Magic in the Philippine context-A A +A
Monday, October 29, 2012
A PART of the phenomena that we study in anthropology involves the examination of the paranormal activities that include magic and witchcraft.
Since the season of Hallows or All Saints is in the air, I figured it worthwhile to share some things I learned about magic and witchcraft.
I must emphasize that the magic I meant in this article has nothing to do with the bunny out of a hat or the stage and theatrical magic that is reduced to parlor tricks.
According to early anthropologists, magic is a kind of pseudoscience used by early man in his attempt to manipulate nature or certain perceived laws in nature. They said that man’s attempt is based on his erroneous correlation between causes and effects.
Magic, based on a good number of cultural ethnographic data of anthropologists gathered all over the world, has two general laws. The first is the law of similarity, while the second is the law of contagion.
Under the law of similarity, it is assumed that like produces like, or effects resembles the cause. For example, when a witch or “mangkukulam” uses dolls as a representative of a person to whom she will inflict something negative, this operates magic under the law of similarity.
Expanding further the law of similarity, there are also two percept or principles that it follows. The first is the positive percept that states that one must do, or observe something in order to achieve something and the second is negative percept that states that one must not do to avoid something.
On the other hand, under the law of contagion, it is believed that things which have been in contact continue to act upon each other.
Another way of stating this principle is that the things that a person owns or has had physical contact with for some time actually establishes a permanent relationship with the said object, whether the object is foreign like clothes, shoes or mirrors, or his own body parts like his nails, hairs, saliva, etc... A perfect example of this is that when a witch inflicts pain to her victim, she will need a “sample” of the latter in the form of hair strands or handy objects that were once the personal possessions of the victim.
In the Philippine context, contrary to the advocacy of modernists that our nation has departed away from “magical thinking,” most people still practice magic syncretically with their faith. Syncretism is the practice of combining religious belief system, often contradictory to each other. An example would be the belief in protective amulets or talismans especially when used among children and babies. If one was being observant enough, there are beads of different colors that readily hang for sale next to candles and catholic religious items outside most catholic churches. These beads, for the vendors, are supposed to offer protective powers against curses or “buyag” in layman’s term.
For most Filipinos, magic is unconsciously practiced in the form of good luck charms. For example during New Year’s eve, it is still practiced that one wears clothes with exaggeratedly printed dots as these dots represent coins or money and this kind of practice is consistent with magic under the law of similarities. Again, the bottom line with magic is the erroneous correlation between cause and effect as far as empirical evidence is concerned.
Believers and non-believers have both experienced or even practiced magic one way or another, whether they acknowledge it or not to certain points or aspects of their lives, be it seasonal or not.
For me, magic is an invention of the mind that man creates to readily fill the gap between what is readily explained in rational terms and what is yet to be explained in unknown or mystical terms. And being a sociologist, I support the premise that “magic” functions to reduce the anxiety man experiences mostly related to the unknown and ultimately with life’s uncertainties. After all, this is deeply embedded in our culture and magic will continue to exist for the many generations to come.
(Comments may be sent email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @ polo_socio)
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 30, 2012.