27 December 2013

Pagpag and Other Superstitions Surrounding Death

I spoke to a cousin before Christmas; and the pancit lomi that we were served was from a neighbourhood lomi house, she told me. They had just come from the funeral of another cousin; and the visit to the lomi house before going home, my cousin continued, was their version of pagpag.

“Oh you only heard of that from the movie,” I teased her. That will be the Daniel Padilla-Kathryn Bernardo top-billed movie for the Metro Manila Film Festival, shown in cinemas around the country for the week starting Christmas Day.

Pagpag is a Filipino superstition – or so the movie promo itself explained – which says that one should not go straight home from visiting a wake or a funeral; else one risks attracting evil spirits back to one’s home. The way I understand it, one has to go somewhere else to shake off the bad luck; and the act of shaking it off, I guess, is why the superstition – and the movie – is called pagpag.

I am of the personal opinion that the most number of Filipino superstitions has something to do death; but I sure as hell had never heard of this pagpag superstition before the movie. That said, I am also aware that superstitions vary according to region.


Like I said, I had never heard of this pagpag superstition before. Perhaps, it is not local to Batangas, where I have lived practically my entire life. On the other hand, my attitude towards superstition has always been tolerant. Hell, there is nothing to lose; and none of these really ask for a lot.
One will never really know how many superstitious beliefs there are until somebody in the family actually dies. Then all of a sudden all these beliefs come out – from relations, from friends, from neighbours, from the undertakers. Heck, from everyone!

If the deceased died from an accident, a candle should be lit at the site of the accident; else there will be more deaths to follow. If I am not mistaken, this is also related to the nangangaon superstition which says that unless a candle is erected, the deceased fetches relations or friends to accompany him/her in the afterlife.

If somebody dies in the neighbourhood, this triggers a string of deaths in the same neighbourhood; and the pattern is broken only if a couple elopes and/or gets married or if a child is born.

At the wake, the candle beside the coffin should never be extinguished; else this brings bad luck. When a candle is almost burnt out, the next candle ought to be lit from its own flame.

One does not wear bright colours when going to a wake or a funeral. Red is a particular no-no.

When carrying a coffin into church or when it is inserted into a tomb, the body of the deceased must go head first – or is it feet first? This one always confuses me.

Whoever is crying beside the coffin should not allow his or her tears to fall onto the coffin. Once again, this is supposed to bring bad luck.

As a young boy, I could not even bear to look at the bodies inside coffins. Thus, two superstitions particularly petrified me; and I prayed to God and all the saints that I would never be made to do what old people asked children to do during funerals.

First was the lakdaw, for which young children were asked to ‘skip’ over from one side of the coffin to the other. In reality, the children were handed over to somebody standing at the opposite side of the coffin.

The one I dreaded more was the mano, which asked children to put their foreheads to the knuckles of the deceased. The open coffin alone was sufficient to give me nightmares; and thank God my own family was never really into these sorts of hardcore superstitions.

If the wake is held in a funeral parlour or anywhere else but the home of the deceased, before the body is laid to rest the hearse must take the body on a final trip past the home.

Mind, these are just the superstitions that I personally remember. God only knows how many more there are, particularly in other regions. I know for a fact that in some provinces, the deceased are laid to rest accompanied by marching bands.

When an inquisitive child asks for an explanation to any of these superstitions, the answer that the adults give is the eternally vague but wise, “Basta!” They are superstitions, after all; so who really knows?

Like I said, I had never heard of this pagpag superstition before. Perhaps, it is not local to Batangas, where I have lived practically my entire life. On the other hand, my attitude towards superstition has always been tolerant. Hell, there is nothing to lose; and none of these really asks for a lot.

On the other hand, if any of them is true…

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