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These are some of the more common “taboos”, of living that are the superstitions of our belief systems. The motivation behind these cultural prohibitions is always good, but superstitions usually defy conventional logic. Should we dismiss them as outright nonsense? Or should we observe them because there is “nothing to lose” in doing so? Sometimes, however absurd, taboos can hide remnants of ancient knowledge of the old Masters whose hidden wisdom are greater than ours. Gathered here are some of the more common superstitious beliefs for you to observe, dismiss or ponder over.
1. Mirror might steal your soul
Do not place a mirror directly facing your bed – this is a feng shui taboo as well, and the explanation from old feng shui masters is this always brings a third party into the marriage of the sleeping occupants of the bed. Superstition frowns on having a mirror directly reflect the bed, but here the reason given is that doing so causes the spirit of your sleeping soul to enter into the mirror and you may not be able to return to your body when you wake up in the morning. In other words, it could cause you to get “trapped” in the inbetween world that exists between sleep and wakefulness – a frightening prospect which some say can indeed happen. Another explanation is that the mirror attracts wandering spirits who come to steal your consciousness. Either prospect sounds scary, so it is better to avoid mirrors facing the bed.
2. When visiting a sick person
Never offer pears when visiting sick people in a hospital as this is a symbol that the patient will die. It is also bad luck to send red flowers, especially red roses, as this signifies blood. Many other Asian cultures also believe that sending red roses will cause death to occur. Best colours for hospitals are white and yellow, the colours of yang life.
Do not give presents in quantities of four. This is frowned upon because the number four sounds like “death.” The best kind of gift to send are boxes of sweetmeats and chocolates.
3. Hanging laundry at night
Another major taboo handed down through the generations is never to leave laundry hung in the sunshine to stay there through the nocturnal hours. Always remember to bring the washing back in when dusk falls, otherwise wandering spirits will be tempted to “attach themselves” to the clothing and take over the personality of the person when he/she wears them.
There are stories of children behaving queerly after wearing clothing that had inadvertently been left hanging outside soaking in the yin energy of the night. Better remind yourself of this no matter how busy you are. Clothes (and especially underwear) left hanging out should ideally be thrown away.
4. Fringe can block your luck
The Chinese have a great aversion to covering the forehead with hair. This is said to create a serious block on your wealth luck and is especially applicable to men. Men’s foreheads are said to be the part of the face that attracts wisdom, success and good fortune. Covering it seriously affects good fortune coming your way. You will find that successful men often sweep their hair to one side. Obviously fringes on children are fine, as they have not yet started working life.
5. Meeting a funeral
If you meet a coffin-laden hearse as you make your way to work, it symbolizes big success coming to you in your job, or it can mean that you will be getting a promotion. The explanation here is that the coffin will take away all your bad luck, leaving you only with your good fortune.
6. Shaking away your wealth
Here is a taboo many of us have been familiar with all our life; the habit some people have of shaking their legs each time they sit on a chair. Perhaps the Malays also have this taboo, because the phrase “goyang kaki” or shaking legs is also something familiar to them.
Shaking your legs is like kicking your wealth away and if you do this habitually, it is believed to create the cause for all your prosperity to flow away from you. So no matter how stylish or cool it may look dangling and shaking your leg, refrain from doing this. Otherwise you can shake away all your wealth.
7. Things not to do at night
There are many taboos associated with the nocturnal hours. This is when yin energy descends on the world and the Chinese are especially mindful of wandering spirits who they believe roam freely after the sun sets. At night they say it is dangerous to pick flowers, as strange events will follow.
If you are in the garden where there are many dark bushes and tall trees, you should refrain from calling aloud the names of your loved ones or of your friends, or even your pets, as these imbue the people and animals concerned with the strange urge to hurt you. In the night, yin energy prevails and on dark nights when there is no moonlight, children are strenuously advised to stay indoors as coming out into the open where they are not protected by a roof above them makes them especially vulnerable. The antidote to darkness is light and this is why it is always safer to keep lights turned on even in the gardens, and well into the early hours of the morning.
8. Whistling at night
Avoid whistling at night. You could be taking a walk and feeling happy, and might start to unconsciously whistle a tune. According to the old folks, doing so is sure to attract the attention of wandering spirits who then follow you home. Well, the thought of whistling a tune in the darkness of the night is itself already a scary scenario. Better to use your iPod than rely on your lips for musical entertainment.
9. Ang pows should contain even number of dollars
It is considered very inauspicious to place odd numbered amounts of cash inside a red packet or angpow. On happy occasions such as weddings and birthdays, money wrapped as gifts should have even numbers and better yet should end in the 8 digit such as 118, 188 or 168. Odd number money is said to signify death.
10. Protecting your money luck
If you want to make sure money does not roll out of your home or shop, make certain not to sit on the counter where the cash register is placed. This is a really negative thing to do. In the same way, you should also never sit on a table that has your important documents and your safe placed inside one of the drawers. Also, never step on the threshold of any doorway into the home. It is said that the threshold is the pulse point of the house and stepping on it destroys its essence and its spirit. Some people say that the threshold is placed at the doorway to prevent wandering spirits from entering. Spirits are unable to cross the threshold. If you step on the threshold, you will be symbolically “breaking” the protection of the home.
Specially for men
11. Do not peer at a lady’s underwear either by chance or intention. This kind of “Peeping Tom” fun brings enormous bad luck and it is said that your life will be one of suffering and struggle all the way if you do this.
12. Men should never perform female responsibilities such as suckling the baby, sweeping the floor or washing the laundry. Doing these traditional tasks of women within the household is said to bring bad luck. Doing any of these tasks as a profession or business is however perfectly OK.
13. Men should never wash women’s undergarments as doing so can make it hard for the man to become rich. He will also become like a faithful “slave” to his wife. Men should never walk under a woman’s undergarments. So make sure you avoid going into a woman’s boudoir. These things stunts a man’s growth and brings him bad luck.
14. College going kids should avoid reading their text books in the toilet. This implies disrespect for the God of Education who then withholds his blessings. As a result, the child will lack good examination luck and will be hit by bad exam results. Allowing others to step on your text books have an even worse effect, as this creates the chi for bad luck in studies to arise.
15. When children eat, they should try to eat all the food given to them, as a clean plate or bowl is what will bring good exam results and a good looking spouse for later in life. Spilling rice all over the table is a definite taboo, as this causes the mind to become polluted.
16. Be careful where you pee
The Chinese have always had this “pantang” and always remind their kids to never just pee anywhere they like. This is just such a dangerous thing to do because you could inadvertently be peeing on some wandering spirit, or on an ant hill or rabbit hole.
This causes you to inadvertently insult the land spirit living there and its retaliation can cause your genitals to become swollen and red, cause you to get sick and even make you suffer bad luck.
Next time you desperately need an outside toilet because you are traveling in a bus or car over long distances, choose a spot where the land is flat and there is no danger of there being any kind of ant or rat nest, then put your palms together and humbly seek permission from the land spirit to pee.
17. Crows bring bad news
When a pair of black crows suddenly confronts you i.e. looks directly at you from a tree or rooftop, look on it as a warning not to sign any important documents or meet anyone important that day. Cancel all your important appointments immediately as the crows are said to be the bringers of bad news. Colourful birds however bring news of good things coming while birds of prey such as eagles denote some authoritative or honourable title being conferred on you.
18. Seeing a rainbow
It is regarded as great good fortune to see and ‘catch a rainbow’, thus after, it is a good idea to scan the skies for rainbows, especially if the sun comes out soon after. That is when rainbows get formed. If you see a double arch, it is even more auspicious. Stories have been told of people striking it really rich after taking a picture where they are seen to be standing at the end of a rainbow. Using the camera to create visual effects like this is as good as the real thing. However, if you do see a real live rainbow, you should never point at it with your index finger, as this is said to draw all your bone marrow from you, making you prematurely hunched.
19. Never sweep out, always sweep in
According to the Chinese, one should never use the broom to sweep outwards at the front of the shop. One should always sweep inwards from main door and then progressively work your way to the back of the shop. This pulls in the luck. In fact, always take note that traditionally, the front of the house is where good luck enters and the back of the house is where bad luck leaves. This fundamental concept does have implications when implementing feng shui recommendations.
20. Stepping on poo
If you step on poo, you can expect some good luck to come to you. It is the same when you dream of poo. Apparently this has to do with the body getting rid of its undesirable negativities. It is also believed that when a bird poos on your head, it means you are about to come into some speculative money.
21. Do not be a bridesmaid more than three times. Doing so creates a negative effect on your own marital luck, causing you to have difficulties finding someone to settle down with. Obstacles will manifest.
Another rule is that parents should never bring a “marital bed” into the home for the daughter until she is well and truly married. Doing so will spoil her chances of getting married at all. Those wanting to invest in an antique marriage bed should take note of this.
22. During chinese wedding dinners, steamed fish is usually one of the main dishes served. According to eating taboos, one should never turn the fish over nor break the fish bones when eating fish when it is served whole. This is sure to have a negative effect on the newlyweds.
23. Try not to have sex on the 1st and 15th days of the Lunar Chinese Calendar. These are the days of the new moon and full moon. While these are auspicious days, they are also days for sacrifice rather than for sexual indulgence.
24. A bad omen
The Chinese believe that the breaking of plates and other ceramics is a very bad omen and if this happens to you, you should immediately counter it by saying, “Fa Hoi Fu Gui” which means “May Prosperity Blossom”. Once, one of our staff was celebrating his birthday and someone passed him an empty plate from across the table. As he reached out his hand to take it, the plate fell onto the table and broke into two pieces. He then picked up the broken half-piece and then dropped it again, causing it to break into two again. The next night he was involved in a very bad accident which smashed up his car! So next time something like this happens, do not forget to quickly counter it by saying something auspicious.
At the dining table
25. Never stick chopsticks vertically straight into your rice bowl as this a sign of ancestor worship and spells yin spirit formation, bringing bad luck.
26. Never point the spout of a coffee or tea pot directly at the patriach, as this denotes him as the “enemy” of the household. It causes him to leave and even set up a second family outside the home. Pointing the pot this way is also a challenging signal towards the person the spout is pointed to.
27. Do not hang the cooking wok upside down or reversed. This signifies there is nothing to cook and indicates the opposite of abundance. The same applies to cooking pots. So the western style of hanging their pots and pans suspended above the kitchen table is something the Chinese frown upon.
28. When eating, never point the knife or fork directly at someone, as this is a hostile signal and can cause the other party to have an accident.