Currently, I’m writing to you all from the island of Siquijor in the Philippines, just a few hours south of Bohol and Panglao. This place has made me fall completely in love with traveling all over again.
While visiting El Nido and Panglao, I had a bit of traveler’s guilt. Both islands are incredible, but tourism has done a lot and it’s easy to feel that these places are largely designed for the foreigner's wishes. Siquijor is different. The travel jitters completely bubbled up and for the first time, I had the feeling I was entering the true soul of the Philippines.
There is hardly a center to designate — not any sort of big street with cafes or restaurants that we might recognize as what constitutes a “city,” but this opens room for a serene calm to linger in the air. Despite the fact it was full everywhere and crowded with visitors, it was this calmness that overwhelmed me. Siquijor is the island of the Shamans and the Witches. Perhaps it is because of the mystical forces that float across the island that I was ready to extend my visit by weeks — if only I could have.
Dream catcher in the island of Siquijor, Philippines
A 400-year-old balete tree, known to be the oldest and largest in the province, lives in the town of Lazi, in Siquijor. These trees are also known as strangler figs wherein they entrap surrounding trees entirely and suffocate them, eventually killing the host trees. Eerie!
According to stories, the practitioners of black magic and witchcraft, whom are still active, live in the mountains of San Antonio. Coming from a very different background, it’s easy to pass off “witchcraft” as fictitious. But this has been a part of their culture for generations upon generations, and my curiosity about the spiritual side of this part of the Philippines was in full-force. We picked up our scooter to drive towards the inland.
Sign leading to Shaman in the Philippines
Without a clear plan in mind, we went looking for the Shamans. After about twenty minutes into our search, we arrived in a small village that began at a large ramshackle church. You can see old, weathered churches everywhere in the Philippines, and the majority of the population is of the Christian faith. That being said, you can imagine how they think about the Witches and Healers in their country.
At a small exit, we turned down a long dirt road. A woman stopped us to ask what we were looking for and proceeded to tell us that she would guide us to the Healer we were seeking. “Yes, follow me,” she motioned toward the path ahead at a small, dark house with cloth hung to cover the windows. I looked at my friend and nodded.
We entered the house and walked upstairs. There was a man waiting, wearing a simple t-shirt and shorts. He commanded us to sit down. I leaned forward to ask if it was okay to make a story about our visit and take pictures. He simply nods to the woman. He tells us “not too many pictures,” and she keeps repeating “journalist, journalist.” She translated everything that would ensue while the man listens quietly. He extends his hand and asks what sort of healing we are looking for. My friend explains that he is curious about spiritual healing and the man gestured for him to sit down on a bench across from me.
Shamanic Healer in the Philippines
The treatment itself only takes a short time. He stands behind my friend, speaks in whispers on the left and right of him, and points up, down, and to the side. His face is soft and questioning. He looks up sometimes, almost like if he is asking for guidance from someone we cannot see. My friend looks calm and at peace. The Healer then lit the charcoal in a bowl under the bench and made sure the blanket completely surrounded the bench and my friend. Already a minute or two before, my friend closed his eyes without direction.
Ashes on plate from Shaman ritual
When the treatment is over, the man sits down on the bench and stares blankly into the open space. For a minute, the room is silent. Then comes an overwhelming feeling of compassion… mixed with worry. Is this man truly happy? Is he a wounded soul who helps people but actually needs healing himself? I take a few hundred-dollar bills out and lean over to hand them to him. He immediately gestures to the statue of Mary with Jesus, and beside them is an open spot where I could place my offering. He does not touch it. We thank him, open the door, and walk in silence into the bright daylight.
After this incredible and exhausting day, I dove into more research about these islands of witchcraft. Importantly, I discovered that there is a big difference between white magic and black magic. It turns out people are in immense fear of the practitioners of black magic — the so-called practitioners dubbed “The Black Shamans”. According to locals, they live deep in the mountains and there is no sane person would be willing to bring you there. This also explains why the man, the Healer we saw, kept pointing out his certificates without words, wanting to make it clear that nothing scary was going to happen to us. Nevertheless, I am curious to meet a practitioner of black magic one day in my life.
Maybe, one day, I will.
From the Wild,