Since I was a kid I have always been afraid of the supernatural. I still yet have to see with my own eyes ghosts, monsters or goblins but I have had some unexplained experiences which contributed to my continuing belief of their existence. Even now that I am much older and presumably wiser, the skeptic in me have not yet overshadowed my childhood superstitions. Upto now I could still imagine that there are ghosts coexistng with us in our own house. I am still afraid to come near a termite hill thinking the nuno sa punso might cast a bad curse on me. I still find myself uttering 'tabi-tabi po' to excuse my disturbing the resident elementals. I still knock on wood 3 times whenever I feel that there is something there out-of-the-ordinary.
My superstitions are intensified whenever it is Holy Week. Eversince I saw the 'Manananggal' episode in 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' movie (remember the one with Herbert Bautista and Irma Alegre?), I associate Good Friday as Happy Hour for the supernaturals - the witching hour. The movie banked on the premise that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, dies on the cross at 3PM on Good Friday. Thus they say that evil spirits and supernatural powers become much more stronger because of the absence of God. Thus it has been customary for mangkukulams and mambabarangs (local witches and shamans) to convene on this Holy day and test their powers because of this paganistic belief. It is also why some people test the strength of talismans and anting-antings during Good Friday - (believers would bury an anting-anting under the ground, draw a circle above it and fire bullets into the circle - finding an unblemished circle effective).
Going back to the movie, it probably was one that really left a mark in my conciousness regarding aswangs. It showed how the protagonist character played by Bautista fought with the resident manananggal over the Good Friday witching hour. In the process he had found effective ways to battle the winged half-bodied harpie. In the end, good still triumphed over evil, usually the case in old Philippine movies. It however for me painted a good array of Pinoy practices against the supernatural. In my research about trees and other plants, I found the same things in that movie still believed in a lot of parts in the archipelago.
Probably the most widely used ingredient to drive away evil spirits is the reliable garlic. Eversince the plant was introduced to Philippine culture and local cuisine, it was also utilized to give protection against aswangs and other local monsters. Usually rural houses never run out of garlic not because of its culinary versatility. They are hung on windows and doorways to ward off the unwanted supernaturals. In some provinces, the cloves are blackened to intensify the smell. They are then inserted into cloth packets and pinned on children's clothes.
I remember a college friend telling me once of her encounter with a manananggal. When she was in high school she went home to her hometown in Quezon. She and a childhood boy friend decided to jog in the wee hours of the morning. They followed the main avenue where there were newly installed street lamps. Whenever they passed a lit lamp, a shadow of a large bat was cast down on them, sending shivers into her spine. She was afraid to ask her companion what the shadow was as it might also stir some unexpected reactions. So they continued on to jog till they reached the house of another friend. Once they entered the house, she asked her companion if he noticed the shadow that was cast on them. He said he was almost certain it was a manananggal and he then showed her the cloves of garlic he had hidden in his pocket. Of course she was thankful for her friend's foresight and for the garlic.
Another anti-aswang weapon used in the movie was the Holy Week staple palaspas. Every Catholic would know the importance of this symbol in welcoming Jesus Christ into the festivities of commemorating the important religious holiday. As far as Pinoy's could remember, palm fronds are woven into the intricate art of palaspas, which are waved and fluttered on Palm Sunday mass. The blessed Palaspas is usually taken home and used as the household's protection against evil spirits and bad omens, usually placed at the entry door to the house. It stays there for the whole year till a new palaspas is made and blessed. The old-to-be discarded palaspas is then char-burned and used by the church as ash for Ash Wednesday or in some other religious rites. Some could be kept in a small container and used as a talisman.
There are other plants still found in an albularyo's apothecary basket. Some we will surely encounter and tackle in future blogs. But what is surprising is that even in this era's advance technology we still find people believing in what they could not explain like the aswangs and the manananggal. The 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' movie is also decades old but the fright it brings about the supernatural is still fresh especially in the provinces. Little has changed, a part of Philippine culture which progress could not remedy. As for me I still am slightly beleaguered with fright when Good Friday comes. Will probably sleep in the coming nights with a clove of garlic tucked under my pillow - just in case.
(Manananggal art from http://asiaparanormal.blogspot.com/2010/11/what-are-filipino-vampires-all-about.html. Movie poster picture from video48.blogspot.com. Picture of Irma Alegre as mananaggal was lifted from Uro Dela Cruz's Multiply site.)