Recently I saw a TV program on Philippine arts and culture featuring a museum named after a well-known tycoon.
The museum contains thousands of books from the earliest history of the Philippines to modern times. The collection of historical, literary and artistic books was meant to inspire future generations of Filipinos to learn and appreciate our country’s cultural heritage.
The few selected titles briefly shown on camera were very important, indeed. But these were about the outer culture of the Philippines, as defined by academicians, educators and mainstream historians.
There was no mention at all about the “hidden” culture of the Philippines.
From my point of view, there are two types of culture in the Philippines, as well as in almost every country in the world. One is the open or exoteric culture, and the other is the hidden or esoteric culture.
The former consists of our country’s languages, music, dances, architecture, literature and the visual arts. They form part of the curriculum of our schools.
The other is what I call the hidden or esoteric culture, or the folk beliefs, superstitions, urban legends, power words, mystical spots and power objects. They are guarded and kept secret from the general public by followers or devotees.
I have, for a long time, been intrigued by this esoteric or hidden culture of the Philippines. In the mid-’70s I embarked on long personal research on these mysteries.
In my long years of research work, I have met some very interesting practitioners with
extraordinary powers, and entered mysterious caves inhabited by invisible creatures that sometimes manifest themselves to those who have the eyes to see.
I have discussed many of my findings in the numerous books and articles I have written both here and abroad. But none of my writings are considered literature. At best, they are mere curiosities, but they are not considered part of the artistic creation or culture of this country.
This is to be expected. If, as they say, history is written by the victor, culture is what the academicians say it is.
Although this culture I am talking about is largely hidden and normally not talked about in so-called “polite” society or by the educated class, it nevertheless exerts a very powerful influence on the average Filipino’s life, belief systems and behavior. They color the Filipinos’ perception of the world around them.
Mainstream Philippine culture is defined by the educated, Western influenced Filipino, whereas esoteric and hidden culture is defined by the beliefs of the ordinary and mostly uneducated or undereducated Filipinos living mainly in rural areas.
Although the average educated urban Filipino may deny the existence of the esoteric culture, he cannot entirely ignore or escape its influence. Television programs, movies, comic books and novels often revolve around such esoteric lore for their central themes.
I refer to beliefs in elves, gnomes and other elemental creatures, in the power of amulets, talismans and power words that can render one immune to bullets and knife wounds, etc.
The esoteric culture, in some countries, is not so hidden or closely guarded as compared to that in the Philippines. For example, in Brazil, Haiti, India and Africa, the esoteric culture is openly practiced and coexists with the exoteric or mainstream culture.
In the streets of Sao Paolo and Rio in Brazil, for example, I saw mainstream books, artifacts and magazines being sold on sidewalk newsstands, together with books on spiritism, black magic and adult videos. I also witnessed, on a busy street in Sao Paolo, a blindfolded man whispering something to a woman.
When I asked my Brazilian companion what that person was doing, I was told that he was a spirit medium, or espiritista, giving advice to interested passersby while in a trance.
Although the beliefs of the exoteric cultures may appear to be inconsistent with those of the esoteric cultures, they are not really opposed to each other, as explained by anthropologist Carlos Castañeda’s Mexican guide and mentor, Juan Matus, in Catañeda’s book, “The Teachings of Don Juan.”
The esoteric culture may be regarded as belonging to what Don Juan calls the realm of the “Nagual” or the Sorcerer’s World, and the exoteric or public culture belongs to the “Tonal.”
The Nagual is equivalent to what psychologist Lawrence LeShan calls the “clairvoyant reality,” whereas the Tonal belongs to the “ordinary sensory reality.”
In quantum physics, a sub-atomic particle, say, of light, may appear both as a particle or a wave, depending on how one looks at it. Observation changes the nature of reality. If this can happen in the subatomic particles of matter, why can’t it happen on a bigger scale?
In the Philippines both the hidden (Nagual) and the open mainstream (Tonal) culture co-exist, but few are aware of it.