An Arsenal of Holy Water

Informant: “Oh god, my mom has an arsenal of holy water. She baptizes our cars. And our bikes. She like blesses ’em, and sometimes throws it on us, it’s like really weird *laughs* She has just like all this water, from the uh–they have a special name–but when you walk into a church there’s holy water right there and you have to like bless yourself when you walk in. She has water from the Vatican, and she has water from Jacob’s well in Israel, she has um–that’s why I was like ‘oh man I wish I had a vial’ when we were in Turkey at the St. Jude cathedral, I think Kristen had brought her some though. She had stuff from like Westminster Abbey, she has stuff from like–for a while there she just had a bunch of like stuff–and even though she’s kinda run out of it, she still keeps them and you can find them in the top drawer of her dresser.”

[What makes holy water holy?]

“It’s just blessed–it’s like kosher water, it’s blessed by a priest. They just–I don’t know how it works–I just know that it’s blessed water, and it just sits there, it’s in a church, in a holy space. And the reason why is that my mom always blessed her cars and the one she didn’t bless always got into accidents–like backed up into a wall, someone rear-ended her, someone like knocked off the front fender–and she just blesses everything now. She blessed all of our cars, she blessed my bike, she blesses us–”

[When would she bless you?]

“If we’re gonna like leave. [To a foreign country?] Exactly–I think it has a lot to do with traveling, more than anything. But yeah she’s really big on blessing the car, like traveling type things. Cause there’s just a lot of things that can go wrong. [It’s something you can’t really control]. Yeah, and my mom is a control freak. It’s not even just our cars, like she blessed my ex-boyfriend’s car. She’s not crazy about it, it’s always just like ‘No no no, you can’t drive it yet, I haven’t blessed it, don’t go too far!’ And she plays it off like a joke, but I do think that there is a kernel of seriousness that goes along with it.”

[And what’s her ethnicity?]

“She’s Filipino. And she’s very superstitious about things.”

[Are your other Filipino family members also superstitious about things?]

Yells over to her sister: “Kris–Would you say that mom’s siblings are superstitious?”

Kris: “Yeah.”

“Yeah, my aunts especially. My uncles less so. I don’t think it has anything to do with their Filipino-ness specifically, only because a lot of the Filipino thought comes from the Catholic church at this point, like when you eat Filipino food it’s usually Spanish food or something you’d find in Mexico, like flan is a thing in the Philippines, but it’s a thing in like Guatemala too. So it’s just deeply rooted in Catholic traditions as well. They’re just very Catholic. And even though not a lot of them are super hardcore Catholic, they’re all a little bit Catholic. I have a Seventh-Day Adventist aunt who’s just batshit insane and I don’t even wanna talk about her because her whole perception of reality is like based on superstition, like, you know, about the rapture coming, so, you know.”


Holy water is officialized by the Catholic church but they way in which it’s adapted is wholly unofficial. The informant’s mother created a superstition around holy water which she has affirmed to herself through trial–the one vehicle she didn’t bless seems to be cursed with bad luck. It’s not up to me to say that perhaps her trust of holy water and resultant anticipation somehow primed the car for disaster. The objects and circumstances of her holy water blessings are directly linked to travel, an inherently chaotic and potentially anxiety-inducing activity. Agonizing over what can’t be controlled is largely inhibitive and unproductive, so a belief like this which provides the illusion of control can be a liberating system which frees one’s mind to focus on other things. Of course, it can also have the opposite effect of instilling arguably irrational fears.