Southeast Asian Superstitions

Oct 31 Southeast Asian Superstitions

Author: 
Jintana Lityouvong

When I was a child I never worried about avoiding cracks in the sidewalk or handling every mirror I held with caution. Instead, I was scared of sleeping with extra pillows, forgetting to cover my thip kow (sticky rice container), and sleeping right after eating.

In other words, I grew up with very superstitious Laotian parents. Superstitions have historically played a big role in the lives of Southeast Asians. My parents have told me stories about people regularly going to shamans, fortune tellers, and Buddhist temples to drive away evil spirits and make important life decisions. 

Whenever Halloween season comes around I always like to reminisce about all the things my parents warned me about and realize now how ridiculous I must have looked as a little kid frantically knocking pillows off a bed and being totally OCD with thip kow. I’m learning now that while some are silly things told to teach children lessons, other beliefs have been rooted in our custom, culture, and history. And while I’m celebrating in a more Western style these days, it’s always nice to remember my unique roots.

In honor of Halloween, the SEARAC staff and friends have compiled a list of common Southeast Asian superstitions and beliefs we have heard.

Do not sleep in a big bed with unused pillows. Spirits will climb in and use the empty space and pillows. My Mien friend added on to this and said she was told that spirits are always trying to push you off your bed when you’re sleeping.

Do not point at the moon. The moon god will come down and slice your ear. At least two of us at SEARAC have been visited by the vengeful moon god on two separate occasions and have since been firm believers.

Do not whistle in the dark. Whistling will summon the spirits to come in and join you.

If you hear your name being called and can't find where it's coming from, do not answer. It could be an evil spirit calling you. One staffer has had a relative do this while on a trip to Thailand, and he was reportedly possessed with a bad spirit. Fortunately, a shaman ceremony got rid of the spirit and he is fine now.

Do not leave your sticky rice container open. If you do, you will not be able to find a husband/wife in the future. I have heard similar stories about Vietnamese parents telling their children that if they don’t finish all their rice, their future significant other will be ugly. I think it’s safe to say this is one of those superstitions that adults use to scare children to get them into doing something. Well, it worked.

Do not lie down after eating. You will turn into a snake. Plus, my parents always told me I just looked super lazy doing so.

Keeping knives under your bed at night will keep bad dreams and scary spirits away. I had to learn this by myself when I was sixteen years old and cleaning out my room. I lifted my mattress and at the top where my head would lay was a huge, scary looking steak knife. I asked my parents about it, and they nonchalantly told me they’ve been placing knives under all our beds for years. That’s comforting, I guess.

What are some superstitions that you have heard growing up? Feel free to share in the comments with us on Facebook, and have a safe and happy Halloween!

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