Cebuano Sorcery: Anecdotes

NewImageThe Ignatius Bean (Strychnos ignatia)
Image: Wikipedia

Superstitions regarding the “Bisayan” bean.

Huc also (“Thibet,” I. 252) commends the expressed juice of the kouo-kouo (Faba Ign. amar.) both for internal and external use, and remarks that it plays a great part in Chinese medicine, no apothecary’s shop being without it. Formerly the poisonous drug was considered a charm, as it is still by many. Father Camel1 states that the Catbalogan or Bisayan-bean, which the Indians call Igasur or Mananaog (the victorious), was generally worn as an amulet round the neck, being a preservative against poison, contagion, magic, and philtres, so potent, indeed, that the Devil in propia persona could not harm the wearer. Especially efficacious is it against a poison communicated by breathing upon one, for not only does it protect the wearer, but it kills the individual who wishes to poison him. Camel further mentions a series of miracles which superstition ascribed to the Ignatius bean.

— From The Former Philippines through Foreign Eyes, edited by Austin Craig, 1916


The following are anecdotes of sorcery, collected by Richard Lieban and recorded in his 1967 book, Cebuano Sorcery: Malign Magic in the Philippines. The book compares beliefs and practices related to both malign magic (sorcery and witchcraft) and benign magic, or folk healing, in Cebu.

Sorcery for hire in the areas Lieban studied seemed to be quite as common (though perhaps a little more discreet) as folk healing — in fact, folk healers were often also sorcerers. Quite a few of the examples of sorcery that Lieban collected involved land disputes: ownership, rent, trespassing or property damage and so on. Here’s one example.

Danilo, a sorcerer as well as a healer, treated a woman for an illness with high fever which he suspected might have been caused by sorcery. When Miguel, a distant relative of Danilo’s and also a sorcerer, visited Danilo’s house, Danilo asked him whether he had done this to the woman, and Miguel admitted he had. Miguel explained that he had prenda rights on a bamboo grove owned by the woman. (Under prenda arrangements, an individual lends money to another without interest in return for all rights of ownership on a piece of land possessed by the debtor. The owner can redeem his rights to the land when he pays off his debt.) Miguel said that the woman’s father who had made the prenda arrangement with him may not have told his daughter about the arrangement. At any rate, after the father died, his survivors began to gather bamboo from the grove, which they had no right to do so long as Miguel held the prenda on it. Miguel kept quiet about this, but he performed sorcery and the woman became ill. Miguel said that the woman actually was not the one collecting the bamboo — it was her son-in-law who did this — but she was the only heir to the bamboo land, and Miguel thought she was ordering her son-in-law to gather the bamboo. When Danilo was told this, he asked Miguel to stop the sorcery against this woman because she was a first cousin of his, although she was not related to Miguel. At Danilo’s request Miguel ceased the sorcery, and the patient, who had not been responding to treatment, recovered within two weeks. After the woman got well, Miguel visited her and explained about the prenda, which Danilo said the woman had known nothing about, and the woman apologized and said it would not happen again.

Jealousy was a common reason to hire a sorcerer, too. I rather like this story.

One sorcerer told me that the night before she was consulted by a friend whose husband was having an affair with another woman. When the husband returned home, he found out from a servant where his wife was, and he hastened to the sorcerer’s himself, arriving while his wife was still there. According to the sorcerer, the husband was furious, saying to his wife, “God damn you, that is why I have been having trouble.” He said that he was nervous, had difficulty sleeping, and the areas under his eyes were swollen. The sorcerer said the husband had asked his wife to come home with him, but she at first refused, telling him that he should go to his mistress. Finally he persuaded her to return home with him and talk things over. The sorcerer said that before the husband left he promised to reform and asked that she remove the spell she had placed against him. The day after the sorcerer told me about this, I met the wife in question, and she confirmed the sorcerer’s story. I saw the wife again, a week later, at the sorcerer’s. The wife was very perturbed. She had gone to the sorcerer the night before and asked her to punish her husband again because he had resumed his affair with the other woman. But this time the husband’s symptoms were more severe. The husband had gone to the hospital where he was given medicine and released. Now the worried wife wanted the sorcerer to once again take off the spell. The sorcerer agreed to do this, but she told the wife, “You are responsible for this. You asked me to hit him hard, and I did.” The wife told me that at first she did not really believe in such things, but now after these experiences, she believed.

It’s worth mentioning here that divorce is not legal in the Philippines.

A short sorcerer vs. sorcerer anecdote. This seems like it has the potential to end really badly….

While Raymundo [a sorcerer] was visiting in another community, a compare* of his approached him and asked him for an amulet. Raymundo declined, telling the man, “I know you are a barangan (sorcerer), and if I give you this you will be able to do it [sorcery] with impunity.” Raymundo said his compare was hurt by this refusal, and after his compare left the house, Raymundo felt a pain in his chest, and fell to the floor. He treated himself, and after 30 minutes the stinger of a ray came out of his chest. He then went to his compare and asked him what was the meaning of this. His compare told him that he should not be angry, that he (the compare had just wanted to test him, and he (Raymundo) had proved himself.

*The father of a child and the child’s godfather(s) are compare to each other — literally, “co-fathers”. I always got the impression, from my own father and his friends, that compare was also generically a term of good friendship. But maybe I’ve just lost track of who is godparent to whose children in my parents’ social circle.

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