The witches and healers of Siquijor

Siquijor or Isla del Fuego as the Spanish called it, is a tiny island in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines archipelago and not surprisingly, does not feature on most traditional travel itineraries. The Spanish called it the island of fire because of the large number of fireflies found here. But legend has it that the island rose from the sea during a huge storm leading to the formation of a large number of fossils and diversity on the island. With rich marine life and beautiful beaches opening up to turquoise waters, the island is perfect for a laid-back vacation. But that’s not what the island is known for. Siquijor is most famous for its mystical healers and witches!

Home to spiritual healers and shamans, residents of Siquijor have long been known to practice witchcraft and traditional healing rituals. These practices can be traced back to centuries ago when there was no access to modern health care facilities. But interestingly, those same practices are now attracting people from all over the world, especially ones with a keen interest in alternative medicine and some who are simply drawn in by the mysteriousness of the island. 

Who are the witches and healers of Siquijor

Siquijor is often associated with ‘white magic’ performed typically by three types of healers (sometimes referred to as mangkukulam) – faith healers, herbal healers, and the ones that use water-and-stone treatments to cure ailments, locally known as bolo-bolo

©Renzelle Mae Abasolo/Flickr

The herbal healers of Siquijor are known to brew traditional potions even for most modern-day health problems. These potions are prepared with ingredients found in nature such as tree barks, herbs, roots, and insects collected from what the locals call the enchanted forest. They are then mixed together and brewed in large pots to make the various healing potions and ointments. The faith healers, on the contrary, use prayers to heal people. But the most interesting way of healing is offered by bolo-bolo healers who use a glass of water containing a black stone as their tool for healing people. 

Where to find the healers of Siquijor

While most herbal healers live around the mountains in San Antonio and Cantabon, you can find faith healers throughout Siquijor. The bolo-bolo healers can be found near Tulapos and Bitaug.

©Renzelle Mae Abasolo/Flickr

It takes some time and effort to find the authentic mangkukulam healers of Siquijor island but resident locals would happily guide you to one. Most local taxi drivers would also be happy to point you to one of these healers on the island. 

The healing festival of Siquijor 

If the thought of meeting healers in Siquijor sounds like a fantasy, here’s something for you. One of the most magical experiences in Siquijor is its Healing Festival, which is a gathering of healers and shamans who meet once a year to prepare their medicinal potions. It is believed locally that in order for the potions to work, they must be prepared together. So the healing festival is celebrated to prepare the potions and showcase the healing techniques used by the mangkukulams. 

©Renzelle Mae Abasolo/Flickr

The healers and shamans gather at Mt. Bandilaan in Siquijor and prepare their unique potions from the various ingredients collected from the native forests, mountains, and the sea. One of the most sold potions at the festival is what the locals refer to as the love potion, traditionally known as gayuma. Thought to be a potent and powerful blend, the love potion is believed to induce strong feelings of love or hatred, depending on the intentions behind its use. Even if you’re not looking to meet a healer at the festival, you’ll find several local vendor stalls selling lucky charms, gemstones, and trinkets, something to keep you fascinated and intrigued as you experience a festival like no other! 

How to get to Siquijor

Siquijor Island is fairly remote, but there are several routes to get there. The island can be reached only via ferry from the neighboring islands of Cebu, Bohol, and Dumaguete in Negros. All of these locations are easily accessible from Manila by air so take your pick based on what fits your itinerary.

RoutePrice
Cebu to SiquijorStarts at US $11
Bohol to SiquijorStarts at US $20
Dumaguete to SiquijorStarts at US $6

Siquijor has two ferry terminals, outside which you’ll spot tricycles and bikes available for hire. You can rent one of these to go to your hotel or sightseeing around the island for the entire duration of your stay. 

©RM Bulseco/Flickr

Stories of witchcraft, sorcery, and black magic have long been associated with this unexplored island. While you may or may not be a believer of faith healing, who knows how you’ll feel about it if you happen to meet someone who practices it for a living? If the island’s mysticism piques your curiosity, the best way to make sense of it is to pay a visit and experience it for yourself – an enchanting adventure you’ll find difficult to forget!

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