be%20topped%20by%20a%20Khmer%20style%20Prang.
Https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_house
RCRuskin (8 stories) (637 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-06-24)
Hi again. I got curious about Spirit Houses, did a short wikiwalk, https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WikiWalk, about Spirit Houses. Lots of interesting stuff out there. But the thing that surprised me most is that in Thailand, Fanta Strawberry is the preferred food/drink gift.
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+5
3 months ago (2020-06-22)
Melda, I could appreciate the magnificence of the banyan tree when I saw it as an adult with Rex when we visited the Botanical Gardens in Singapore, which has even older and larger specimens. But they didn't arouse in me any feelings of dread. Or was that because I was viewing them with more mature eyes and there was no spirit house attached?

Once, I saw a temple medium of the Monkey God being carried on a sedan chair, his head lolling about and in a trance. I was told that he was preparing to be a living avatar for Sun Wu-kong. The strength of the devotees' faith had me thinking I could sense a powerful Presence nearby. It was quite unexpected and more than a little unnerving.

I have relatives who follow the Buddhist faith and my parents taught us to observe a few Taoist/Buddhist practices. My family has always advised us to be aware of our surroundings, be respectful and above all, be careful. Because we never know who or what might just be around...
Melda (9 stories) (1287 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-06-22)
Jubeele - I just had to comment again after watching the links you added for lady-glow and Alina.

The banyan tree is actually quite beautiful and I can understand why some legends are attached to it.

I also never realised that there was a huge celebration for the Monkey God each year.

What a very interesting culture you have inherited!

Regards, Melda
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+2
3 months ago (2020-06-22)
Hello Alina

For years, I thought that spirit house was a rundown children's playhouse. It is a shame the people who erected it in the first place didn't take care of it and give the shrine the proper respect.

I've also wondered if they thought there was something else connected to the tree that needed to be kept in check. Maybe the spirit house was put up to invoke the protection of the Monkey God, who is known to battle demons and evil spirits. Sun Wu-kong is still worshipped by Buddhists in Singapore, Southeast Asia, and China. The Monkey God Festival is celebrated on the 16th day of the eighth Chinese Lunar month. He is revered among his devotees.
Https://www.ghettosingapore.com/birthday-of-the-monkey-god/

Even after all these years, I still think I could have been imagining things or someone was playing a creepy prank on children. But if it was an actual person, that makes it even scarier.

Thank you for reading and your interesting insight.
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+2
3 months ago (2020-06-22)
What lady-glow, you haven't watched LOTR?! Do read the books before watching any of the movies. Tolkien is a brilliant read.

The banyan tree kind of looked like this. But with many more bristly strands. Once these tendrils grow to touch the ground, they become woody prop roots, thickening into new trunks. Hence, the banyan's symbolism as a Tree of Life, and its significance in the cycle of life and death.
Https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-13056158-big-banyan-tree

Rex brought up the fact that the banyan is from the family of strangler figs. I wonder if your hammock tree is one as well. What a name, "strangler fig" - killer tree. 😲
Https://www.thoughtco.com/the-fascinating-strangler-fig-1343304
Https://homeguides.sfgate.com/strangler-fig-tree-48856.html
Alina5 (3 stories) (136 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-06-22)
Hello Jubelee,

A spirit God!, quite a witty remark honestly. I have been always annoyed by such people who just don't consider fulfilling the responsibilities after concluding the decision thereby, causing a nuisance to others.

Even though the plausible reason for the happening is still under doubt, I believe changing the location of the shrine might be helpful in subsiding the activities along with the "creepy" feeling every primary schooler have to experience on that path.

I believe there are still certain families to have their faith in Spirit Gods,
Hopefully,Sun Wu-Kong,the monkey God would again regain the prestige and offerings from his faithful followers, rather than disturbing the passerbys.

Peace
lady-glow (12 stories) (2682 posts)
+4
3 months ago (2020-06-21)
Hello Jubeele!

Thanks for sharing this fascinating experience. I imagine how scary it must have been for little you to hear that voice.

Can you believe that I haven't watched "Lord of the Rings"?

There's an old tree at the back of my house, I don't know what kind of tree it is but it's limbs and branches grow like spirals and the trunk is twisted and dry. When we first moved to this place I thought this tree could be haunted because there is an animal's jaw bone stuck in the trunk and the bark has grown around it... Just my imagination, the tree provides a peaceful spot for my hammock.
Rex-T (5 stories) (268 posts)
+7
3 months ago (2020-06-21)
I'm well acquainted with the Strangler Fig family here in Australia. In fact the local species is named after the colonial name for Sydney Harbour - The Port Jackson Fig.

However, while on my first trip to Singapore with Jubeele, I found myself in the Botanic Gardens and in the presence of the Banyan Tree. Although I was ignorant of the religious significance of these trees, there was definitely some form of primeval power emanating from the tree, which caused me to take a step backward.

I did not hear any voices and it wouldn't have mattered if I did, there was no way I was getting any closer to that tree!

Different beliefs have associated trees with the circle of life and the Banyan Tree is no exception - branches hanging down to meet roots rising up.

Hmmm. Maybe a place where the living sometimes encounter the spirits. Maybe the Monkey God himself.

Rex_T
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-06-21)
Melda, our school was founded in 1899 and many stories were handed down over the years. But my schoolmates did mention something about hearing voices and seeing shadows. Maybe there were others who were also called by name. Lily said that she had a classmate who claimed to have seen the shadow of a man.

What did the spirit want? That still gives me a chill down my spine. The entity could have been 'friendly', according to the ways of the spirit world, but I think my first instinct to run was still the right one. I was afraid of being given an invitation and then, spirited away. At that age, I was wide open and unshielded, and far too vulnerable. It was best to keep a respectful distance. 😨
Melda (9 stories) (1287 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-06-21)
Jubeele - Another of your very interesting Singapore experiences.

It's a pity you could never find out whether this disembodied voice called out to other passers by. That place must have acquired its reputation as being haunted for a reason though.

Whoever or whatever was calling out to you was possibly just acknowledging your presence. Did you ever get the impression that you were in fact being invited to enter the premises?

Rather scary experience for anyone I think, especially a child.

Regards, Melda
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+2
3 months ago (2020-06-21)
Hi Manafon

Trees, especially those that reach a certain age, have a special feel and awareness to them. I've wondered if nature spirits comforted the wandering souls of women in my grandmother's garden. The singing women under the banana plants, the crying women in the bamboo grove.

During the Occupation, part of Cairnhill was sectioned off as a designated 'comfort zone'. That whole area has a shadowed past. After I wrote this account, I checked the map and realised how close this property was to my other Cairnhill experiences. They are all within the same vicinity. When I was 4, I saw a shadow man following us on the same stretch of road. Grandma's house was in the area as well. Wonder why it has never occurred to me before?

These days, I think I would try to find the source if the voice sounded friendly. But I'd still be cautious and respectful. At the first sign of trouble, I'd be out of there...! 😨
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+2
3 months ago (2020-06-21)
Hi Lealeigh

That spirit house had invisible Do-Not-Disturb signs all over it. Weird, now that I think about it. I would have thought that children would be constantly stealing into the garden to explore the strange little house. But I never heard from my schoolmates of anyone doing that.

The banyan tree really looked to me like an old man with a long beard. Gave me the creeps all through my Primary School Years. As if at any moment, if I wasn't on my guard, it would whip out those long roots and grab me! 😳
Jubeele (20 stories) (823 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-06-21)
Hey Brother 'Brat', you got to be first again! 😘

Hayao Miyazaki's 'Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi', 'Spirited Away' captured how I felt during my childhood. Like I was walking alongside the spirits all the time. One small misstep and I could end up spirited away into their world.

Sun Wu-kong is a trickster god, also known as the Monkey King. It is unlikely that he meant any harm, but his idea of humour might not be exactly comfortable for us. I wondered if he could have been giving me a "hurry-up", so I could get to school on time. Or wanting to play a prank on someone susceptible. Laughing at me for being a fraidy cat. Which I still am. 😆
Manafon1 (5 stories) (666 posts)
+4
3 months ago (2020-06-20)
Hi Jubeele--Trees seem too attract spirits just as commonly as they attract the spirit that resides in those people who retain an element of innocence within themselves. I remember reading a book titled, "True Stories of The Great Ghost Hunter" by Elliott O'Donnell, that devoted an entire chapter to hauntings directly related to trees.

Sometimes these hauntings had to do with a murder committed within the vicinity of a particular tree, was a tree a person found special in life and liked to visit in spirit form, or was the haunt (as it were) of a nature spirit.

It seems possible that whatever the spirit was that called your name was aware that you were receptive to its presence and desired to assert its existence by communicating with you. I had a paranormal experience involving a tree years ago that was a very positive one. Our reactions to the paranormal are often directly linked to our age and level of naivety. As you were a child it's not surprising the voice unnerved you. How do you think you would react if you heard a similar voice now? I'd think it likely you'd be more intrigued than frightened.

Gotta love the mysteries of existence!
Lealeigh (5 stories) (478 posts)
+1
3 months ago (2020-06-20)
Hi Jubeele!

That's cool! I'm glad that you and your sister's never felt like investigating the Spirit House. It might have angered whatever was resting there. Even though something was trying to get your attention, it was surely not for your advantage. I like how you and the other kids called the tree "Old Man Tree". I often find myself looking at the features of trees and rocks and anthropomorphizing them.

- Maria
RCRuskin (8 stories) (637 posts)
+3
3 months ago (2020-06-20)
Am I first?

One of my favorite movies is Spirited Away, rather odd since I don't like the visual styling of the movie. I loved the story, however, and all the touches, really immersing me in the culture of the place and its history.

And all this makes me wonder what the Monkey God wanted with my honorary sister. 😁

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