Feng Shui Stairs Oro Plata Mata

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Filipinos believe in many superstitions and omens.  Whether you’re building a home, are pregnant, celebrating new year’s eve or happen to have a mole somewhere in  your body, there’s a superstition for that.  If you drop a fork or a spoon on the floor, if someone leaves the table before everyone else is done, or if a ring is present around the moon, there’s an omen for that.

One of the superstitions that I grew up with had to with the stairs in one’s house – the direction you turned to get to the stairs and when you get there, the total number of steps built.

As for stairs, they should always turn right, that being the righteous path. This particular belief applies best to the marital bond. An opposite direction signifies infidelity. Note that the vernacular term kaliwete (left-handed) refers to the wanton spouse. Since we are on the subject of stairs, can steps be far behind?

Among the Tagalogs, stair steps are erected with a ritual that calls for alternate counting to three, using the chant “Oro, plata, mata” (Gold, silver, death) for each count. Of course, the counting commences with the lowest rung. The topmost step should never end with “mata,” that being a symbol of bad luck. On the other hand, “oro,” and “plata” represent good luck.

Here is a sampling of other superstitions and omens prevalent still prevalent in the Philippines:

  • During the building of a house, an injured worker is a bad omen and to counteract its effects, one must sacrifice a pig or a white chicken and sacrifice its blood to the spirits.
  • Never pay any debt at night.
  • Breastfeeding mothers should drink milk if they want to increase their milk production. (So this is where I got this silly belief!)
  • Don’t sweep the floor at dusk because lizards will fall from the ceiling.
  • A black butterfly entering a house means that there will be an impending death.
  • If someone at the table needs to leave before the meal is finished, everyone must turn their plates clockwise so that he will arrive at his destination unharmed.
  • If a spoon falls to the floor, you will have a female visitor.  If it’s a fork, then you’re going to have a male visitor.  This begs the question though – what happens when you drop a spork?
  • A mole on one’s foot means he/she is an adventurer.
  • A mole above the lip means he/she is lucky in business.

A snake that enters the house brings good luck as long as it doesn’t bite any of the occupants. This is probably based on the practice of Filipinos during the Spanish colonial times to keep pythons in the partition between the roof and the ceiling to reduce the rodent population the house.

As to the practice of keeping snakes in side the house, it really was true, as seen by the Spaniards and the Americans when they occupied Manila in the early 19th century.

“Most of the living is done in the second story while the first or ground floor the Philippino keeps his store or his stable. Upstairs live the house snakes which are to Manila what the dogs are to Constantinople, the unlicensed scavengers of the city.  They are quite harmless to mankind, although it takes some time for the stranger to become accustomed to the eight or nine feet of reptile, wriggling after the rats, which are the snakes’ legitimate supply and one of the many pests of Manila.  So many and so fierce are these rats that if it were not for the snakes Manila would be overrun by them and would be as uninhabitable as Hamlin.”

– Via With Dewey at Manila: Being the Plain Story of the Glorious Victory of the United States Squadron Over the Spanish Fleet, Sunday Morning, May First, 1898, as Related in the Notes and Correspondence of an Officer on Board the Flagship Olympia (Google eBook)

E PINOYS are a superstitious bunch, admit it or not. Call the architect to build a home and one design element should (seriously) be taken into account is the number of steps on the stairs.

Yes, the number will matter, there has to be 1, 4, 7 or 10 (the next is 13 but I don’t know if the superstitious ones will agree to having this number anywhere in their homes), the designated “oro” or gold in the sequence to bring luck into the home.

Although “plata” or silver is not bad either, no Pinoy would like to end their steps on “mata” or death. Bad luck in the home is not such a nice thought.

For the famous monumental stairway in Rome, Italy, the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti or more popularly know as the Spanish Steps, the steps numbers at 135. It falls on “mata” or “death,” which is bad luck…for the Pinoys, at least, and not in this part of the globe.

If you ask me, this landmark is good luck. Why else did I make it back on these steps? I have to thank a dear friend, Tenny A. and his family, for letting me tag along on their European sojourn. In good company, it was like the first visit for me as well.

The Spanish Steps is the widest staircase in Europe and is one of the busiest tourist spots in Rome. The steep slope links Piazza DI Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinia dei Monti at the top.

From both ends of the stairs, the views are captivating. Looking towards the top, the church of the Santissima Trinita dei Monti stands majestically at the piazza. The façade was said to be a design of a follower of Michelangelo.

Fronting the church is an obelisk, the Obelisco Sallustiano, one of the many obelisks in the ancient city of Rome. Imitated from the Egyptian design, the Roman obelisk was moved to the present position in 1789.

From the top of the Spanish Steps, the view below is just as appealing. As you make your way down the steep slope, you get to see the house where the famous English Poet John Keats lived (now a museum dedicated to him and fellow writer and friend Percy Bysshe Shelley) and the last step opens up to one of the most famous squares in the city, the Piazza DI Spagna, named after the Palazzo DI Spagna, the seat of the Embassy of Spain.

The most interesting part of the piazza sits on the middle of the square—the famous Early Baroque piece called the Fontanel della Barcaccia or the Fountain of the Old Boat (often times referred to as the Ugly Boat fountain). The half-sunken ship with water overflowing its bows designed by Pietro Bernini in collaboration with his (more famous) son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini was commissioned by Pope Urbano VIII to commemorate the disastrous flood of 1598 caused by Tiber River.

But maybe for a good number of tourists, the area means a little more to them than what history can offer. The streets beyond Piazza DI Spagna—Via Condotti and Via Del Babuino, are destinations as well, of the shopping kind. These are two of the most glamorous streets in Rome where rows of the most prestigious boutiques can be found. Is that good or bad luck?

Now back to the Spanish Steps. Day and night tourists crowd the area and the Pinoy in me still wonders why at 135 steps with a “mata” last step the stairs is so popular.

The secret is on the additional step at the bottom of the staircase. Although the Spanish Steps has officially 135 steps, the slightly elevated drainage system at the bottom of the staircase is often mistaken for the first step, and in feng shui, that is a remedy for bad luck. Unofficially, the top step is an “oro.” Now, that’s good luck.

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