by Bryan Anthony C. Paraiso
      Jose Rizal’s intellectual prowess continues to be an interesting topic of discussion for Filipinos, both young and old alike. For a man gifted with indubitable polymath abilities, Rizal has been transformed into a hero of mythic proportions whom parents hold up to their children to emulate in their studies to gain academic honors.
      Filipino high school and college students, though awed by Rizal’s greatness, are understandably daunted by their parents’ wishes and often become indifferent to the hero’s life and works.
      Deploring this situation, popular historian and National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) chair, Dr. Ambeth R. Ocampo, urges Filipinos to “see (Rizal) as a human person because it is only in Rizal’s humanity that you can see the secret of his greatness. If you see what he is like, you’ll see a human person inside the hero and you’ll see the Filipino capacity for greatness.”
       With the commemoration of Rizal’s death at the end of the month, and the landmark celebration of his 150th birth anniversary on June 19, 2011, it is an opportune time to bare unconventional stories about our national hero’s genius and myriad interests.
      Aside from Rizal’s proclivity for the arts and sciences, it has been discovered that he was also interested in esoteric beliefs, applying empirical methods of inquiry and cross-cultural referencing to understand peculiar phenomena.
       In this age, when children and adults alike enjoy fantasy stories in books and movies, to see Rizal as a curious scholar fascinated by indigenous folklore and the supernatural reveals a hero far more human than our glorified image of him.
      Rizal’s interest in the arcane might have been fueled by several sueños tristes (sad dreams) that he recorded in his diaries and letters. In one instance, Rizal wrote in his diary entry for May 10, 1882, that he dreamed his brother Paciano had died suddenly. He intimated: “It is true that I had a dream once that was fulfilled. Before the examination for the first year in Medicine, I dreamed that I was asked certain questions but I didn’t mind them. When the examinations came, I was asked the questions in my dream. May God will that it might not happen to us!”
        Prophetic dreams troubled Rizal and prompted him to pry into the mysterious sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. In 1884, he transcribed in Spanish three chapters of the Zend-Avesta Vendidad, which are prayers for ritual purification against evil influences. It is possible that Rizal’s latent clairvoyance and early forays into the occult led him to rationalize paranormal phenomena.
       During his exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte, in November 1895, Rizal wrote a psychoanalytical monograph on bewitchment by the native sorceress (manggagaway) entitled La Curación de los Hechizados.
        In his essay, Rizal initially criticizes the mediocre medical practice in the country for the proliferation of superstition and witchcraft: “En Filipinas pasan por hechizados los que padecen de una enfermedad singular o desconocida para los curanderos y cuyo origen no se puede atribuir al aire, al calor, al frío, al vapor de tierra ni siqueira a la indigestión, únicas causas patogénicas que se admiten en el pais (In the Philippines, the bewitched are those who suffer from a disease unique or unknown to quacks and whose cause cannot be attributed to the air, heat, cold, vapor from the earth, nor even to indigestion, the only pathogenic causes accepted in the country).”
     However, Rizal neither discounts the existence nor powers of local witches, but specifies the differences of their craft. The male sorcerer (mangkukulam) is regarded as the most potent since he ‘sheds tears of fire’ with a gaze that can ‘paralyze small animals, even flying birds.’ He indicates that sickness caused by the mangkukulam is incurable, but ascribes this to an innate ability to hypnotize or charm. Rizal actually empathizes with the mangkukulam, attributing these peculiar abilities to an unfortunate involuntary act.
      In comparison, Rizal determines that the female manggagaway is particularly malevolent, practicing diabolical arts through two methods: “produciendo una lesión orgánica determinada, o un estado general con trastornos psicológicos (producing a fixed organic lesion or a general condition with psychological disturbances).”
       To perform her deviltry, the manggagaway uses dolls or puppets similar to her Western counterpart to inflict injury on her intended victim through sympathetic magic. According to the late Jesuit folklorist Fr. Francisco R. Demetrio, this belief existed in Davao as late as the 1960s, where the witch called barangan destroys an enemy by pricking a cloth doll with needles.
        Rizal points out that some innocent women, though known as shrews or prattlers, are suspected as manggagaway simply because of behavior considered aberrant by urbanized communities: “Un aire particular, una conducta algún tanto reservada y misteriosa, cierta manera de mirar, la poca frequencia a las prácticas religiosas, etc., bastan para granjear a la infeliz la fama de manggagaway. (A certain air, a behavior somewhat reserved and mysterious, a certain way of looking, infrequent attendance at religious services, and others, are enough to win for an unfortunate woman the reputation of manggagaway).”
        To cure those afflicted by the manggagaway, Rizal acerbically derides quack healing through amulets and secret incantations, or whipping patients with a rattan cane or stingray’s tail (buntot pagi) ostensibly to drive away the witch’s possessing spirit.
       Considering himself a philosopher-doctor, Rizal firmly asserts that the manggagaway’s bewitchment is an idea or evocation of suffering implanted in the victim’s mind: “Decimos que debe haber un caso de sugestión o auto-sugestión, puesto que obra como un poderoso contra hechizo el reto cara a cara, o sea, la rebelión contra esta influencia. Ahora bien: considerada bajo este aspecto la enfermedad, no hay duda que el principio en que se basa el tratamiento es, no sólo racional, no sólo está con arreglo a las teorías modernas sobre la sugestión, sino también el único que puede producir efectos (We say that it must be a case of suggestion or auto-suggestion inasmuch as the face- to-face challenge or rather the rebellion against the power of the sorcerer, is a potent counter-bewitchment. Well now, considering the illness under this aspect, there is no doubt that the principle on which its treatment is based is not only rational, not only is in accordance with modern theories on suggestion, but also the only one that can produce results).”
        Rizal’s views on Philippine witchcraft, surprisingly, remains compelling today since modern scientific research have indicated the existence of the vast and untapped powers of the human mind: extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis, and psychological transference, which explains the powers exhibited by ancient shamans and witches.
       The paranormal remains strong in the country since remote communities cling to superstition, and crimes committed through hypnotism and suggestion by the budol-budol gang (which have also become widespread in Malaysia and Indonesia) give credence to the trance-inducing powers of our local witches.
        Historians and archivists continue to revere Rizal’s multidisciplinary erudition. Scholarship on his writings and discoveries had barely scratched the surface, and all that is needed is the diligence to pore through his letters and private papers to unearth a gold mine of knowledge.