Malaysian Atheist

An avowed atheist living in Malaysia.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Malaysian Atheist moves to a New Place

About a month ago, my girlfriend and I moved to a new place. It's a mid-sized, three-room apartment near the city. Needless to say, we were very thrilled to finally have our own home.

Right before we got the keys to the new place, my girlfriend's Mom told her about the customary practice of throwing rice, tea leaves and salt around the house to ward off evil spirits before moving in. Apparently you are to mix the uncooked rice with tea leaves and salt, and spread them all over the house, especially the corners as that's where the ghosts and spirits love to hide. You need to leave the mess overnight before sweeping. That's the recipe for chasing off evil spirits (while at the same time inviting ants and bugs into the house).

I can't help but wonder how this practice came about. I'm just not convinced that evil spirits are afraid of rice, tea leaves and salt. After all, I don't see people performing exorcisms using rice, tea leaves and salt. What if I'm out of tea leaves? Can I substitute it with coffee powder? How about add a dash of pepper, to make the evil spirits sneeze while they're tumbling out the door?

Could it be just a hoax started by a greedy grocer, eager to sell more rice, tea leaves and salt? Or could it be a joke started by a jealous brother? Anyway, I don't know how it got started, but it sort of reminded me of a story I read before:

A child was watching her mother cook a roast. The mother cut off both ends of the meat and placed it in a big pot for cooking. When the child asked, "Why do you cut off each end?" the mother replied, "I do it because my mother did it that way, so it must make the meat taste better." When the child asked, "Why does it make the meat taste better?" the mother replied, "I don't know, go ask your grandmother." So the child asked the grandmother and she replied, "I do because my mother did it that way, so go ask your great-grandmother." When the child asked the great-grandmother why she cut off each end of the meat, her great-grandmother replied, "Because my pot is too small!"

Often, we find that some of the things we do, we do for no good reason at all, other than because that's how it's always been done. Whether it's cutting the ends of a roast or throwing rice, tea leaves and salt when moving to a new house, or doing the rain dance, this process of non-thinking can eventually lead us to do actions that make no difference whatsoever apart from the false feeling of security. I'd rather not have any ants and bugs around, thank you very much!

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