TODAY is Friday the 13th.
That date doesn’t have as much impact as it did decades ago. I was around seven years old when the first Friday the 13th movie came out and scared everyone out of their wits. I never saw any of the movies, only some trailers but they were enough to keep me away.
It didn’t help that one day, I saw my older sister watching a horror flick (I forgot what the title was -- maybe Poltergeist), and there was this guy in an old house running from something. He was on the second floor and he tried escaping through a window. It was one of those big windows that opened up and down. He had gotten half of his body through the window when it suddenly slammed shut on his waist and continued pressing down until the poor screaming guy was cut in half. His upper body fell to the ground below where it continued to writhe in its death throes.
I would have nightmares of that scene many times after that.
I had a lot of fears as a child and the fear of the supernatural was one of them. Oh I’ve heard about demons in church but seeing on them enacted on TV was just horrifying. It didn’t help that my Sunday School teacher assured us that the devil and evil spirits were real.
That was my entry point into the world of superstition. My classmates would talk about Friday the 13th, both the movie, and the actual superstition -- saying that we weren’t supposed to do anything risky on that day, which was a double-whammy because 13 was an unlucky number, and Jesus died on a Friday. So if you went swimming, for example, you risked drowning. If you climbed a tree, you risked falling. And if you got wounded, the bleeding wouldn’t stop, and so on and so forth.
From there, I heard about Filipino superstitions, like we weren’t supposed to pee on trees that surrounded the large fields of our schools, unless we said, “tabi-tabi po” (“excuse me” or “pardon me”). Otherwise the angry duwende (dwarves) living in that tree would afflict us with a scorching fever. We were supposed to hang cloves of garlic around the house to keep away the aswang -- a mythical shapeshifting monster commonly used to scare children into obedience. “You better finish your food. You better behave, or the aswang will come and get you while you’re sleeping.”
The Chinese culture also has a lot of superstitious beliefs mostly coming from feng shui or geomancy. I was shielded from most of those because my father (a rare breed among Chinese) didn’t believe any of that stuff, claiming that his belief in Jesus Christ superseded all of those. I would learn of these superstitions later on and would marvel that many businessmen would pay huge sums to geomancers to give them advice on how to build or remodel their houses, offices, or stores in order to bring in more luck. I remember noticing a house in our old neighborhood one day because the gate and the roof were suddenly painted a garish red and there were four golden 8’s attached to the gatepost. My dad chuckled as we drove by and explained to me that was a product of feng shui.
I’m sure those brought a lot of luck (and cash) for the geomancer.
People take their beliefs very seriously. I know someone who won’t go into business with someone else whose Chinese zodiac sign clashes with his own. There are people who won’t open a store or live in a new house unless it has been blessed by a clergyman of whatever religion they profess. Taxi drivers touch the rosaries hanging from their rearview mirrors and mutter a prayer when they pass by a church.
These same people laugh at others’ superstition but would get deeply offended when you call their own beliefs as such. I know because I did too.
It took me a while to shed off my beliefs, like old tattered clothes. Now I have discarded most of them.
Friday the 13th? Bring it on.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on October 13, 2017.
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