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Of monsters and superstitions

With the Philippine’s long history, our ancestors have passed down stories for the next generations. Some of them are filled with wisdom such as proverbs and myths, while some are just plain weird enough that we can’t rationalize. From silly superstitions to spooky mythical creatures, the Filipino culture is riddled with supernatural beliefs to this day, despite the transitions in our modern culture and lifestyle.

Misfortune is just a broom swing away

It’s hard to take adults seriously when they tell us to believe that sweeping at night will drive our luck away, but as children, we didn’t know any better. We listened, partly because our elders told us to, but mostly because we never wanted to sweep the floor anyway. By the time we’re grown up, it already left a mark on our lives, making it a difficult voice to dismiss.

We have Student A from the College of Criminal Justice Education (CCJE), who testified that his parents put books under his pillow so that he’d be smart when he would grow up. His mother, a solid pamahiin believer, even took him to coffee at a gas station kiosk after visiting a wake, or “pagpag” when people would go to different place rather than directly going home after a funeral with the intent of “shaking off” the evil spirits that might be following you. It sounds a little something like: “Someone died? Tragic. Let’s go to the mall!”

Then we have Student B, a College of Liberal Arts Communication (CLAC) alumna, whose family was apparently advised by a mystic (glowing crystal ball and all) to take superstitions seriously. One of which was that if a group of three takes a picture, the one in the middle dies first (another reason to quit third-wheeling).

These testimonies only prove that superstitions are matters of the spiritual realm. There’s likely hundreds of superstitions that us Filipinos abide by today, but not because we fully believe them. Some of us do it just to be safe, but nobody’s willing to cancel plans just because they passed by a black cat on their way.

“Monsters aren’t rea—wait, did you hear that?”

Another aspect of Filipino folklore is the scary stories of demonic creatures prowling in the darkness, commonly referred to as multo or aswang. They have been told and retold by one generation after another, often derailing from the original tale, and immortalized in our culture. To start with the most famous ones, there’s the tiyanak. Often mistaken for pesky brats, a tiyanak is an infant who died before receiving baptism rites. These undead babies-turned-goblins reside in the woods to attract unlucky passers-by with their infantile cries for a hearty midnight snack.

Next on the list is the manananggal—an aswang that can separate its upper half body from the lower half when the sun disappears from the sky. The manananggal soars during nighttime, searching for blood of their victims which makes them immortal and possess eternal beauty.

Onto the not-so-beautiful category is the tikbalang, a creature with the head and feet of a horse, and a body of a human. Tikbalangs are known to misguide mountain travelers and give people hallucinations, which make them a lot less friendly than their animated counterpart who’s only as harmful as its nihilistic outlook in life. These horsepeople may or may not be huge fans of reversible jackets, since the only way to counteract their magic is to wear your shirt inside out.

Unlike superstitions, there’s uncertainty as accounts from people who claim to have encountered them vary. Multos and aswangs are often seen by people who possess a “third eye,” and their stories are so believable most of the time that it’s hard to dismiss it as a lie despite there no scientific backing to any of these stories.

Scared into submission

Real or not, there’s no denying that these stories have affected the way we were raised. While some of it are plain ridiculous, some pose too much of a risk for traditional Filipinos to ignore. Others might have been created simply to scare children from wandering at night though.

In Student A’s case, he recognized these things simply as “a part of our culture. All these rituals and beliefs are what makes us Filipino.” Student B, on the other hand, found it annoying and never really understood the essence of these superstitions. Suffice it to say that these two embody the typical mindset of a Filipino when it comes to dealing with the supernatural.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we irrationally cling to these ridiculous beliefs is that we are still being pressured by the traditions of our families. We might sneakily remove those books under our pillow, or rebelliously sleep at night with our wet hair, but there’s still a part of us that chooses to respect the superstitions we grew up with. Logic and tradition don’t always go hand in hand, and we millennials are in the sweet spot in between both.

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    A lot of Filipinos seem to agree that there’s another plane of existence beyond what we can perceive in our everyday life. But there are also some who would refuse to acknowledge something so unscientific. Either way, these stories as part of our culture undoubtedly affected us growing up, if it’s something that our children will inherit is entirely up to us.