Siquijor: Island of Witches

Looking to escape the icy grip of winter cold? Consider a visit to the Philippine island of Siquijor where temperatures hover around 80° year round. You can relax on one of their many beaches, rent a motorbike and see the sights, or (if you’re so inclined) reign down a series of curses on your enemies back home.

That’s right; on the island of Siquijor magic and witchcraft are alive and well. However, the vast majority is used strictly for healing purposes. One can see local witches, or mananambals (traditional healers) as some prefer to be called, for treatment of a number of different ailments, the removal of evil spirits, or even to acquire a love potion. Though they primarily serve tourists curious about the island’s magical reputation, many actual residents of the island swear by the healing powers of the mananambal over traditional medicine.

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One such healer is 91 year old Consing Achay, who practices bulo-bulo, the removal of evil spirits. A typical visit to Consing would begin with her chanting in an ancient language and dropping a small stone into a glass of water. As the glass is moved over the body of her client, the healer blows into the water through a bamboo straw. The water becomes increasingly cloudy as the sickness is removed. The ritual is repeated until the water remains clear throughout the procedure.

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One might be shocked to find Achay incorporating Catholic traditions into her rituals, often beginning her treatments by making the sign of the cross. During the 16th century, Catholicism was introduced to Siquijor by the Spanish, and its beliefs and traditions quickly melded with the island’s ancient practices. In fact many of the island’s witches consider themselves devote Catholics and see no contradiction between the religion and the practice of witchcraft.

Although Siquijor’s tourism industry emphasizes its reputation as a place of healing magic, there is a less advertised flip side to the magic of the island. This comes in the form of sorcerers, or black witches, known as the mambabarang. People pay top dollar for spells meant to curse those who have crossed them.

The majority of their clients seek revenge on ex-lovers, which can take the form of a spell that causes the offending party to constantly see that person’s face wherever they go. Should this level of punishment not quite fit the crime, there are more serious spells one can request meant to bring about sickness or even death.

Until recently, Siquijor lacked much in the way of modern medical facilities, offering a possible explanation for the perpetuation of the island’s ancient, mystical healing methods. But even with the addition of a hospital, good old fashioned curiosity keeps a steady flow of people coming to visit these traditional healers. So if you’re looking to rid yourself of some pesky evil spirits, or wish to inflict some on that ex who slept with your best friend, consider a vacation to scenic Siquijor, the island of witches.




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