By Luis De Estores
A long-time member of the local arts community and of UitC, Luis’ creativity shines forth in his prolific output as a multidisciplinary artist. Visual artist, writer of short stories, film producer, director, editor and script writer, Luis firmly believes that living a life, in itself, is an art.
Have you ever experienced anything supernatural? Like really, for real? Ghost, fairies, and haunted houses, or even the Divine? Any of the world’s cultures would have stories of these; my native culture is no exemption.
In fact, the province where my family comes from is known for its stories of vampire-like creatures, called Aswangs in ancient Filipino lore. Unlike their European counterpart, Aswangs split in half and fly off as their upper torso grows wings, in search of newborns to eat, or even the unborn, or sometimes the hearts of young, naive men who are easily seduced when the creatures appear in beautiful human forms. In their vampire form, they also grow long fingernails and fangs. Whenever they are around, a black bird follows, making that “tik… tik… tik…” sound. The best way to kill them is to cut the lower half of the body and pour salt or ashes where the cut is. That way, the upper half can’t reunite with the lower half, and they just shrivel up and die.
When you’re a child, everything seems bigger. The world may even seem magical with good and bad wielders of magic. Like other kids my age, I used to believe that Aswangs were real. I was always on edge when I visited our province, to the delight of my cousin who loved scaring me. Apparently, they can also be warned off by holy water, so I devised a plan of putting holy water in a water gun as a weapon. For sure, even as a city dweller, it was kinda creepy in our town. Having full electricity was years away, and there were kilometers and kilometers of rice paddies, and afterwards, the jungle. There were many animals there you’ve never heard of that make all sorts of scary noises.
But have I really experienced anything paranormal? No, not at all, well, maybe. I do keep two washed out memories of things that happened when I was in grade school. The first was when we heard screams from our neighbour. I saw somebody, probably a witch doctor, hitting the old woman because she was under witchcraft. The belief was that if a person is being hexed, it is the witch not the person who will feel pain. As I remember it, the old woman was kneeling, asking for mercy. A lot of neighbors were watching. Apparently, the woman was okay afterwards. As a child, I was scared and curious at the same time, but thinking about it now, I think it’s silly. If I were that woman, I would have said anything to make the hitting stop. It makes me wonder now what that woman’s mental health was. But for the people around her, they thought that what they were witnessing was the correct way to cure the old woman.
That also reminded me of another memory where a person was under the influence of a Divine Spirit. Sapi is a word used to describe when the spirit of another is joined with the spirit of a living person. A possession you might say, but not quite. In this particular case, the woman was joined with the spirit of the Holy Child, Jesus. I saw her there, on a mat, kneeling, and looking so serene. She spoke to me and my mother in a childlike tone, even laughing at times. Eyes closed, she said she recognized me in a joking manner. Again, when I think about that memory now, I’d say it’s all balderdash. While I admit that I am not too knowledgeable about the spiritual realm, I still find it hard to believe that Jesus would come back in the spirit of a toddler, only to join with this woman. Didn’t Jesus grow up and die on the cross? He would have been more than two thousand years old. As it was, nothing happened, and I never heard anything about her afterwards. But there were people in the neighborhood who believed it was all true. Nowadays, all that is half forgotten.
So fast forward to a few weeks ago, in Toronto. I was walking with my friend to McDonald’s for some ice cream. It was evening and we had to pass by a cemetery. The cemetery was open and I suggested that we sneak in. She got scared, and said no. True, it was pretty creepy. But as you may have guessed, I no longer believe in any of that crap from my childhood. I was more concerned about finding a creep hanging out at the cemetery. It’s the twenty-first century, and it’s cyber- anything and everything! I guess for most people, a paranormal explanation makes sense when scientific explanation is out of reach. Their concerns about the paranormal are as normal as our concerns with computer viruses or hacking. But hey, while my friend was on the other side of the sidewalk, I popped my head out to look for anything at the cemetery, and found exactly what I expected to see. I saw… I saw… well, nothing. Just the quiet darkness of the cemetery.
Maybe, I shouldn’t push it though. What if there really is such a thing as the paranormal? Okay, so I may say I am a non-believer for now but everything in me wants the supernatural to be true because I want to believe that there is life after death. Don’t you? That someday, when we die, we will continue to exist? Perhaps a glimpse of the paranormal is a glimpse of that hope.
Even if I sort of want to believe in some aspects of the supernatural, my fear of ghosts is not nearly as strong as it was when I was a child.