HERE IS A bottle of strawberry Fanta, candy red and gleaming like a liquefied Ferrari. Pop the cap and the fizz is brief, bestowing neither blessing nor enlightenment. Yet in Thailand, this soda — descended from a concoction of apple scraps and whey, improvised in Nazi Germany during the Second World War as a substitute for Coca-Cola — is one of the most popular offerings to make to the spirits who walk our world, only occasionally glimpsed by human eyes. Bring a bottle, unsipped, to a little spirit house, any of the countless across the country perched on sidewalks and outside homes, beauty salons and McDonald’s alike, and leave a straw poking out. The spirits will come, and maybe they will be pleased and protect you.
Note that there is no difference, ingredients-wise, between the Fanta in the fridge at the 7-Eleven and the Fanta of the spirits. And yet this soda, this corporate, engineered product that brings in more than a billion dollars in sales each year, has been transformed. It is no longer something merely to be consumed; it has brokered an encounter with the beyond.