Of curses and wishes: Why superstitions linger in UST despite its strong Catholic identity

Art by Audrey Meir Salonga/ THE FLAME

THE UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas’ more than 400-year history saw the propagation of the Catholic faith, which, along with reason, is regarded as a way to know the truth.

But the Catholic beliefs, which were brought to the Philippines by Spaniards in 1521, have been mixed with local customs and traditions, leading to a Catholicism with a distinct Filipino flavor. As a result, some Catholics adhere to the teachings of the Church but did not shake off certain folk practices, many of them incompatible with Christianity.

The Thomasian community is no exception to this phenomenon. While the Dominicans are working hard to deepen the Thomasians’ spirituality and appreciation of the Catholic faith, myths and superstitions still abound within the university and were passed on through casual conversations or online engagements.

For example, It is not difficult to find students who are aware of the supposed “curse” that will be inflicted on undergraduate students who pass through the Arch of the Centuries. Non-graduating Thomasians avoid exiting the iconic landmark before the farewell walk  for fear that they would be debarred even if UST Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. himself debunked the myth last year.

The practice of making a wishing well out of the tiger statue in Plaza Mayor especially during exams and the alleged apparitions of otherworldly beings in some buildings have also become part of light-hearted jests among Thomasians. A number of students of the Catholic university also share supposedly good luck online memes, believing it will give them a perfect score even in their most difficult tests.

While there is no proof that placing coins in the mouth of the tiger statue will lead to good grades and a headless priest is roaming around the campus, these beliefs have been ingrained in the Thomasians’ collective consciousness and in a sense, have become part of their identity.

Asst. Prof. Paul Castillo, deputy director of UST Publishing House and former literature department faculty member, said myths emerge because of a need to explain certain phenomena.

“They resort to things; they invent something, which for them, is true, but for people outside that prior small circle that started it, it could be a joke not to be taken seriously,” he told The Flame.

According to Castillo, people follow superstitions to be safe and secure, a mindset that helps popularize a belief even if it does not make sense.

“That’s why you ask for help with these things because you see them all the time. You know it’s there; you can approach it. Similar to the image of any religious figure. Because it’s there, it’s a reminder that you still have someone or something to ask for help,” Castillo said.

“If you think that you are a student working hard, you don’t really have to cling onto the idea of experiencing that bad luck,” he added.

‘A perverse excess of religion’

The Church frowns upon superstitious beliefs and new age practices, saying it violates the first commandment, which prohibits the worship of false gods.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes superstition as a “deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes” that can affect the worship offered to the true God.

“Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion,” the CCC said.

Last year, former UST secretary general Fr. Winston Cabading, O.P. warned the faithful against relying on signs and superstitions, saying God does not approve of them. He added that myths and superstitions are neither a jinx nor a “good luck.”

“That is superstition and all superstitions are wrong and displeasing to God,” Cabading, an exorcist, said during the 2022 Undas episode of the catechetical program “Father Answers Questions.”

Sense of community

For some students, these beliefs make them feel welcomed as they try to be familiar with the Thomasian culture and community

Communication arts alumna Patricia Andal said while such beliefs have been linked to certain stereotypes, they can be tied to certain real-life phenomena.

“At that time, the term [ghost] itself means that you have cut off with someone without explanation, then UST is an old school. [Speaking from experience], as we have the most ‘ghosts’ in UST, It has a great association and connection with it,” Andal said.

While she has doubts about some of the stories proliferating in UST, Andal said they are a “significant part of the school’s culture and add to the rich history of the University.”

“When you’re in your freshman year, you’ll cross the Arch, and after you graduate, you’ll come out… Of course, you’ll keep that tradition. That’s your first initiation going there,” Andal said, referring to the superstition involving the Arch of the Century.

Psalmuel Lasquite, a creative writing sophomore, believes myths make a community “sociable” because they form part of the common knowledge of its members.

“They impacted the culture as a very sociable and funny environment, just like the tiger wishing well. It was amazing how people can get along together and laugh about every detail the school gave,” Lasquite said.

While the Church believes in miracles and heavenly intercessors, Cabading said it is not proper for churchgoers to ask for signs. He added that subscribing to superstitions reflects a lack of faith.

“It’s not good to ask for a sign because we might not be prepared. And above all, we don’t know if the one who gave the sign is really (from the Lord),” Cabading said.

“After you pray to God, you are afraid of elementals. That means you think God cannot protect you.” he added.

Castillo advised students to believe in their capabilities before relying on outside forces that are out of their control. He said academic performance, emotional standing and relationships are the areas students should focus on.

“Always try to control what you can control first before holding on to the belief,” Castillo said. F – G.E. Ochoa and F.J. Dilagan

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