Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The devil and his works

The devil and his works

Updated 01:04am (Mla time) Sept 22, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the September 22, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ONE of the worst movies I have seen lately is the prequel to "The Exorcist." Friends said I would have been better off watching Kris Aquino in "Feng Shui."

Demonic possession may be something most Westerners would consign to the Middle Ages (some books call the same period the "Dark Ages"), but it remains real and current to most Filipinos. TV news regularly cover some possessed schoolgirl being tormented with crucifixes, rosaries and holy water. Most of the time, however, the spirit that speaks through these schoolchildren rarely claims to be the devil but some other less but playful form.

One cannot imagine a TV crew being face to face with pure evil, but I remember a segment of the popular TV show "60 Minutes" airing what was reputedly the first televised exorcism in the United States. In some hick town in Florida, there was a Greek girl possessed by a number of evil spirits. She manifested most of the symptoms exhibited by Linda Blair in "The Exorcist": speaking in different voices and languages, threats, profanity, etc. To cut the long story short, the exorcist was able to speak to all the spirits and made them agree to leave the body of the girl at the end of the prescribed Roman Catholic rite of exorcism. While the exorcist ordered all the spirits to depart, there was some wailing and gnashing of teeth, and then from the depths a small voice cried out, "Sandali lang! Sandali lang!" [“Just a minute! Just a minute!”] The exorcist engaged this spirit in conversation and convinced the whole demonic group to leave. I couldn't believe my ears. Even in the supernatural world, a Filipino was making life more complicated than it should be.

When the exorcist was interviewed afterwards, parts of the exorcism were re-run and in one of the scenes I could hear that same little voice shouting invectives at the priest and adding, "Bakla ka... Bakla ka!" [“You are gay!”] Was the demon telling the truth? Was it able to see through the sins of the exorcist? We will never know. Nobody spoke Filipino in the room, so no one was bothered.

How did this little Greek girl in Florida learn our language? Was the demon Filipino, or did she learn it from her nanny? The demon was described as short, dark, with curly hair! I will not comment further on this matter and leave you to experts like columnist Jaime Licauco for a more enlightening discussion on demonic possession.

What intrigues me is that if you read early friar accounts of the Philippines and Filipinos, you will see the devil roaming about the archipelago and making life difficult for missionaries. If you open the index to the 55-volume compilation of documents compiled by Blair and Robertson, called "The Philippine Islands 1493-1898," and check under the heading "Devil," you will find a lot of references subdivided into these various topics: his influence over the natives; worshipped and invoked; addressed by his priests and takes possession of them; sacrifices to; dedication to; seen in dreams or visions; impersonated; deceives people; torments human beings; his tricks and witchcraft, etc. All this makes for absorbing reading, but why was the devil more real to people in the 17th century than in our times? Was life then so simple or simple-minded that the devil could be blamed for everything bad?

In our secular and modern times, have we taken more responsibility for evil in the world that we forgot the man with the horns, the tail and the pitchfork? Maybe evil comes in a different form and shape today?

In the Dominican Diego de Aduarte's "Historia de la provincia del Sancto Rosario ... en Philippinas (Manila, 1640)" are accounts of how the members of his order converted the Filipinos from their heathen ways and how they battled with an old religion that they considered to be the work of the devil. In some accounts, the devil actually walked abroad and spoke through people who often heard but did not see him. Often the devil worked through the pre-colonial shamans or “babaylan” who were not acknowledged as leaders of a different religion but were branded as witches, their gods, devils, demons and evil spirits. Often illness was attributed to the devil and so a cure was interpreted as God's conquest of evil. One account says:

"Still there is one miracle that is almost universal in all these regions; this is, that when the devil torments some Indian, under the influence of witches with whom he has made an agreement to torment those whom they desire to harm, he loses his power before the command of the religious. The Indians fear witchcraft so that they do not dare deny the witches anything they ask; and thus they become masters of the property, the food, and the persons of all Indians. The devil is driven out by the very presence of the religious, while in their absence he is kept away by merely having the sick hold a scapular. All this is accomplished without exorcisms, except the command in the name of the Lord that they shall cease their tormenting. In many cases, miracles of healing have been wrought by baptism, or by confession."

When one sees how Filipinos in the 21st century still use crucifixes, rosaries, scapulars, etc. in their homes, offices, cars and persons, we wonder if we have really changed very much in the past 400 years.


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