One Good Friday morning many years ago, my father and uncle left our house to go somewhere “to test something.” “May susubukan,” that’s all I heard them say. Later in the evening, I learned that they went to this place where people observe the practice of anting-anting or amulet-testing, a ritual that takes place on Good Friday every year, anytime of the day before 3 p.m.—the hour of Jesus’ death on the cross.
I was barely in college then. I did not think much on it that time. Years later, looking for a topic for my research project in graduate school at UP, it was then that I remembered that incident.
Asking around, a relative told me that both my father and uncle were each keeping a little image of the child Jesus as anting-anting (amulet). Among anting-anting keepers, this amulet is known as the Santo Niñong Hubad (“naked holy child”) and is believed to enhance its keeper’s sexual virility and charm with the opposite sex.
I suppose that explains their close attachment to many women. But then again, would that be all there was to it?
My father, Raymundo Lubang, was a dead ringer for one of the most handsome Filipino actors in Philippine Cinema—Leopoldo Salcedo. Although not very tall, he was dark and handsome, and charming and very outspoken. Little wonder he won the hearts of many women, although his personality and charisma also brought him trouble, as he was very much married to my equally good looking mother Lydia, who resembled Gloria Sevilla, that Cebuana actress who also graced the silver screen.
My Uncle Nardo, a former chief of police in our town during the Japanese Occupation, was the eldest in the brood and had almost the same features as my father, although, I must say (with a bit of bias), my father was more good looking. Later, I found out he too had several girlfriends and kept a string of relationships while still married to his wife.
Into the Unknown
Learning about these things, I felt resolved that I should retrace their footsteps in my quest to learn and discover more about anting-anting, which was not a bad idea, as I would be hitting two birds with one stone: concluding my graduate studies and learning more about a local cultural phenomenon.
Navigating a journey “into the unknown” that led me to so many discoveries and accomplishments – it was to become the beginning of my serious affair with anting-anting.
One starting point was my seminal paper on Caviteño actor and former senator Ramon Revilla Sr. whose legend in Philippine movies was established mainly by his blockbuster films based on the life of Leonardo Manicio, or more famously (or infamously), Nardong Putik.
For those of you who do not know him, Nardong Putik was a notorious figure from Cavite who got his prominence when he got involved in the killing of the mayor and chief of police of Maragondon, Cavite in the 1950s. He was known to have kept various amulets which people erroneously believe made him invincible to bullets for as long as his feet were in contact with putik (mud). It was actually his father, Juan Putik, who allegedly had that power to heal himself with just a splash of mud on his wounds.
I soon realized that the town where I live, General Trias, is a locale firmly attached to the world of anting-anting. Suddenly, my cultural vocabulary was enriched with such terms as tigalpo, bayuko, trespico, palipad-hangin, barang, binurong bata, nagbabakod, limos and a host of others with sometimes very strange meanings and usage.
Duality of Amulets
Through interviews, I learned more about personages such as the manghihilot, mangtatawas, mambabales—people who are believed able to employ supernatural powers and were sought after by the common people for their healing/harming abilities.
Just like what most anting-anting keepers believe, there is a duality in the purpose and existence of this phenomenon: the positive (saputi or white) and the negative (saitim or black). Their power may be used either way, depending on the purpose/intention. Testing their potency on Good Friday also follows proper timing: the positive ones are tested BEFORE the hour of Christ’s death on the cross; the negative ones are tested AFTER.
This explains further why there are anting-anting keepers—hilots, albularyos, etc. (bonesetters, “herbologists”)—who are welcome members of the neighborhood, and then there are the mangkukulam and the mambabarang (“hexers”) whom you would not wish to cross paths with!
I also learned that the traditional hilot (those komadronas or village midwives with no formal medical background) were believed to be keepers of bulong (whispered magic words/spells) to be able to effectively and safely assist pregnant women as they deliver their new born.
Ditto the local manggagamot (healers) who also use bulong, along with their herbs and oils, to heal the sick. I soon learned that they are the most popular keepers of anting-anting (in the form of medallions and handkerchiefs) and are the main perpetrators of this belief system.
In the town of Noveleta, meanwhile, there is one family, the Herreras, well known for reproducing medallions of various sizes, shapes and uses—a tradition begun in the 1970s by their late patriarch Mang Ben, who was a member of AKO, a group of anting-anting keepers and enthusiasts. This tradition has since been continued by his wife Aling Lina and their children. Their reproductions are sold in Quiapo, Manila and, due to their exquisite details and craftsmanship, command a relatively high price compared with their rivals’ from other provinces such as Batangas.
The Herreras have more than a hundred kinds of medallions, each of which comes with specific powers and intentions. Some examples in their collection include: atardar and combate espiritwal, which are intended to protect the keeper from harm and bullets; kambaltuko (twin tokay geckos) and mag-asawang duwende (elf couple) for good luck; Birheng nagpapasuso (nursing virgin) and Santiago de Galicia (James of Galicia) for safety; and of course, the very popular Santo Niñong Hubad.
For medallions used to ward off bullets, it is taboo for the male keeper to allow any female to touch it for it will lose its power. This is referred to as panlalamig (literally, its potency “turning cold”). To revive it, the keepers must go through a series of pagpapalakas/pagkakarga (recharging/replenishing).
The medallions can be custom-made and the customer may choose the kind of metal (silver, bronze or stainless steel) for its make, depending on their budget and specific needs.
The anting-anting is almost exclusive to marginalized members of society. “Almost”—because besides the usual farmers, fishermen, jeepney and tricycle drivers, soldiers, policemen, security guards, and utility workers, I have also encountered a few well off (and, I suppose, highly educated) individuals who are also very much into this.
There were a couple of medical doctors, a politician, and a western-educated son of a prominent Caviteño family whom I have become friends with during my research. He even did a comparative study of this phenomenon in Cavite and some countries in Europe and presented his findings in one conference in New York, USA.
Father Chavez’ medallions
A most unlikely practitioner I have encountered is a Catholic priest in Trece Martires City. Every Monday morning, the Saint Jude Thaddeus Parish Church is filled with the sick and desperate members of the populace, waiting for Fr. Nestor Chavez to help them get well.
Fr. Chavez is a diocesan priest currently assigned in Ternate, Cavite and who regularly holds Mass followed by a healing ministry in Trece Martires. Now 67 years old, he has been conducting similar apostolate work throughout the province for free. For his healing ministry, he uses olive oil and medallions, along with prayers in Latin, often invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary and popular saints like St. Anthony of Padua and St. Jude Thaddeus.
It is interesting to note that most anting-anting keepers have memorized Latin prayers and phrases which, they say, were passed on to them through limos (bequest) and kaloob (gift) either from ancestors (prior to passing away) or from strangers to whom they have done good in one way or other. Also, if one keeps a specific anting-anting, he (keepers are often male) is tasked to consecrate the medallion every 6 in the afternoon and onwards to keep its potency.
Fr. Chavez adheres to the same system. He actually has 63 medallions soaked in a basin of olive oil, he told me. Those medallions were given to him by strangers who were healers during their time, but have since passed on. Each medallion is accompanied with certain prayers in Latin for efficacy, and Fr. Chavez consecrates these medallions using those prayers every evening without fail, which according to him, lasts six hours nightly.
I suppose the prayers and rituals being in Latin have to do with its ancient connection and roots. In my study, I have learned that Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ and which is now almost a dead language, is more potent in consecrating the anting-anting. But this has since been replaced by Latin, and so the key to unlocking any particular power an anting-anting possesses is in the Latin abbreviations found on the amulet.
Praying in Our Tongue
But come to think of it, shouldn’t prayers in one’s mother tongue prove more potent in activating an amulet? Since it is in a language you know so well, your heart, your understanding, your faculties would be more appreciative of the ritual. Before he died, my father passed on to me this prayer which one is supposed to utter before leaving the house:
Sa ngalan ng Ama, ng Anak, at ng Espiritu Santo. Amen.
Diyos ko po, ako’y mananaog. Mauna kayo at ako ay susunod.
At sa likod ko, ako ay bantayan ng mga anghel ng Diyos.
Sa ngalan ng Ama, ng Anak, at ng Espiritu Santo. Amen.
The prayer was originally in Latin, but my father had it translated into Tagalog because I had a hard time memorizing it. I still recite this prayer to this day. Does it work? My belief is that, yes, it does. To this day, I’ve had no close brush with death so far in my 48 years of existence.
My discovery of Fr. Chavez’ healing ministry using medallions and Latin prayers have strengthened my belief in the relevance and significance of the anting-anting in relation to my heightened awareness in this cultural realm.
I was once asked if – being Roman Catholic – I find Fr. Chavez’ practice objectionable. But why would I? How can I question a priest who has studied Theology for the longest time, has been preaching the words of Jesus Christ, and has been sharing the same cultural belief and practice to cure people—the helpless, the poor, the downtrodden? If you see the medallions he uses, you’d see the images of Christ, Mama Mary, etc. What’s wrong with that? How is it any different from the scapulars that the Catholic faithful wear?
Maybe we owe our faith to the Catholic Church, but in this case, it is the lay people who are able to articulate the use of something that has always been deemed exclusive to the Church to extend it to the idea of using amulets for personal protection and for the use of society at large.
I think it is best for those who believe in the anting-anting to see these things as a means, not just for personal gain, but to make the world a better place to live in for everyone. As for those who do not believe, my advice is for them to reflect and make room for understanding the possibility of the truth in these things. God moves in mysterious ways. We don’t just get the affirmation of the presence of God in the Church. We could also find it in our cultural roots and practices.
Photo credit: https://www.aswangproject.com
About the author
Jeffrey Alfaro Lubang is an associate professor with the Social Sciences Department of De La Salle University-Dasmariñas’ College of Liberals Arts and Communication. He has published more than two dozen textbooks/references, including “Anting-anting sa Kabite,” which is the book version of his master’s thesis. He has published papers in academic journals and has lectured locally and internationally on local knowledge such as anting-anting, food, and other cultural practices in Cavite.