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Kulam or Barang are terms used for a kind of black magic, specifically a malevolent use of sympathetic magic, which is associated with Indigenous Philippine religions and practiced in the Philippines. Kulam has been present throughout the Philippines before the Spanish colonization. Today it is said to be centered in Pampanga, Talalora, Western Samar and Sorsogon, where many of the country's faith healers reside. Kulam also exists in many of the hinterlands, especially in Samar and Leyte, however, Kulam is known and occurs anywhere in the Philippines.
Black magic in the Philippines is known by various names like kulam, gaway (Tagalog); barang, hiwit, lágà (Visayan); tanem, tamay (Ilocano); and pantak (Moro). Other synonymous words used in the island of Siquijor in the Philippines include haplit, paktol and anyaw. Despite the differences in terminology, the methods are almost identical across the Philippine islands.
Kulam uses beetles, effigies, poppets, a boiling pot or some other type of representation of the target victim. These are usually "linked" by including bodily exuviae like hair or nail clippings. These are activated by chants, spells, or symbols (sometimes syncretized with Christian or Muslim rituals). The sorcerer then either harms the effigy to cause corresponding harm to the victim, or physically "sends" objects into the victim's body (which can range from insects, stones, to pins). Earth (soil), fire, herbs, spices, candles, oils and kitchenwares and utensils are often used for rituals, charms, spells and potions. In some instances, the ingredients of the ritual themselves determine the effects. For example, adding seawater to a boiling pot "linked" to a victim is said to cause the victim's belly to swell and ache in time with the tides. This type of sorcery was documented as early as the 17th century by Francisco Combés. Barang (the term barang refers to a type of beetle in Visayan) usually employs a swarm of destructive insects, specifically carnivorous beetles. Other methods are usik (sharp magic), hilo and lason (poison magic), paktol (doll magic), laga (boiling magic, Lágà sometimes written as la-ga or la-aga, means to brew or to boil [in a pot]), and sampal (sea creature magic). Other malevolent powers are more direct. These include the ability to kill another person instantly with magic spells, the ability to cast curses or the evil eye, the ability to "abduct" a person's soul, or the ability to send evil spirits or familiar animals to possess or harm the victim.
In most cases however, accusations of this type of black magic are often borne out of paranoia, moral panic, or mass hysteria against disliked or mistrusted members of the community, similar to the European witch-hunts. People accused of black magic were often subject to ostracization and in many cases, violence. This was especially true during the Spanish colonial period, where in one instance in the mid-19th century, a Filipino curate ordered the assassination of 57 people he suspected were sorcerers casting evil spells on his sick mother.
There are various names for sorcerers in Philippine ethnic groups. Most of these names have negative connotations, and thus is also translated to "witch" or "hag" in English sources. These witches actually include a variety of different kinds of people with differing occupations and cultural connotations which depend on the ethnic group they are associated with. They are completely different from the Western notion of what a witch is. They include Bikol: parakaraw; Ilocano: managtanem, managinulod, mannamay; Ivatan: mamkaw, manulib; Kapampangan: mangkukusim (or mangkukusino); Pangasinan: manananem, mangngibawanen; Tagalog: mangkukulam, manggagaway, may-galing, hukluban (or hukloban); Visayan: dalagangan, dunganon, dalongdongan, busalian, mambabarang (or mamamarang, mamalarang, barangan), usikan (or osikan), paktolan, sigbinan, manughiwit, mamumuyag, mang-aawog (or mang-aawug, mang-aaug), Hiligaynon: manog hiwit. Other terms are the Spanish brujo and bruja (masculine and feminine forms of "witch"; Filipinized as bruho and bruha).
A mangkukulam can be considered a Filipino witch, literally meaning "a practitioner of kulam". A curse is called a sumpâ (/soom-PA/), which can also be translated as a "vow" or "oath" and "curse". A mangkukulam may use a voodoo doll and a needle to cast spells on people they want to take revenge on, but largely use natural magic and superstitions similar to an arbularyo, or witch doctor. Both can be considered witches, but the main difference is that the arbularyo is more of a doctor who heals people, while a mangkukulam is a malevolent person who tricks and curses others. The primary methods employed by a mangkukulam are candle lighting rituals, scrying or tawas, recitation of spells, and concocting potions. Healer-sorcerers who practice Kulam usually justify it as a form of criminal punishment, as a widespread belief is that black magic does not work on people who are innocent. Their targets are usually "wrongdoers" like thieves, adulterous spouses, or land grabbers. There are also "true" sorcerers who are said to have hereditary sorcerous powers. Unlike healers, they do not consider the justice of their actions. The latter type of sorcerers are often conflated with the evil supernatural beings capable of appearing human, like aswang and manananggal. Modern popular culture also depicts the mangkukulam as using either photographs or the equivalent of a Voodoo doll. Modern popular culture also depicts mangkukulam as mainly doing only love potions and malicious curses, but more extreme depictions claim they can summon ghosts to haunt dolls, raise the dead (or at least control dead bodies), and other things related to necromancy.
The Mambabarang is the Bisayan version of a sorcerer/sorceress, who uses insects and spirits to enter the body of any person they hate. Mambabarang are ordinary human beings with black magic who torture and later kill their victims by infesting their bodies with insects. They are different from mangkukulams - the latter only inflict pain or illness. Mambabarang use a strand of hair from their chosen victim and tie it to the bugs or worms which they will use as a medium. When they prick the bug, the victim immediately experiences the intended effect. The name is derived from the word barang. In legends the mambabarang keeps his swarm of carnivorous beetles in a bottle or a section of bamboo, carefully feeding them ginger root. When the practitioner decides to employ his dark art, he performs a prayer ritual wherein he whispers instructions and identifies the victim to the beetles. The destructive insects are then set free and to seek out the victim and gain entry into the body via any bodily orifice: the nose, mouth, ears, anus or dermal breaks such as open sores/wounds. The victim will then feel the effects of the invasion of the insects through manifestations depending on the area of entry; hemorrhoids if through the anus, ear ache if through the ears and other similar cases. The resulting illness is supposedly resistant to conventional medical treatment and only reveals its true nature when the victim succumbs and flying insects issue forth from bodily cavities. In reality, it is possible a carnivorous beetle could lay eggs in someone it killed, and the eggs would then hatch post-mortem.
A typical belief of kulam is that curses are mitigated by finding the caster and bribing him or her to lift the curse. Superstitious people still attribute certain illnesses or diseases to kulam. This most often happens in rural areas, where an herbal doctor called an Albularyo, diagnoses a victim using a divination method called Pagtatawas and helps the victim cure his or her malady. Superstitious folks still attribute certain illnesses or diseases to barang. This most often happens in the provinces, where an herbal doctor, albularyo or a faith healer, a mananambal or sorhuana (female) / sorhuano (male) treats such diseases. In some rural provincial areas, people completely rely on the albularyo and mananambal for treatment. In most cases, a healer is also a sorcerer. In order to cure or counteract sorcerous illnesses, healers must themselves know sorcery. This relationship is most apparent in Siquijor Island, where healer-sorcerers are still common. The mananambal specialize in countering barang. As spiritual mediums and divinators, Philippine shamans are notable for countering and preventing the curses and powers of witches, notably through the usage of special items and chants.
Sorcerous "attacks" are most commonly treated with sumbalik (counter-spells or antidotes), which are themselves, a form of sorcery and do not usually require interaction with the spirits. They purportedly deflect the effects of the curse and return it to the caster. In extreme cases, sumbalik can kill the caster. Other healing rituals against sorcery do not harm the caster, but instead supposedly moves them to pity and thus revoke the curse. Illnesses believed to be caused by sorcery are treated with counter-spells, simple antidotes, and physical healing. Darker forms of remedies to kulam include Albularyos whipping the bewitched person with a Buntot Pagi (Stingray's Tail) until the afflicted is forced to divulge the witch's name and confronting him or her. This is done in the belief that the one who is getting hurt is the witch and not the bewitched.
- Gabâ or gabaa, the Cebuano concept of negative karma
- Philippine shamans
- Voodoo (disambiguation)
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