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Filipino Superstitious Beliefs During Wakes & Funerals

-or pamahiin sa patay.

During the wake of my father, I noticed a lot of superstitious beliefs that made me raise one of my eyebrows for reasons that some of them are ridiculous. When I confronted some of my old relatives of why I can’t sweep the floor during the wake, they can’t even explain the rationale. They just answered, “it’s what our ancestors taught us”.

My Fiancé was even surprised to hear such amazing beliefs as they don’t have those in their culture. I explained to him that we, Filipinos are really obedient in following these beliefs to prevent any consequences (and believe me they are really scary!).

Modernized Filipinos would say: Superstitious beliefs are just guidelines. You have nothing to lose if you follow it. So, better safe than sorry.

Here are some of the common Filipino superstitious beliefs or pamahiin during wakes and funerals:

  1. Don’t wear red or other bright-colored clothes. When attending a wake or a funeral, one should wear dark-colored clothes as a sign of mourning. The color red is said to ward off the dead. Children are allowed to wear red-colored clothes to avoid seeing or playing with the spirit of the dead relative.
  2. Family members should refrain from sweeping the floor during the wake. It is believed that sweeping might drive away the spirit of the dead, and also it will make the spirits of his alive loved ones follow him.
  3. Don’t bring home any food served from the wake. The dead will follow you home.
  4. Avoid tears from falling in the casket. The spirit might find it difficult to transition to the afterlife. Kindly bring a handkerchief.
  5. The dead should not wear any shoes inside the casket. Old people believed that the dead could be anywhere in the house, thus to avoid hearing any footsteps from it.
  6. During the wake, family members are not allowed to accompany visitors outside the door. Visitors should go their own way or else the accompanying family member will be the next to die.
  7. Children should wear red or anything with red when sleeping. This will prevent the dead from visiting them. Children tend to get sick or have nightmares.
  8. Someone should be awake at night to watch over the casket. The main reason for this is to prevent supernatural forces or aswang from stealing the dead body from the coffin. This is why a vigil during a wake is really popular in the Philippines. Visitors stay up late by gambling or playing cards, BINGO, or mahjong.  These will keep them from sleeping, thus helping the family watch over the dead. Gambling is allowed during the wake because the pot money will then be given to the family to help with the funeral expenses.
  9. Family members should not say thank you to people giving their condolences. It is assumed that you are saying thank you that someone is dead.
  10. People can whisper wishes to the dead. We called this bulong or whisper. It is said that the spirit will carry your wishes to heaven. This practice is commonly done to those who had died recently where the spirit hasn’t separated from the body yet.
  11. Money contributions for the dead should not be used for other things. The money is saved to help pay funeral expenses. Anyone who steals the money is going to be haunted by the dead.
  12. A broken rosary should be place on the hand of the dead. To guide the spirit as he journeys to the afterlife. A rosary is torn to break any curse and prevent family members from following the dead.
  13. Pregnant women should avoid looking at the dead inside the coffin. It will give them a hard time delivering their babies.
  14. Don’t visit two wakes at the same day. It is believed that people doing this are criss-crossing deaths in both households, meaning, a family member will die next.
  15. Avoid going straight home after attending a wake. Visitors usually passed by the malls, gasoline stations or other places to prevent the dead from following them straight to their homes. The Filipino term for this is Pagpag.
  16. Family members are not allowed to take a shower or comb their hair in the place where the wake is held. It will bring bad luck to the family.
  17. All the mirrors found in the house or in the place where the wake is held should be covered with cloth. To avoid seeing the spirit of the dead in the mirror. Of course!
  18. Women on their period should not visit any wake or attend funeral. They will suffer a foul-smelling menstruation every month.
  19. Throw coins in front of the  funeral car if ever you passed by a funeral procession. This is common during the old times where people can still tolerate marching from the church to the cemetery under the heat of the sun. People who passed by a funeral procession throws a coin that will serve as the spirit’s fare or toll in the afterlife. Today, you can rarely see a funeral procession by walking, mostly it’s with cars.
  20. When carrying the coffin out of the house, the family members should hide in a closed room and face the wall. This is said to avoid any succeeding deaths in the family. When going out of the house to the funeral, the family should not walk on the path where the casket passed by. They should go the other way, or another death will follow.
  21. Step over some ashes outside your doorstep before entering the house. This is a common practice among Filipinos. After attending a funeral, you should stomp your shoes over the ashes before entering the house, so the body of the dead will return to ashes. I really don’t get this one. My mother said that old people took it literally from a verse in the bible that says:  Ashes to ashes. We come from dust, so when we die we return to dust.
  22. Remove and wash all curtains used during the wake. This is applicable if the wake was held in the house. House or funeral homes, either way, all curtains should be wash to remove any negative energy left from the wake.
  23. Family members or widows should only wear black for one year. As a sign of grief or loss.

After the funeral, a novena or a prayer for the dead is performed for nine days. This is called pasiyam. It is a common Catholic belief that the soul of the departed will come to realize that he is dead on the ninth day, hence, embracing the afterlife. There is usually a small meal after every novena.

Forty days is also one of the famous tradition in the Philippines. It is connected to Jesus Christ’s ascension in heaven forty days after his resurrection. Filipinos believed that the spirit of the dead will finally ascend to heaven and enter the kingdom of God. There would be a little celebration in the house and people would even put little portions of food in the altar as offering to the dead.

Babang Luksa is another tradition that marks the first death anniversary. For the family, it simply means that mourning has come to an end. Those who are following the tradition of wearing black for one year can now wear different-colored clothes.

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