This is the first in an exciting duology by a modern Filipino witch, Kristine Ibanez, detailing witchcraft in the Philippines – past and present. In the second part of the duology, Kristine details the different types of witches and healers in the Philippines. You’ll want to read both parts, trust me!
Well first off, what do Filipinos consider as witches in their own country? Is it the same as western witches? Do they share the same stereotypes? Are Filipino witches born or made? Is it something anyone can just study or practice with the aid of the supernatural? These are just some of the topics we will tackle.
The word “witch” has so very many underlying meanings and concepts and it’s ever-changing to this day. Different countries have different names for their witches and all have different connotations and none of each precisely translates the other. The problem of defining witchcraft is made even more difficult when the concepts of the craft change according to time and place. There is no coherent pattern of beliefs. There is no single definition of the term. It also depends upon individual belief.
One thing is certain, the witches we see in art, literature, theatre, and film are different from witches in reality. However, different as it may be, all forms of witchcraft share a common structural framework. And it’s evident once you start to study or practice the craft of any origin. There are so many different paths and traditions to discover and choose from. It all depends on what calls to you and how you honor that path.
Here in the Philippines, we have 7,107 islands which means there are hundreds, if not thousands of tribes and communities with their own set of languages, beliefs, and religions. And with that, even more variations of legends and traditions where one may find witch lore.
Majority of Filipino pre-colonial religions have slowly disappeared due to the colonizers. Some of my ancestors were more than accepting to being converted to Christianity. A good example would be the Catalona. During the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, some of the Catalonas converted and embraced Christianity while others tried to resist. Some retaliated and continued to practice their original ways. While others fused the two together.
I doubt any of the original stuff survived after many decades, but discovering there are registered pagan groups and organizations here, like the Center For Philippine Traditional Indigenous Spirituality and Culture And Natural Healing Arts, means we get somewhat close. Knowing that pagan priests, indigenous religious beliefs, and folk healing practices are still alive and well has been more than a treat for me.
Correllian Nativist Tradition of Wicca in the Philippines exists and provides a way for Filipinos to be able to explore their true, past identity. As of 2010, an estimated 2% of the Philippine population identified as practicing indigenous beliefs – the majority of whom live in isolated areas where Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism didn’t dominate. But no one really knows this unless they have an actual interest of the matter enough to research it. So let’s look at it in a more general point of view.
A good way to begin is by asking a Filipino millennial what they think of witchcraft in the Philippines. Most will give you a westernized version because that’s where they mostly get their witch knowledge from: western media or the internet. Often-times, they’ll give you a stereotypical list if they’re severely uninformed. And sometimes these stereotypes are completely damaging (i.e. evil, covered in warts, eats children, etc.). That’s no surprise because, aside from getting their general witchcraft knowledge from mainstream media, witches are almost always portrayed as villains. The Philippines are also heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, which is the dominant religion in the country. And we know how the church feels about “witches”.
Filipino Catholicism is a combination of the religion the Spanish brought when they colonized us and the local animist and traditional beliefs. Some of these beliefs are that deceased ancestors, land spirits, local deities, local monsters and creatures, and mystical forces can affect the lives of the people. Filipino Catholicism and its religious practices vary a great deal from region to region, just as with paganism. Some of the traditional beliefs have survived the test of time and some of them you can see in our superstitions. It’s deeply rooted the further you look.
There has been recent, however scarce, local articles acknowledging the steady rise of witchcraft in the Philippines. Diviners and fortune tellers are popping up left and right, but I’m not quite sure we can call them witches in a traditional sense. Find these fortune tellers mostly in ig, with the majority focusing on divination with tarot cards. Aside from reading tarot, there’s no clear definition or basis of their religion or belief system.
You don’t see a lot of modern Filipino witches or neopagans who actually share their deeper practices compared to western witches. Unfortunately, the most I can see with the old ways being acknowledged and revived is through local businesses as a gimmick. Some are now seen adopting the occult via themed restaurants and bars. It would be great to see a serious business that embraces the Wiccan or pagan themes in all aspects.
One of the local establishments here sell beer that have the faces of our mythological creatures and pre-colonial gods and deities plastered on them. Skin care products that use essential oils are now also using witchy terms to garner attention. Some use witchy terms or use witchcraft as an inspiration to name their shops, or to name their pieces. Jewelry and apparel brands are also seen embracing the witchy or indigenous aesthetic. Usually, I’d complain because people are only attaching themselves to the craft as a trend. But for now, they are helping raise awareness and I’ll take what I can get. The local community for contemporary witches is still so very small. It may not be something our persecuted pagan ancestors ever imagined, but it’s a start.
Now, if you ask an older generation Filipino, they’ll give you the local version of “witches” they grew up believing. Information from the myths and legends of the land passed down from generation to generation, being kept alive by believers of the community, published books, or by historical documentation. To find the information you seek about witches, one must research intently or visit our provinces, as most of our local indigenous witches live in the forests and mountains.
I’d like to put a lot of buzz words here but that would be too …September 15, 2023