I have, on many occasions, been asked if there is such a thing as kulam, or witchcraft, and if I believed in it. This is one question for which I have no definite or clear-cut answer. I have not even come across a clear definition of it, either from the dictionary or from those who practice it.
Witchcraft is not an indigenous practice in the Philippines. It is a Western concept. There are no witches in the Philippines, as the term is defined in the West. But sorcery is a more general term that is similar to witchcraft.
According to one definition: “Witchcraft is an art of using supernatural powers by those having inherent mystical powers to gain desired results.
“Sorcery is also an art of using supernatural powers to gain desired results. Witchcraft uses supernatural powers for good intentions. Sorcery uses supernatural powers for bad intentions.”
But what does it mean to have “supernatural” or “mystical” powers? What does it take to obtain such powers? What kind of individuals have such powers? Can one be trained to be a witch or sorcerer, or is one born with such powers or abilities?
Here, we seem to be assuming that there is really such a thing as witchcraft or sorcery. I am not yet fully convinced that such a thing exists, although I have witnessed several examples of its effects, specially in the clinics of our faith healers, albularios and espiritistas.
I have, for example, personally witnessed a healer remove from the bodies of patients and victims of witchcraft such things as thick strands of hair, pieces of plastic, a dead cockroach, or broken pieces of glass.
Of course, there will always be people who will say these are products of trickery. Yes, that’s possible, but I believe they are real. I watched such procedures very closely and I do not see how they could have been mere trickery.
Once such objects come out of the bodies of the victims, their ailment is gone. Is this mere sleight of hand? Could be.
Siquijor, a small island one hour by boat from Dumaguete City, is reputed to be a place where sorcery and witchcraft are practiced by the community. People on the island are divided in their belief about the practice. Some believe it, others don’t.
Those who believe in the practice of witchcraft or sorcery are the ordinary folks of the island, but government people, academicians, the medical profession and the priests of the Catholic Church do not believe in it. In fact, they take steps to discourage belief.
I have been to Siquijor three times, including Holy Week, which is considered the ideal time for gathering herbal plants for healing, as well as for sorcery. I have not witnessed sorcery being practiced, but I have assisted in the preparation of ingredients for sorcery and witchcraft.
Question of suggestion
Sometimes, I get the impression that sorcery or witchcraft is just a question of suggestion. I remember a funny incident that happened in the late ’70s, when I was still working in a large synthetic fiber corporation in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
During lunch time, the plant manager and several other managers of the factory were chatting in the canteen when the plant manager told me that he didn’t believe all the supernatural stuff I was studying and talking about. “All these are mere superstition,” he asserted. “They are not scientific.”
I then suggested an experiment to test if kulam is true or not. I told the plant manager, who had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, that I knew a very powerful mangkukulam (sorcerer) and would ask him, for the sake of experiment, to make the manager’s stomach bloat for a day or two.
He protested vigorously and said, “Don’t do that! Do it to my neighbor because we don’t get along.”
So I said to him, “I thought you said you don’t believe in kulam. So why be afraid?”
“Never mind,” he said. “Just don’t do it to me.”
Actually I really did not know any mangkukulam. Anyway, the plant manager was absent for three days after that incident. When he reported back to work, he barged into my room, very angry.
“What did you do to me?” he angrily asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
He said his stomach ached for three days when he went home that day we talked about witchcraft.
I told him I didn’t do anything, and it wasn’t true I knew a powerful sorcerer. He didn’t believe me, and he left my room still angry, while I kept laughing silently at him.
His own mind made him sick. It was auto-suggestion. Witchcraft was in his head. That was what made him vulnerable.
Next week, I will discuss the very informative and interesting 1990 booklet written and given to me by Fr. Julito B. Cortez, “Illness and Healing: A Theological-Anthropological Study (with a case study of sorcery and healing practice in Siquijor).”
The next Soulmates, Karma and Reincarnation seminar is on Aug. 24, 1-7 p.m., tel. 810-7245 or 0998-9886292; email [email protected]