On the subject of unbelievers, Jaime Licauco, the nation’s foremost authority on the paranormal, is unconcerned. I do not, the gentleman assures me, engage in evangelization. “My advocacy,” he makes clear, “is [for you to] experience it for yourself.” And experience, surely enough, Licauco has in spades. It is evident in his casual recollections; from three ghosts that had recently accompanied him to an elevator, to a communication from his brother-in-law from beyond the grave.
The 79-year-old author and educator speaks of the supernatural with little equivocation—as though it were as perceptible as the coffee table that stood between us. This is with just cause. Since 1975, Licauco has journeyed far and wide—in the Philippines and abroad—to learn about, discover, and interrogate the mystical, or forces beyond human comprehension.
Early this month, Licauco’s vocation saw him cross paths with the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), for whom he spoke at length on Philippine mystical tourism.
“When you talk of mysticism, you talk of the supernatural, magical, or spiritual. It goes beyond natural things,” Licauco tells ANCX. “Mystical tourism involves going to places that have these characteristics. And there are many in the Philippines which have not been fully explored.”
Now, how would one determine if, indeed, a place is mystical? Licauco offers a supposed “change” in consciousness as a main distinction. Visiting a mystical venue is different, he says, from posing for pictures at the Empire State Building, where, despite its allure, you enter and leave as the same person.
“Even King Kong got attracted to the Empire State Building,” Licauco says. “But when you go to a mystical place, there is something in you that changes. You have encountered the unknown, something that changes your consciousness, your point of view of the world.”
A sterling example of these spiritual sites, he adds, is Mount Banahaw, which is located in Dolores, Quezon. From 1980 to 1990, Licauco spent his weekends in that mysterious mountain. In those days, Banahaw was, to Licauco’s estimation, home to about 75 to 100 religious movements of varying sizes and orientations. The mountains are also replete with medicinal plants, trees, and herbs. There are over two dozen caves in Banahaw, which are said to heal victims of possession and witchcraft.
In one of Licauco’s writings that appeared in his book True Encounters with the Unknown, he writes of accounts in which dwarves, the Virgin Mary, and even Jesus Christ figured in apparitions in Mount Banahaw. He goes on to say: “All types of spirits, good and bad, low and high, seem to be concentrated in that mountain, thus making it truly a powerful psychic center of influence.”
Licauco goes on to note another mystical venue, with a perilous and, to say the least, strange initiation ritual. In Lipa, Batangas, there is a religious group called Haring Bakal, or Iron King, which is another reference to Jesus Christ.
The ritual consists of a person being hacked 120 times in different parts of the body with a bolo. It is, supposedly, intended to render one immune from bullets and knife wounds. Licauco undertook the initiation himself
As if walking, breathing, erudite proof of this country’s mysticism, Licauco lived through the hacking to tell the tale. “And I wasn’t wounded,” he tells me. “But it hurt.”
Licauco posits that there are two types of culture present in the Philippines. There is the exoteric culture, which consists of visual arts, language, literature, et cetera. These are, he adds, taught in universities, where these become part of cultural history. On the other hand, there is our esoteric culture, which encompasses the average citizen’s belief in otherworldly forces and in the rituals tied to such beliefs.
Mystical tourism, of course, falls under esoteric culture. And for Licauco, it is the esoteric that defines the Filipino. In his speech to PATA, Licauco argues that the strength of Filipino culture lies in its faith in an unseen world, which “can nevertheless be seen and tapped with proper training, discipline, and procedure.”
“[Esoteric culture] has always been there, even before the Spaniards came,” Licauco elaborates, “But it sort of went underground because of the Spanish occupation. They replaced the native beliefs and practices with Christianity, and therefore, it went underground. But it has remained strong in the beliefs of the people.”
Over time, these beliefs are now regarded by the urban Filipino as mere folk tales. Licauco ascribes this result to the dominance of Western culture, which he calls an “imposed culture.” Acquainting one’s self with our mystical venues and rituals is, to the author, an entry point into learning about our cultural identity.
But although we have welcomed into our lives foreign institutions like ballet, McDonald’s, and Christianity, Licauco is not perturbed in the slightest about one day losing our grip on Filipino culture.
“It is there, it’s very strong, and it will never die.”
Jaime Licauco gave his PATA lecture on mystical tourism at the PICC Plenary Hall in Manila. For more info on his speaking engagements and lectures, send an email to email@example.com.