For good or black magic: The Holy Week gatherings at Siquijor Island

From potions to spells, to heal or to kill..

Siquijor, dubbed as the country’s mystic island, is allegedly visited annually by shamans, healers, witches, and sorcerers or whatever we  call them, to replenish their powers.

Tourists also come to witness and experience the famous Folk Healing Festival; an event held during Lenten season organized by the local government to put into better use the “stigma” that has been associated with their island’s name for centuries. (For brief history: the country’s spell-givers were exiled to Siquijor by Spanish friars).

The aforementioned event is held in Bandilaan Mountain View Park in Siquijor. Bandilaan is the highest peak of the island; a protected reserve forest by the government. It contains most of the plants used by the shamans or herbalists which, reportedly, cannot be found in any other places in the country.

While tourists and journalists want to know more of the “real deal” about the island’s magic, some people come with their patients; with hope to be healed by shamanic powers that modern doctors can’t heal.

Do not be confused though, for there are two types of gatherings being talked about — the gathering, or “meeting” of the people for the event, and the other one is the gathering or “hunting” for herbs or ingredients.

“Tang-alap” is the search for ingredients such as roots, herbs, tree barks, insects, and other secret substances, that are collected from the island’s mountains, forests, caves, seas, churches, and cemeteries for seven consecutive Fridays, which starts counting right after Ash Wednesday and either ends on Good Friday (for bad sorcerers) or ends on Black Saturday (for healers).

On Good Friday, the shamans complete the ingredients in making potions for the entire year. They commence chopping and mixing these on Black Saturday.

Diosdada, a “mananambal” (healer) told  Inquirer, that only the “mambabarang” (black sorcerer) brews potions on Good Friday; the day that Jesus Christ died on the cross. But if the intention is to heal, they make potions on Black Saturday.

“The process of making potions is tied to the resurrection of Christ,” Bienvenido, another healer, reportedly said. “It’s a rebirth of power. That is why it is done during Holy Week,” he added.

These two groups (mananambals versus mambabarangs) usually fight against each other. The good shamans are there to heal and to save lives while the black sorcerers seek to destroy or inflict harm.

The kind and intensity of magic usually depends on what the tourist, or the one who seeks help from them, desires. Though these healers know how to practice the black magic, they still opt to refrain from doing so. They also claim that when money is involved, or when they ask payment for their services, their power weakens. They mostly do it for free, for assistance to those in need; be it for good or bad or vengeance.

When the mananambal is unable to effect a cure, it is assumed that his power is not enough to overcome the black sorcerer’s. When a black sorcerer is unable to affect a victim, it is assumed that the person is innocent or protected by a powerful charm; a charm that came from a mananambal; as per the study by James McClenon.

May it be true or false, it is a fact that the “magic” tradition in Siquijor is continuously being patronized, not just by locals but by tourists. May we not also forget that there is more to Siquijor’s magic that can be seen, touched, and believed in instantly; its beaches, caves, delicacies, and lots of other things that the country’s “Mystic Island” has to offer.

Paliton Beach (Image by Shoestringtravelers.com)

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