Avoiding stairs that veer left, gourmet termites
Building my house almost a decade ago gave me first-hand experience of certain superstitions Filipinos have when it comes to their abodes.
I approached most of these beliefs with amusement, but was intrigued enough to do additional research as the construction progressed and ended up following some of them on the advice of my architect, a grizzled veteran of many a project, and his builders.
A number of them were based on sound planning practices. For example, orienting the building to take in the rays of the morning sun by having wide windows facing the rising sun, as well as to admit the southeast breezes to cool your house.
Two faces of the house taking in the morning sun is ideal. This can be achieved if a corner of the house faces the morning sun by having it face east. I didn’t want to take any chances: I had more windows built (more than in the originally blueprint), and large ones at that, so my house had better chances of absorbing natural and spiritual graces. Segurista.
Keeping luck in, misfortune away
My architect suggested that when building a house within a family compound or between two relatives, to make sure that the roof is not higher than theirs. Why? Their their lives might never progress, or will always be worse.
A sibling’s house must also not be built too close to that of his parents such that rainwater from the eaves of the main house pours onto the roof of the sibling.
Building a house on a dead-end lot must be avoided as much as possible. Either a financial misfortune, or worse, a death in the family will befall its occupants. Applicable to both house owner and tenant, if the former is not residing in it, this superstition is attributed to Pampangos in Central Luzon.
An imperative ritual in building a house, perhaps the Ilocano counterpart of the cornerstone-laying ceremony, is to imbed the foundation posts with loose coins—for good luck.
Doors inside houses must not directly parallel other doors that lead outside. Easy exits mean money earned may be quickly dissipated and never saved. There seems to be a remedy for this, which is to make inside doors face walls, if only for the interpretation that walls bar money from going out; a stop-gap measure, so to speak.
As for stairs, they should always turn right, that being the righteous path. This particular belief applies best to the marital bond. An opposite direction signifies infidelity. Note that the vernacular term kaliwete (left-handed) refers to the wanton spouse.
The right steps
Since we are on the subject of stairs, can steps be far behind?
Among the Tagalogs, stair steps are erected with a ritual that calls for alternate counting to three, using the chant “Oro, plata, mata” (Gold, silver, death) for each count. Of course, the counting commences with the lowest rung. The topmost step should never end with “mata,” that being a symbol of bad luck. On the other hand, “oro,” and “plata” represent good luck.
An orientation towards the east is also required for stairs.
Ilocanos position their stairs so that they rise with the morning sun. To them, if it were the other way around, meant turning one’s back on fate.
But builders in Pandi, Bulacan, believe that a stairway facing east is considered bad luck. They say anything facing the early sun dries up ahead of all others, and in the same token, wealth taken into the house will dry up much faster.
For business establishments, especially the small ones, the cashier or the place where money is kept should not be located under the staircase. In homes, neither should rice be kept there because it translates to stepping on the grace of God whenever one goes up or down the stairs.
When planning a structure with two or more storeys, the stairway should not be positioned at the center of the structure so as not to divide the building into two equal parts.
Beware of bargains
Ilocanos of the northernmost part of the Philippines cut down aratiles trees growing in front of their houses to prevent their daughters from being illicitly impregnated. It seems, however, that this particular superstition applies only to original homeowners. Tenants or renters are exempt.
Septic tanks whose tops protrude from the ground are asking for an offering in the form of human life. To avert tragedy, septic tanks should never rise beyond ground level; better yet, they should be sunken.
The mother of all jinxes is a house that had been the scene of a traumatic event, like a robbery or murder. It is the tendency of the owners of such a house to offer it for sale at the earliest opportunity. So beware of bargains.
Some people fear financial bad luck when termites invade a house. Termites are termites, however. Superstition or not, houses made of wood are most vulnerable to these pests. They can easily devour a house in what can be described as a most expensive meal.
Bedrooms, mirrors, “tumbok”
It is advised that one must plan the doors of one’s bedrooms in such a way that when it is opened, one would face neither the foot nor head of the bed.
There should always be ample space between the door and the bed itself. Position the bed such that the headboard does not rest against a window opening. Neither should you put any bed under a cross beam, regardless of whether the beam is of wood or concrete, and position the bed so that the occupant will not be lying perpendicular to the beam.
Mirrors should never face a house’s main door because it is believed that the mirror will send out the blessings that are supposed to go inside the house. This means that the residents of the house will experience financial difficulties and bad luck.
During construction, residents or the carpenters working on the house offer a pig or a chicken’s blood through pouring it to the foundations or posts of the house. This is an ancient pagan Filipino belief that is done to prevent spirits living in the area from being upset with the family and the construction workers.
My builders surprised me during one site visit when I saw them twisting posts clockwise before cementing it in its place. Doing this, they explained, makes the house safe from typhoons.
A house that is built in the middle of a crossroad and faces the dead end, or what is called “tumbok” in Filipino, is bad news for its residents. This also applies to buildings, apartments, and all other structures.
The same is believed by people who believe in Feng Shui. Living in a house which is positioned that way will cause bankruptcy, or death to its occupants.