Beyond the Aswang Complexity

(Aswang. The general term for manananggal, balbal, tiktik, wakwak and etc. the most fearsome mythological creature of Philippine culture. In lieu of upcoming Halloween, let me share information about this formidable creature.)


(Aswang uses its long tubular straw like tongue to feed from fetuses, liver, heart and entrails of its victim.)

The sound of the tolling bell is heard signifying the 6 o clock habit. Children playing native games in the street rushed to return into their homes. They were quick to clean themselves and wash every single dirt in their innocent faces. They fear that they will be abducted by the encantos and aswang that roam the earth after dark.

The solemn hush of Angelus can be heard around. Altars in every home were brightly illuminated by candles or oil lamps. Seen in the windows, mothers and elder girls of the family stand swiftly after the prayer. Still-smoking rice and freshly cooked viands were prepared in the table. It’s dark outside. Nocturnal insects were humming, singing in chorale accompanied by the cacophoning clank of spoons, ceramic or metal plates and pots. It is a usual evening in the country side. People sleep early and turn the lights off. Although every house were blessed with fluorescent lamps or yellow bulbs, not all enjoyed the luxury of owning a tv set. The night was filled with bustling stars. The trees in far view looks like dark monster sleeping peacefully. When the evening breeze blows, the leaves gently sway. The non stop concert of insects were getting louder, this time no accompaniment of clashing sound of metals and ceramics.

Children were lulled to sleep. If they don’t want to, creepy stories of hideous creature will be told to them. This is a common scene in this town. In this sleepy town I was raised and born. Where people are gentle, friendly and warm.

Being raised in the countryside had developed my mind into the face poverty, simplicity, contentment and supernaturals. It is common to see and hear people concluding that encantos or mangkukulam (witch) inflict sickness in their unknown disease. Consulting the albularyo (herb doctor) to formulate antidotes to counter attack the power of the supernaturals. Sacrificing chickens or pigs in big trees or mounds where the ethereal beings were believed to reside. The supernaturals and beings of darkness cast fear that people are so careful not to provoke or harm them. In my childhood days, I feared the darkness because of the stories of demons and ogres living in trees. Smoking large cigars and leading travellers astray. I feared the viscera-sucking creatures with bat wings flying in the black sky looking for victims. Fairies disguising as human, abducting beautiful boys or girls and turning them as slave. Witches that conjure unbearable pain to those they’ve angered with.

There are many creatures that bought chills into my spine. Up to this day, I am still fascinated in these Philippine creatures of night. Whether they are real or not, it still interest me to talk or share what I know about them. I guess the most famous of all these Philippine creatures is the aswang. Aswang is a general term for all the monster in Philippine folklore. Aswang is dubbed to be the werewolf of the Philippine archipelago. During the day, aswang looks like ordinary people you see, but when darkness falls they turn into hideous beast. Aswang are shape-shifters, they turn into huge black dogs, cats or whatever animal they want to. They fed on blood of fetus, dead people and terminally ill. Entrails are also their favorite food. Whenever they smell death, aswang will swarm the area of the sick. If the woman is pregnant she should put extra care for her baby. The scent of ill and fetus is pleasing for the aswang. For the aswang, fetus and sick smell like ripe jackfruit and roasted young rice.


(Aswang preys on pregnant, sick and babies.)

It is said that being an aswang can be pass through generation to generation. You can be aswang by 1) drinking in the glass with aswang’s saliva 2) eating aswang’s flesh mixed on the dish you’re eating 3) accepting the black chick (mutya) of the aswang allowing yourself to be like one of them and 4) your an offspring of aswang.


(Aswang may look like a werewolf, but it can shift into different animals)

 A common misconception about aswangs is they cannot enter the church or receive Holy Communion. They can actually, they are not afraid of rosary and crucifix. They said that aswang when in human form cannot look directly into the eye. They’re afraid to make an eye to eye contact. Your reflection is upside down in aswang’s eyes.   image

(Aswang as shape shifter. They can turn into any animals that they want; to escape or to hide from their unsuspecting victim)

Just like in Western countries were vampires can be repelled by garlic, aswang too are vulnerable in this plant bulb. Somehow garlic is fatal to them. Stingray’s tail and palm leaves used in Palm Sunday are said to repel aswang. Varieties of amulets are also use to ward-off and detect aswang.


(Blessed palms on Palm Sunday are said to ward-off Aswang)

A small bottle of coconut oil with different roots and twigs of plant blessed by a witch doctor is said to detect an aswang. If the aswang is nearby, the coconut oil will boil and produce bubbles. This will make the aswang uneasy for it has sense danger. The actual bubbling of coconut oil was documented by Jay Taruc in his Panay de Motor expedition.


(Manananggal is a kind of aswang and a viscera sucker. It can detach itself from it lower body and can have a bat-like wings.)

Since Philippines is an archipelagic country and having a multitude of landscape producing varieties of culture, different description of aswang materialized. A kind of aswang well known in some Philippine Island called balbal feeds on dead people. The balbal steal corpse and replace it with banana trunk creating an illusion that the banana trunk is the corpse. In Bicol region, they classified aswang into two types. Aswang na lakay (walking aswang) at aswang na asbo (flying aswang). Visayas is said to be infested by Aswang especially in Panay Island. The story of Tiniente Gimo of Duenas Iloilo is so well-known that every inhabitant of Panay have different version of the story. In popular culture, countless movies were filmed featuring aswang. It is indeed a favorite theme for horror movies. Roxas City in Capiz is annually celebrating Aswang Festival. Since the Panay Island, having a reputation to be a haven of aswang the local government decided to use the aswang prominence to promote tourism. Such an irony isn’t? During Halloween, aswang costumes are seen everywhere.


 (In Grimm episode 14. Aswang was introduced as a creature who brings terror to Portland)


 (Aswang in the city. Roxas City in Capiz annually celebrates Aswang Festival attracting thousands of tourists)

Numerous sightings of aswang were recorded and even cause mass panic. Just like the alleged sighting of Aswang in Pozurubio, Pangasinan many people claimed to see the monster but no one can show proof. Aswang was also said the culprit of unexplainable slaughter of animals in Bulacan and Sorsogon during full moon. Entrails were removed and nowhere to be found.   image

(An alleged Aswang sighting in Pozurrobio, Pangasinan picture proved to be hoax.)

Indirectly, the aswang complexity exists in our daily lives. We use aswang to discipline our small kids. In the countryside, customary singing loudly and burning twigs or rubber overnight to drive away aswang where the wake or funeral is taking place. Different amulets are use to ward off or combat magical powers conjured by aswangs. But why does the Philippines, heavily Christianized, a strong believer of the existence of Aswang?

The Catholic Church had classified the Aswang existence as Oriental View of Philosophy. The belief on this creature could be traced back in Pre-Hispanic time and extensively used by friars to keep Filipinos away from their pagan customs. Babaylans, who enjoy veneration and privilege in Pre-Hispanic era were hastily accused of being monsters from hell.

Many claimed to have seen aswang. None had ever documented or filmed a real aswang; only by word of the mouth that has been passed down from generations to generations.

My officemate, a Panay native, claimed that her uncle had married an aswang. She said that aswang don’t have control over their cravings (human blood, entrails and fetuses). It is like a sickness, a formidable disease. Aswang don’t want to do what their nature dictates them to do.

Many says that the aswang is real, some says it is only a piece of Filipino imagination. But who knows what’s the truth, right?


Of Ivory Angels and Saints

(1989 when an international agreement was signed in protection of elephants and banning the ivory trade was made. The agreement doesn’t include the trading of ivories from antiquities to 1989. October 2012 when Nat Geo exposed the illegal ivory trade, and Philippines being hotspot of blood ivories. The expose created strings of controversy in Catholic Church and awareness in dwindling elephant population. it is very alarming that the black market is plagued with this illegal luxury trade while the elephant population is trying to survive. With the past holy Week celebration, let me share the veneration and love of Filipinos with these ivories carved to give face to the Saints, the Virgin, the Lord and Angels.)


It was 3 o ‘clock and it was Good Friday. The summer sun was piercing our skin. People were rushing to the 400 year old church made up of lime and coralline rocks. The giving of communion was about to start. The Main Altar was covered with black cloth. The Tres Caidas of de Perio family were displayed in the right side of the altar. Seats were all occupied. Some were praying while others are chatting in whisper with their seatmates.

Image(Mary Magdalene. Ivory face and hands. Holding a bottle of perfume.)

Outside the church, 8 life-size images of saints who participated on the Passion of Christ were lined up. These images were owned by old rich families of Santa Cruz, Zambales. Heirloom,priceless work of art that had been crafted by the finest Filipino sculptures and was been passed down generations to generations.

Image(Mary of Cleopas. Holding a broom. Ivory head and hands.)


(Mary Salome. Made up of hardwood. Bronze Halo

The caro of the saints were filled with fragrant flowers, light bulbs and incense, The saints were dressed in elegant black vest. At 5 o’clock the giving of communion and veneration of the Holy Cross was finished. Processions of saints around the town proper would follow. candles were lighted and hush of prayers were made.


(People flocking in the procession of statues of saints.)

People were walking as the caro of the saints were pushed by the owners.The Dolorosa (Grieving Mary) is heavily guarded by devotees. The beautiful face of Mary carved in precious ivory. The Santo Entierro (Holy Corpse of Christ) is at the end of the procession,. Little white flowers and and angels decorated the coffin glass. The procession is solemn and the sky was already dark. The caro’s lights illuminated the night as the darkness blanketed the town.

Image(Peter the Disciple. Bronze keys and halo. Made up of hard wood)


(Veronica. Head and hands made up of ivory)

Aside from being a family heirloom, these ivory saints has been an important part of the culture and fabric of Filipino society for centuries and continues to be significant today. The whiteness of ivory that symbolizes purity had mold the minds of the Filipinos on the veneration these ecclesiastical statues.


(Dolorosa. Mary Mother of God sorrowful face. Ivory face and hand)


(Santo Entierro. The Dead Christ in glass coffin heavily guarded.)


(Closer look at the Santo Entierro. Made up of hardwood.)

Yes, ivory saints could be a trademark of Philippines of being the only Christian Country in Asia. These statues reflect not only the Filipino Custom but also the history of our land, creativity and faith. The Spaniards brought us the influence of venerating saints and glorifying God through the use of imagery. Most of the surviving ivory saints scattered through the Philippine Island were carved by the finest artisans. Truly, Filipinos are really talented and creative. It is good to hear that the owners of these statues do their best to maintain and preserve the saints even in costly manner. At least, I am pretty sure that the next generation will still witness the old age tradition of Filipinos during Lent.


Pilgrimage to Manaoag

(In lieu of upcoming Holy Week, let me share a post I’ve written four years ago. Every other year, as a Catholic, I visit the basilica of Our Lady of Manaoag at Pangasinan. This basilica is not just a repository of unique interior architectural design, priceless paintings, and colourful history of devotions and old-age traditions that traces back in our Spanish Imperial times. Some pictures posted here were taken two years ago. I’ve edited the pictures’ captions.)
Revisiting the Queen’s Throne
by: Verjory Arga

Through the centuries, large basilicas and churches were built to commence Mary’s divine role. Her divine role seemed to look upon the Earth, that she was reported to be seen visiting in a form of apparition.

(The facade of the Basilica. Photo taken 2011.)

If you are a Catholic and praying the Virgin’s litany, you might be familiar to the her title as “Queen of the Holy Rosary”. Mary among the Catholics is well-venerated for giving birth to the Savior of the World.

A five hour drive from Manila may do to reach the imposing realm of Mary in Pangasinan- The Our Lady of Manaoag National Shrine. Being brought up in Catholic teachings, my family pays homage to Manaoag Shrine.

Our Lady of Manaoag (formally: Nuestra Señora del Santissimo Rosario de Manaoag, literal translation: Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Manaoag) is a title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, associated with a statue in Manaoag, Pangasinan said to be from the 16th century. She is the patroness of the sick, the helpless and the needy.



(From the other side of the Church the statue of Mary can be seen. Photo taken 2011)


(The exact image of the Lady of Manaoag. Protected by a bullet proof glass, carved in ivory and richly adorned by quality gold and precious stones and gems. )

(Church interior. Photo taken 2011)


(Images of the four apostles who witnessed and wrote the Gospel of the Lord were painted in the four upper main columns of the shrine)

The church is one of the Philippines’ most widely visited Roman Catholic Pilgrimage sites. Many people from across the Philippine archipelago come and visit the town of Manaoag, where the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is enshrined in a church dedicated to this name.

The shrine is magnificently built in stones. The walls of the church were painted to renew its skin that reflects its long time existence that witness the strong faith, belief in miracles and the Virgin’s extension of help.

(A closer look to a the Queen’s face. This statue is a replica from the Manaoag Museum. The Museum contains the priceless artifacts and jewels of the Lady of Manaoag. It also offers a large collection of perfume that was donated by families who have strong attachment to the Virgin. Photo taken 2011)

As being brought up in a Catholic surrounding, I was introduced to the Holy Virgin. Dad and Mom said that since I am a toddler they have this “panata” or promise-to-do that every year me and my two younger brothers will pay a visit or homage to the Manaoag every year till I reach the age of seven.

The promise was fulfilled. My Dad being a devotee of the Lady at least once a year pay homage to the Queen’s Shrine.

(Photo taken 2011)


(Candles are lighted as one prays his/her wishes. It was believed that a light from the candle signifies purity and enlightenment for it defeat the darkness cause by sins.)

The statue of Our Lady of Manaoag purportedly has a long history of miraculous and pious events that are replicated in the murals within the church. These were done so that the events will never be forgotten. Devotees, from all over the globe, have varied persuasions for visiting the shrine or imploring the vital and peculiar intercession of Our Lady of Manaoag among which are pleas pertaining to good health, cure for diseases or afflictions, good voyage, posterity, the family, career, business, academic or professional examinations, surmounting challenges or trials, or any personal petition or thanksgiving.

One of the miraculous accounts regarding Our Lady of Manaoag dates back to the times when early pagans from the mountain tribes burn down newly converted Christian villages. The town of Manaoag was not spared from this. It was set on fire. The church with its thatched roof was the last refuge of the people. The leader of the pillagers climbed over its fence and shot flaming arrows to all parts of the church but all in vain. It was not set afire.

Another miraculous event was nationally reported during World War II. The Japanese army dropped several bombs on the roof of the Manaoag Shrine but inflicted no damage to the roof and the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Some of the devotees claim that drinking from the well of the Shrine can replenish the exhausted soul and body. Others say that their diseases were cured by only drinking the well’s water plus strong faith to the Virgin.


What is true is what we cannot really tell. It’s up to us to believe it or not.

Catholics have high respect for Mary. This makes us different from other religion. As being known as the Mother of God and her divine role in salvation, some depict her a goddess. Depicting or viewing her as a goddess is totally wrong. She was created by God. And the fact that her womb is the vessel of Christ makes her divine yet she is not to be worshiped.

She is reportedly to be seen when the world is in chaos, extending help through miracles and giving us the Holy Rosary that console our soul and heart. Again, that is her divine role, yet she must not be worshiped. She must be in a high form of veneration-the hyperdulia.