Gail Villanueva’s My Fate According to the Butterfly is about a young girl, Sab, who believes she has days left to live after seeing a black butterfly. For non-Filipino readers – especially those in the west – Sab’s belief in an otherwise baseless superstition might be a bit silly. But for Filipinos or people raised in the Philippines, being affected by superstitious beliefs isn’t as strange as one might think. I mean, as kids we’re warned about certain superstitions by our parents/relatives, grown adults who we trust and rely on. How can you not believe in a black butterfly’s death omen when your own parent tells you that this is so?
No matter how educated, rational, or skeptical you are, it’s hard shake off these superstitions without warning bells ringing in the back of your head. While my family isn’t as superstitious as others, I still believed in a lot of superstitions as a child. Here are just the top five that really affected me back then
1. Sleeping on a Bed directly facing the door leads to an early death 💀
I’m starting off this list with this one because it affects me even now. Months ago I rearranged the furniture in my room, my bed pushed to the corner opposite my bedroom door. I knew about the superstition but I really wanted to change things around my space. When my mother saw this, she was adamant that I find some other place for my bed. I halfheartedly protested but moved my bed hours later. I didn’t like dragging my stuff around my room all over again but the urgent tone of my mother’s voice reignited the cautiousness I used to have about this specific belief.
I looked it up and apparently this superstition is believed in many other cultures. Something to do with feng shui. Apparently dead bodies are typically transported out of a room feet first and to sleep in that position isn’t a good look. Quite morbid but at least there’s some basis for the belief. Sort of.
2. Dropping a fork during a meal means you’ll get a visitor soon 🍴
This one though just doesn’t make sense to me even now. I remember when I’d eat lunch with my high school friends and every time one of us accidentally drops their fork, we’d all tease them for their upcoming visitor. Now, I’m not sure if this superstition means an actual human visitor or something more supernatural but I’d always feel uneasy when I’d drop my fork. I don’t want to entertain any sort of visitor just because of a utensil, corporeal or otherwise.
While looking up the background for this superstition, I learned that dropping a fork means you’ll get a male visitor while a spoon means a female visitor. No explanation as to why. Huh.
3. Complimenting a baby too Much brings bad luck 👶
Actually, this isn’t even limited to babies. Throughout my childhood, whenever an older relative or a neighbor would compliment me and my sisters, they’d always followed it up with an explicit “pwera buyag” (pwera usog in other parts of the country).
Basically, it’s believed that if you praise a baby too much, you’re essentially inviting bad luck or sickness on to the child. Sometimes it’s feared that the opposite of the compliment will happen. Like if a baby is remarked to be active and healthy, it might end up weak and sickly. You have to ward off the jinx with a good ol’ “pwera buyag!”
It’s strange because, from an outsider’s perspective, replying to a compliment with “buyag” seems like an act of modesty – and that’s actually how I understood it when I was younger – but in reality there’s an underlying danger of being struck with negative energy.
4. Sleeping With an Empty Stomach will make your Soul leave your Body in Search of food 👻
As far-fetched as the concept of buyag/usog is, this superstition, in my opinion, is far more ridiculous. Mainly because, as an irresponsible adult person in charge of her life, I’ve fallen asleep without dinner countless times and my soul has never once evacuated my body to look for sustenance. At least, not that I can remember.
However, I was constantly warned by my parents and elders to never go to sleep hungry because my soul or spirit or whatever won’t stay put otherwise. I was even warned that there’s a chance my soul will be trapped in our rice cooker and I won’t be able to wake up then. Some grown ups would go so far as cite an incident that happened to their friend or relative or someone who did this and almost couldn’t wake up. If they were telling the truth – which is doubtful – I’m pretty sure their friend or relative was probably suffering from sleep paralysis or something. No wayward souls to blame, I think.
5. Trying on a Wedding Dress When You’re not the bride means you’ll never get married 👰
A lot of Filipino superstition has to do with not tempting fate in some way. This one is a good example. Unless you’re the one getting married, you shouldn’t ever try on a wedding dress because then you’d be dooming yourself to never get married.
Similarly, trying on a graduation toga before you’re set to graduate leads to the same fate. I had a college friend try on his graduating friend’s toga and when we reminded him of the superstition, he hurriedly took it off. He tried to laugh it off but we could see actual fear in his eyes. To be fair, he was a fourth year engineering student. Best not to risk it.
There are plenty of superstitions that I’ve left out but these five are the ones that I have distinct memories of. Are any of them real? Probably not. But still, sometimes it’s better safe than sorry, right?