Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Social Psychology of the Anting-anting

A casual visit to Quiapo Church on any given day can give anyone an idea of the superstitious nature of the typical Filipino. Here and there around the vicinity of the church can be seen the various traders of religion and occult. In this motley array of vast and rich cultural traditions, the scapular and rosary vendors, the fortune tellers, and the amulet sellers mixed together to make this part of Manila the center of divination and mysticism in the Philippines. Indeed, in the deelpy religious and superstitious nature of Filipino culture, it is hard to tell where religion and occult divides.

Sagrada Familia anting anting. This medallion offers good luck for business and protection against ghouls like tikbalang, itim na dwende, kapre, and aswang.

The occult merchants occupy a huge space around the Quiapo Church . Most sellers have a makeshift stall composed of a small table and small baskets where they put all their occult merchandise that cater to the Filipino curiosity: from amulets, to herbal medicines, books on folk healing, love potions, elixirs, and various other objects such as odd-shaped stones, gems, crystals, and other freaks of nature called the mutya.

From my own interviews with several of these occult vendors, I found that the anting anting (amulets), are the bestsellers among the various magical objects that they sell. Many people buy them: men and women, young and the old. The anting antings are priced according to their size and the materials used. Generally, the bigger the size the more expensive it would be. Of course, the material used also determines the price: anting anting that is cast in expensive red bronze commands a slightly higher price than the cheaper yellow bronze. The anting antings range in price from anywhere between 20 pesos to 700 pesos.

A group of anting-anting believers in Quiapo

There are hundreds of design to choose from, ranging from the medallion of the Infinito Dios, the Santissima Trinidad, the Infinita Dios, to that of the various other lesser gods, angels, and saints of Folk Catholic mythology. The anthropomorphic figures of the Gods are often accompanied by mysterious initials and cabalistic inscriptions in Latin and Tagalog. Many of these initials are actually the numerous names of God and the power words (oraciones) that he had spoken. They are written in initials because they are meant to be secret and not spoken or uttered, not unlike the belief of the Jews who wanted God’s name hidden, and thus removed the vowels of God’s name in the scriptures, leaving it to be read as YHWH or YHVH, which cannot be pronounced because of the absence of vowels.

In the anting anting, the removal of vowels is no longer deemed necessary. It was already enough to put just the initials of God. Thus many initials that can be found on the anting anting are read as A.A.A, M.M.M., L.M., H.A.H., J.A.H., O.I.A., and so on, which are all the various names of the Infinito Dios, the Infinita Dios, or the Santissima Trinidad.

At present the anting antings are still popular and many people still buy them. It is hard to tell if people buy them because they genuinely believe in them, or because they are just curious about them. But for the faithful, the anting anting have a variety of purpose: there are anting antings that would make one impervious to bullets and knives (kabal at kunat); there are those that can make one invisible to enemies (tagabulag); there are those that can give one powers to control the elements (impasibilidad); there are anting anting that can make one be attractive to the opposite sex (gayuma); there are the anting-antings that can make one lucky in business and gambling; there are those that give protection against illnesses; and there are also the anting antings that can protect one against the ghouls and evil elementals of Philippine folklore: the tikbalang, kapre, mangkukulam, nuno sa punso and the itim na dwende.

The Filipino philosophy of “wala namang mawawala kung maniniwala” plays an important role in the culture of the anting-anting. There is nothing wrong in believing something that one cannot prove to be effective or infective, unless one is hacked by a bolo and either survived or killed. But there is no shortage of genuinely honest people who swear in their honor that the anting-anting saved their lives or made their lives worthwhile. In Cavite and Batangas for instance, I met many aged anting-anting people who told me fascinating stories about how they survived assassinations, accidents, and life-threatening illnesses because their anting-antings protected them. One only has to have faith in the anting-anting to achieve its powers.

I myself subscribe to the concept of “wala namang mawawala kung manininiwala”. There is nothing wrong in believing unless the belief limits your abilities as an individual. The anting anting does the otherwise by providing inspiration that God is with the common people, and that in this modern time of high technology, the anting anting still provides hope and faith to the oppressed people. God would reward their faith and devotion with His protection and blessing.

Indeed my friends and colleagues started treating me differently when they discovered that I was keeping a collection of anting-antings. They thought that anting-antings are only worn by superstitious and weird people. But what if the anting-anting really has the power to save me from harm, illness, and other evil things? What if by a freak accident I get hit by a truck and survive? One thing is for sure, however. I always cross the street with extreme caution, even though I may carry an anting-anting in my pocket. I will never test the power of the anting-anting as it is tantamount to challenging the power of God.

Anting anting scarf of Infinito Dios in battle formation. This scarf is an effective protection against gun and other weapons.

During the Philippine-American War (1899-1901), the so-called Filipino “insurrectos” fought the superior-armed Americans with only their bolos and anting antings. One of those killed was featured in the book “Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines ” in 1899, an “insurrecto” who was wearing an anting-anting vest of the Infinito Dios that proved no match for the gunfire of the Americans.

It astonished the Americans that the “insurrectos” had the courage to face the superiorly armed U.S. Army:

“Why did not these men surrender? It was an exhibition of solid heroism, the like of which I shall not see again. At least over the graves of these men, whose actions we cannot quite understand, should be written the word “heroes”. Many of these men wore anting antings or charms to preserve life….”

The anting-anting therefore served as the vital object with which the Filipinos pinned their hopes in order to gain an edge in the war against the superior-armed American troops. Nevertheless, the psychological impact of possessing the anting anting could have made the war more blooodily contested. Without the anting-antings, one could hardly say if the war lasted as long as it did. The anting-anting is an important part of the Filipino battle gear, along with his bolo and crude firearm.

More recently, during the Lapiang Malaya massacre of 1967, those killed were found to be wearing the supposedly magical vests that could turn bullets into snakes and just fall harmlessly around them. But as it happened, the bullets easily tore through the vests and flesh of the Lapiang Malaya kapatid. Tatang Valentin Delos Santos, the spiritual leader of the Lapiang Malaya also died violently—allegedly beaten by an inmate in the National Mental Hospital where the Supremo was confined as a lunatic.

I think that the reason why the anting-anting failed is that Filipinos who used them become very fatalistic. Their utter disregard for safety and caution led into their own doom. Here comes into mind another one of those old Filipino sayings that may have significance to the anting-anting: “nasa tao ang gawa, nasa Diyos ang awa”.

People who believe in the power of the anting-antings must also exercise caution and discipline and not become foolish and defy logic. Imagine what faith, reason, and hard work can do to defeat evil.

Santissima Trinidad anting-anting. Excellent protector against all evil.

Be that as it may, the anting anting still plays a significant role in the social psychology of the Filipino people. Most people who believe them come from the lower strata of society, the common folk who are deprived of wealth and social power but who nevertheless gain spiritual and psychological powers through the anting anting.

The anting anting evolved from being a magical object that protects the Filipinos from evil and harm to religious objects that serve as temporary or even permanent receptacles of God. The anting anting is thus worshipped as God itself, or his various forms and representations. In this conceptual framework, God becomes a genie which, through proper devotion, faith, and mysterious incantations, can be summoned to protect the believer from evil and harm.

Through the oraciones, the believer achieves a unity, a oneness with the Infinito Dios and is thus able to gain God’s qualities that can make him a superman—a man bearing the powers of God, because through his faith and hard work, the old Bible saying is thus applied to him: You shall be as gods.

Note: This article was originally published at the Philippine Online Chronicles. To find other interesting articles on Philippine Life and Culture, please visit the site here.

25 comments:

fortuitous faery said...

these amulets become especially popular around holy week. and wouldn't it have been better if these came with disclaimers? but then, that would work against the faith required to use them.

David B Katague said...

I really enjoyed this article. More Power to you, Dennis! When are you planning to revisit Marinduque?

Dennis Villegas said...

Fortuitous faery: thanks, yes faith is an essential part of anting anting culture ;)

David: How are you sir? I would love to return to your beautiful Marinduque....very soon!

Sidney said...

You are fast becoming THE expert in anting-anting !
Maybe I buy an anting-anting next time I am in Quiapo... can't harm to have some extra protection against camera snatchers ;-)

TheCoolCanadian said...

Dennis:

Awesome-looking pendants!

My sister went home and I told her to buy me all the anting-anting pendants. I think they look cool!

When she comes home with all the pendants, I'm going to take off my shirt, wear all the pendants and have a photo session! He-he.

O, ayan, Mr T of A-Team, laban ka dito? Lol.

Dennis Villegas said...

@coolcanadian: heheh jom...mukhang susunod ka sa mga yapak ni tatang valentin ah..hehehe

Dennis Villegas said...

@david katague: very soon sir!

Anonymous said...

awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. lina holzbauer

Anonymous said...

Great! Thanks for doing this article! It had been invaluable.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Great bit of textual content I must say. Well written and beneficial, thank you!

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I have always been fascinated by the Anting-Anting medallions — the fact that not much research is written about these enigmatic medallions makes them even more desirable. I love the designs, the imbedded cryptic acronyms and its folk-artsy feel.

Anting or Anting-Anting is an old Malay word that pertains to an item that is hanging or dangling, such as an earring or pendant.

The Anting-Anting medallions that we know today are indigenous to the Philippines. Some say that the Spanish Catholic priests brought the original designs to the Philippines as a way to convert the natives. But, others claim that the practice of Anting-Anting has been in place before the Spanish colonizers arrived. In any case, it has evolved into a practice and a belief system in which spiritualism, old folk superstition and Catholism are intertwined.

These medallions feature very intricate high relief designs, and uniquely hand-cast. The ancient designs have been handed down over the years, and secrecy surrounds the actual craft of making the medallions.
http://www.etsy.com/shop/artsyflipsy

Ttaveler on Foot said...

This is a very profound article about the anting-anting. Never read anything like it. Bravo!

I linked this post and another one related to the anting-anting to Traveler on Foot.

Dennis Villegas said...

Thank you Traveler on Foot, much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

those must not be exposed that the powers must not lost.only a fool will expose those.

Anonymous said...

those are very nice medal.i hope i have one of those...

Anonymous said...

bro kilala m c rev gorge?

Josie said...

Hello Dennis.so happy finally i meet someone like you who understand about Anting Anting.I am a pilipina peru 34 years ng na wala sa bansa natin but i visit pa minsan minsan.Last year merun nag bigay sa akin ng agimat Dios Ama 7 arkangels.Wala sya binigay na libro para pag aralan ko pa ano ko ma buhay ang bisa.What should i do?

Josie said...

Hello Dennis.so happy finally i meet someone like you who understand about Anting Anting.I am a pilipina peru 34 years ng na wala sa bansa natin but i visit pa minsan minsan.Last year merun nag bigay sa akin ng agimat Dios Ama 7 arkangels.Wala sya binigay na libro para pag aralan ko pa ano ko ma buhay ang bisa.What should i do?

Anonymous said...

anting anting topics, email me @ Hiladokarl@yahoo.com, I will be please to share a little knowledge that I had on how to make use of your agimat or anting anting. for those only who are intrested. God Bless!

Nodle Doodle said...

Sir, may I have the permission to use one of your photos in here for school project only. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

can i ask what kind of amulet is that? located at the upper part of this blog. I have that similar amulet and i"m curious about it.. thank you.

gwinne01 said...

If you want those anting anting... just let me know.. i know the factory main factory in cavite and much cheaper price.. dependes on the item you need..

gwinne01 said...

If you want those anting anting... just let me know.. i know the factory main factory in cavite and much cheaper price.. dependes on the item you need..