Dying to perk up your sex life without getting under the knife, subjecting yourself to therapies and drugs? Eager to seduce a lover, attract a husband or wife?
Sex happens to be the specialty of the naked Infant Jesus (“Santo Niñong Hubad”) talisman, also called the Unbaptized Christ Child (“Niñong Hindi Binyagan”) or (“Santo Niñong May Ari”) infant Jesus with exposed genitalia.
Clothe the same icon in the regalia of the Sto Niño of Prague and he becomes the Baptized Infant Jesus (“Niñong Binyagan’). Correspondingly, his function changes, from bestowing erotic potency to protecting his wearers.
In either guise, local amulet aficionados (“mag-aanting”) swear he works wonders.
Still, I’ve never known he existed, along with so many other talismans and amulets, until I visited the Yuchengco Museum last week.
No, I didn’t stumble in some ancient magician’s trove, just the museum’s first ever “Pinoy Power Packs” exhibit.
“I was drawn to these power objects by their beauty, their art and their stories,” confessed curator Floy Quintos, himself a collector of “agimat” – power objects taken from nature and “anting-anting” – man-made talismans.
The exhibit showed ivory, metal and magical wood medallions inscribed with the “Atardar” – the protector and aggressor aspect of the “Infinito Dios” (Infinite God), supreme deity of the “mag-aanting”, a warrior with flaming sword popular with policemen and soldiers seeking protection as they make their living dodging bombs and bullets.
Medals of the “Animasola” – the eye inside the winged triangle – the deity of air, are displayed with those of the “Waksim” – water deity, the “Cinco Vocales” – 5 Tagalog vowels embodying the five deities, bunched medals (“Bugkos”) worn as necklaces or belts, handkerchiefs inked with magic words, booklets (“librettos”) with handwritten prayers and “oraciones” – rituals for feeding or animating talismanic powers.
From mystic places like Mt. Banahaw came fossilized Dignum wood – reputedly the same tree species carved to make Jesus Christ’s cross, shell fossils, eyeless coconut and lightning tooth stone (“Ngipin ng Kidlat”) – fulgurite.
From Tayabas, Quezon, there’s an “alitagtag” wooden magic wand used as healing instrument and from Pasay, one of the shirts of tragic Lapiang Malaya (Freedom Society) Supremo Valentin de los Santos, inked with magic words and symbols, supposed to render the wearer bulletproof.
Of course, amulets and talismans are about power – summoning love, amassing wealth, protecting one’s self from enemies.
Yet the true “mag-aanting” seeks more – accessing occult knowledge, gaining higher awareness, striking a balance between our forefathers’ pre-colonial animist beliefs and the Christian faith of our Spanish conquistadores, with some Kabbalah mysticism thrown in the mix.
In truth, it’s about “pagbabalik loob”, returning to the authentic self, Floy explained.
The “mag-aanting” seeks to establish his sense of wholeness and balance. Should he succumb to temptation and use the “anting-anting” for evil, the amulet loses its power and can even turn on its owner.
Soon, I found myself enmeshed in the web of its lore as well, mesmerized by the “mag-aanting”-created universe, with its pantheon of gods combining folk animism and Catholic rites.
“Bathala” (God), the source of all power, is an ancient multi-dimensional Tagalog deity associated with the elements of earth, wind and water.
Invested in mystic symbols, speaking in arcana and anagrams lifted from Latin, Catholic and cabalistic texts, he became the “Infinito Dios” (Infinite God) of the “mag-aanting”, the center of all local talismanic motifs.
And so, the Yuchengo exhibit traced the Infinito’s transformation from a bodiless and sexless air element – the eye in the winged triangle – “Anima Sola”, forever floating in space, to human form – the warrior victorious over mortal and spiritual combat – the protective “Atardar” and his dual persona, the feminine “Infinita Dios”.
In the water, the deity is the” Waksim” – “Infinito ng Tubig”(Infinite God of Water) or “Bagting ng Dagat” (Heartstring of the Sea). Over the dominions of the earth, the “Infinito Dios” assumes the shape of a bearded Old Man, the “Nuno”.
In his “Atardar” form, the “Infinito Dios” is supported by two elders who reside in the two corners of the earth and are guardians of the sun and the moon – Uph Madac and Abo Natac. He has other spirit allies as well – the “Siete Virgenes” (Seven Virgins), the Atardar’s fighters against Luxbel – Lucifer.
Originally, the “Infinito Dios” sent the seven archangels to fight Luxbel. When the devil proved to be more powerful, the “Atardar” transformed his archangels into seven beautiful virgins who beguiled and eventually defeated Luxbel.
From the “Anima Sola”, the deity assumed the face of a man and created more beings to assist him in creating the world.
As the deity thought of creation, five shining letters sprang from his mind : M-A-R-I-A, Miriam in Syrian, which connotes the “Highest”.
Then the five letters transformed themselves into the five petals of a demure flower (“Mayuming Bulaklak”) – the Gumamela Celis – “Flower of Heaven” or “Rosa Mundi”, the Rose of the Earth.
Maria was the first being who emanated from God, the first to appear before the sixteen spirits, the archangels, Luxbel (Lucifer) and the “Santisima Trinidad” (Holy Trinity”.
Hence, the “mag-aanting” elevated the Virgin Mary, the Catholic Mother of God into a goddess who emerged from the mind of the “Infinito Dios”.
This female “Infinita Dios” was also called “Kataas taasang Ina” (Mother Most High).
The Marian devotees’ Miraculous Virgin (“Birheng Milagrosa”), the Immaculate Conception depicted in the Miraculous Medal, with her hands stretched at her sides, giving off rays of light became the “Infinitang Nagsasabog ng Biyaya” (Goddess Bestower of Blessings).
Amulets depicting the female deity also showed her as a nursing mother, as the virgin holding her child as she flees Herod’s wrath (“Birheng Tumatakas”) and the folk version of the Virgin of the Pillar – “Birheng Nagkukubli” (Hiding Virgin), hiding atop a tall pillar. A rare depiction of Mary showed her holding two children, both Jesus and the fallen angel Luxbel.
Aside from Maria, the “Infinito Dios” has 16 spirit helpers, who came to being from the drops of his sweat as he thought of creating the world.
These include the guardians of the sun and the moon, followed by six spirits residing outside the earth who refused his blessings: Elim, Borim, Morim, Bicairim, Persulatim and Mitim. The next seven spirits became the unbaptized archangels: Amaley, Alpacor, Amacor, Apalco, Alco, Arago and Azaragoe.
Then came Luxbel (Light of Heaven) was also called Becca, the counterpart of the Catholics’ Lucifer, will later rebel against his maker.
The last three spirits, the “Tres Personas” (Three Persons) or the “Santisima Trinidad” (Holy Trinity) named Magob, Mariagob and Magogab, created the world and its inhabitants.
The Holy Family (“Sagrada Familia”) was also an aspect of the “Tres Personas” protecting amulet holders from elementals and dark spirits. In one amulet, Saint Joseph, the father of Jesus, is even depicted carrying a money bag, indicating he was a talisman for business.
The sum of all these powers is the “Cinco Vocales” (Five Vowels) of the Tagalog alphabet: A for the “Infinito Dios”, E for the Mother of God – “Infinita Dios”, I for God the Father, O for Jesus Christ and U for the Holy Spirit.
The “mag-aanting” simplified the complexity of one god in five personas. For him, the “Cinco Vocales” ranked as the highest deity because it’s the complete composition of the five highest gods.
Still, the “mag-aanting” added another god in this pantheon, national hero Dr. Jose Rizal – “Amang Gatdula”, also called “Jove Rex Al” or God King of All. To him, Rizal was the second incarnation of God after Jesus Christ.
Not surprisingly, Rizalistas – believers in the divinity of Rizal, are amulet aficionados and many amulet aficionados are also Rizalistas.
However, the Filipino “mag-aanting” is not alone in marrying opposite faiths.
African “voodoo” (derived from the native word “vodun”, meaning spirit) practitioners also amalgamated ancestor worship and animism with Roman Catholicism, though their religion evolved more out of need.
African slaves accepted the faith of their masters but held on to their traditional beliefs, resulting in a syncretism of Catholic saints with Voodoo abilities.
Visitors who viewed the “Pinoy Power Packs” exhibit filed in the halls of the museum in silent awe. They gazed at each object, lingered reading the descriptions, taking photos.
Indeed, it’s a rare glimpse in the secret world of Filipino occult.