Philippine's Agimat: The Pearl of the Orient Seas
In the superstitious world of the ancient people--charms, amulets and talismans
provide luck, protection and validation to those who wield it. While it's true that the
world is a god-awful place full of dangers anywhere you look, man has always been
fascinated with the supernatural and long to harness its powers through certain rituals and storing it in an object used in times of need and believed to give superhuman powers to overcome hostilities both human and non-human.
These objects, symbols and even live creatures come from a variety of appearances and span different religious and cultural belief systems. The Eye symbols of Horus/Ra and the one adopted by the Illuminati called the Eye of Providence, the Hamsa, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, rabbit's foot and even the dreaded voodoo dolls and black cats were used as such to name a few.
They can be seen as our way of seeking to approach The Divine and hold the power of God within a medallion, a small piece of rock, or anything we have at our disposal, creating a powerful connection that gives the wearer god-like qualities.
What is an Amulet?
By definition, it is an object believed to have the power to protect its wearer from harm or danger. The word amulet comes from the Latin “amuletum,” meaning “an object that protects a person from trouble.”
A talisman is similar in meaning in the sense that it must be energized or magnetized by a master in order to protect someone from harm or physical danger. The word “talisman” comes from the Arabic word “tilasm,” an alteration of the Greek “telasmo” which means “completion in religious rite” from the word “tello” meaning “I complete or perform a rite.”
So the main distinction between “charm” and “amulet” is that charm is meant to
attract (for example, luck or love) whereas an amulet or talisman is meant to repel
(for instance, evil or danger). No, the patronus charm in Harry Potter is not counted.
Here in the Philippines we still have magical practices left by the original
animist faith which then merged with Catholicism, Hindu and Islam and carried out
unto the modern times. The Filipino word for charms, amulet or talisman is Agimat,
Anting-anting, Mutya or Bertud depending on which region you are speaking but they all practically mean the same thing. Our ancestors believed that a special stone, a tattoo, a part of an animal or some mysterious object with the right mumbo jumbo and rituals will protect from the dangers of battle and plague.
It is part of a wider South- East Asian tradition of tribal jewelry, such as "gantung" (meaning "hanging" or "to hang") in Indonesian/Malay and "anting-anting" which means "ear pendant" in Javanese. It is still at the very core of Philippine life and culture, especially so for the uneducated and marginalized poor in the provinces.
Fact is, agimat still exists in these modern times that even the international
sportswear brand Nike got inspired to create a limited edition LeBron 14 signature
shoe called Agimat, the latest in 4-time MVP LeBron James' basketball shoe line who witnessed firsthand the passion of Filipinos for the basketball game.
Where they come from:
The agimat is as an essential component of Filipino folklore and superstition, heavily steeped in spirituality and faith. In Filipino films, a person wearing an agimat gains superhuman strength, invisibility, heightened senses, self-healing and obtains
elemental powers that rivals even Stan Lee's very own superheroes.
The earliest written reference to agimat and anting-anting in the Philippines are from the Spanish friars in the early colonial period in 1521 like Pardo de Tavera who defined it as "an amulet of supernatural power that saves lives". But there were artifacts found in archaeological diggings that indicate the use of anting-anting buried with the deceased long before the colonization of the islands, with a mixture of influences from Chinese and Arab traders as well as neighboring countries in the Southeast Asia like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. According to anthropologist and paranormal expert Jaime Licauco, the origins of anting-anting were most likely forms of imitative/sympathetic magic. To produce rain, for example, they sprinkled water in the fields.
Some even believe the Philippines to have been part of the lost advanced civilization called Lemuria some 100,000 years BC. Its quite a stretch I know. Those people made symbols of powerful deities or forces of nature to appease the gods, produce good harvest and protect them from dangers of all kinds and wore these artifacts on their bodies.
The early Filipinos worshipped their ancestral anitos along with a host of gods and
goddesses. With the Christianization of the Philippines, belief in anting-anting
appropriated the forms of the new religion and incorporated as well the esoteric
symbolisms of Freemasonry. Some of them begin to have religious icons and
concepts--depicting angels, saints and pagan elements into the credo of anting-
What it looks like and How to get one
Usually sold by stall merchants near marketplaces or church courtyards such as
Quiapo, Manila (BTW you can get them online as well) and classified from the generic to A grade. Keep in mind that fake ones are sold too, mainly for the aesthetic but the price is usually the same which cost raging from hundreds to more than a few thousands of pesos to beguile unwary tourists and amateurs.
The most common stereotype and highly commercialized is in the shape of a cross
or gun bullets or a flat, round or triangular piece of wood or metal, inscripted or
engraved and worn as a neckpiece. But really, they can be anything, from the
mundane day-to-day objects to the fanciful and nonexistent. It may be a small stone, a crocodile tooth or a piece of dried fruit with all their imagined potency.
But if you're feeling authentic, you can try your luck with some forms of agimat which
clearly sprung from legends such as;
- gather an enchanted stone that supposedly came from the sky
- or a fang left after a lightning strike--some form of fulgurite known as "pangil ng kidlat"
stand below a mature banana tree blossom at midnight waiting for the first mystical dew to drop called "mutya"(pearl) which may be obtained only by the chosen ones. That's my favorite. Just watch out for supernatural or elemental creatures that usually guard it.
Agimat can also be inherited, and just like any property, an agimat can be passed
down according to the eldest next of kin. Ignore this rule and the agimat becomes
useless. But if you're creative enough, you can just make one for yourself. Some
other ways of obtaining an agimat get macabre to just downright insane such as
eating a form of edible enchanted mud from fairies or sustained from regular drinking of shots of lambanog (coconut wine) drawn from a large clay container(bañga) infused with an alcohol-preserved aborted unbaptized human fetus. Think Chinese snake wine, only worse. Yikes! It is usually ingested, because it is believed that agimats need to be absorbed within the body to be more powerful.
A Friday visit to that part of the Quiapo market that collars the church will find a
profusion of stalls selling herb and potions, all colors of witchcraft candles, rosaries,
statues and icons, and of course, generic and "commercial-grade" anting-antings in a
dizzying array of shapes and sizes, cabalistic inscriptions and icon engravings, for
whatever protective need you can imagine.
- Godofredo U. Stuart
Here are other forms of Agimat
- Agimat na Sinusuot- are the wearable talismans such as vests, necklaces and other forms of jewelry or clothing and will bestow its benefits so long as it is worn.
- Agimat sa Loob- If wearing them just isn't enough because they could get lost or removed from you, some anting-anting are implanted under the skin and are more or less permanent and can only be removed by direct damage to the flesh. As I have mentioned above, it could also be ingested known as "subo" which literally means "to take by the mouth" and swallow. According to folklore, some agimats that are inherited are passed on this way. The transfer usually occurs close to the moment of death, commonly materializing as a pellet-like mucoid globule, coughed up into the receiver's hands or picked up and immediately taken and swallowed. A delay or hesitation in its ingestion would cause this to just dissolve or vanish in the air and forever be lost. Aswang legends are commonly told this way to add more eek value.
- Agimat sa Oracion- a.k.a. "oraciones or orasyon" which means to chant or murmur. These are spoken verses or short esoteric prayers in a combination of colloquial and pig-latin languages collected in a libreto(booklet) used to invoke anito spirits, elementals or a divine being asking for power.
Agimat sa Sulat- are the ones inscribed on a flat surface whether a shirt,
handkerchief, wooden or metal surface, paper or even the human skin. It is a set of verses(Oraciones), image or symbol allegedly giving the wearer powers or protection. Damage to the agimat is said to weaken it, thus great care must be exercised.
One Redditor even asks: "Would the usage of arcane infused tattoos to help with incantations be realistic so to say for mages in the Philippines? Reason being tattoos played a big part in a lot of pre-hispanic Filipino tribes, and most people find the concept of magic tattoos to be interesting.
Although the agimat exists in different forms, it is a common practice in the
Philippines to combine them for more "efficacy." and the possibilities of combinations
Why use it?
Anting-anting is also a system of magic and sorcery in the Philippines that uses the
above-mentioned objects and in the Filipino occult tradition, there is usually a
corresponding agimat for a particular area in a person's life such as health, protection or love.
An agimat called "Pamako" which means "to crucify" is meant to paralyze an opponent. A "Tagabulag" functions like an invisibility cloak while another one called "Kabal at Kunat" is used to make one invincible to cuts by rendering the skin to become harder and more flexible. A "Tagaliwas" agimat can deflect bullets but the most popular is one used for exorcisms, hexes or curses.
Then there are those used as "gayuma" or love charms, one of which is the
"malambot na anting-anting" literally means "soft"— to which is attributed the holder's easy ways with women or the intended person. There are agimats for business and good fortune, for travel, passing exams, easy childbirths and those to protect against physical and supernatural dangers.
How to Empower them?
Spiderman once said, with great power comes great responsibility. Obtaining an
agimat is one thing, sustaining its magical properties to be effective is another. How
cliche' is that? As most anting-anting users will tell you, part of the agimat's mystical
qualities involves the user. Because it is a form of talisman, it must be spiritually
cleansed, renewed or recharged to effectively attain its full benefit. During the season of Lent, Holy Week has always been considered sacred by Filipinos ever since the introduction of Christianity in the country, making it the most oppurtune time to do a recharging ritual especially at night on Good Friday. The empowerment rituals consist of offerings or repeatedly chanting whispered or written Oraciones while holding the talisman in cemeteries, churches, around nature, mountain tops or other special places like Mount Banahaw in Luzon where most folk healers, shamans, religious cults and Antingeros(talisman aficionados) gather during this time. After this, some agimat wielders even test and demonstrate their powers and invincibility in public places such as parks among a crowd of awed spectators. But there are also those who choose to keep their possession of anting-anting incognito, with the belief that divulging or even just showing it to another person could weaken their power.
According to "experts" in Anting-anting, those who owned an agimat or anting-anting are called to live an ascetic lifestyle similar to mystics with self-discipline and
spirituality and to turn away from indulgences and sin at the core of their philosophy. It makes sense because these objects are physical representations of divine power. To ask favors from divine spirits, one needs to appease them. More importantly, they are used for benevolent functions - not for evil intent. But not everyone who possess such trinkets are willing to follow this belief.
Who uses them?
Perhaps the most common usage of an agimat or anting-anting throughout the
Philippine history is in the battlefield. From military personnel to policemen, including some government officials--the anting-anting has been an essential part of the Filipino battle gear, worn with the belief that its spiritual and magical powers will provide invincibility, protection or the edge that would shift the imbalances of power into parity.
Since the days of the revolution against Spain and later against the Japanese and the Americans, some well-respected leaders of the revolution have affirmed their belief in them.
Most Katipuneros (members of the Katipunan, a revolutionary society by anti-Spanish Filipinos in the 1800s) were known to have anting-anting and were sometimes called "men of anting-anting". So did many national heroes such as Emilio Aguinaldo (the first president of the republic) who used the anting-anting called 'Santisima Trinidad'(Holy Trinity) during the 1896 revolution along with Macario Sakay who wore a vest with religious images and Latin inscriptions to protect him from bullets. The Katipunan Supremo(General) Andres Bonifacio carried an amulet depicting a saint named 'Santiago de Galicia'(commonly known as St. James the Great) and 'Birhen del Pilar'(Our Lady of the Pillar) while General Antonio Luna used the 'Virgen Madre'(virgin mother). Then there is Manuelito, the great Tulisan(robber) who repeatedly escaped the sprays of bullets from the Guardia Civil(civil guards).
To the millenarians of Mount Banahaw and the other societies, brotherhoods and
religious cults, the Infinito Dios(Bathala), the ancient Tagalog God, is the most
powerful. The Infinito Dios was used as amulet, drawn on vests worn to deflect the
bullets from the invading American forces at the time between 1899-1902.
In the 1920s came Santiago "Tiagong Akyat" Ronquillo in Cavite, a robin hood
character who looted homes of the rich and helped the poor and possessed a
'tagabulag' amulet to make him invisible from his pursuers.
I know one former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who personally told
me he believed in the powers of anting-anting because he saw one of his soldiers hit
by an enemy’s bullets; his uniform was full of holes, but he had no wound at all.
--Jaime T. Licauco
Even the tenth president of the Philippines and well-known dictator Ferdinand Marcos claimed he had an amulet he recieved from Gregorio Aglipay (an ex Catholic priest who became head of the Philippine Independent Church). A wooden charm that would supposedly make him invisible and aided him to become a bar topnotcher and later in his political life. The amulet is said to have been inserted into Marcos' back before his campaign in Bataan in 1942.
But here’s one tragic story about agimats: The massacre of the Lapiang Malaya
(Freedom Movement), a peasant group who fought to overthrow the Marcos
government. On May 21, 1967, some half a thousand members of the insurgent
Lapiang Malaya led by the 86-yr old Bicolano Valentin "Tatang" de los Santos set out for Malacañang Palace demanding reforms from the government. Armed with sacred bolos(machete), "bullet-defying" uniforms and anting-antings, thinking themselves impervious to harm, they marched against soldiers and police with M-16s. A hundred or more were either killed or wounded and survivors were arrested for sedition. Their leader was ruled insane and thrown in the National Center for Mental Health, where he was mauled and later killed.
Between 1960s to early 70s, Leonardo "Nardong Putik" Manicio, a gangster turned
amulet-weilding folk hero from Cavite province--credited his ability to survive and
escape numerous ambushes and gunfights to his anting-anting. According to
Caviteños, Putik got that name as he was known to submerge himself in mud
paddies, among carabaos, using bamboo or papaya stalks as breathing tubes,
whenever he had to evade a police or military dragnet. "Putik" means mud, but Putik amulets were composed of a small red stone, a scapular with religious inscriptions or a small ring made of brass.
Putik's life was made famous in the Philippines in the 1972 and 1984 movies
"Nardong Putik: Kilabot ng Cavite" which capitalized on the supposed incredible
magic of Putik's anting-anting. The movies depicted his anti-hero ways and was a
very popular film in Filipino pop culture. He is often portrayed as capable of shooting or firing lightning through his hands or even generating electricity throughout his body. He is shown to be capable of telekinesis, including stopping a live bullet; having premonitions; possessing the ability to camouflage and blend with the environment. He may also have extreme luck and miracle or curative powers.
Does it really work?
Agimat and anting-anting illustrate our folk beliefs, spirituality and view of the world:
they are a fusion of a belief in nature and in a concept of God who is both animist and Christian.
To answer the question of whether such objects work is not so easy. Though there
are many in our country who believe in the mystical powers of charms, amulets and
talismans, I suppose their effectiveness depends mainly on the belief or faith of the
individual wearing such objects.
The mythology is kept alive and grows with every story that tells of an agimat-wielding hero escaping from the throes of certain death, surviving an accident, a death defying act or a hail of assassin's bullets. Wild stories circulated about where they got it and how. But eventually it did not protect them from the inevitable clutches of death because nothing lasts forever.
Filipinos, in my opinion, are Christians only in name or in outward practices or rituals. However, inwardly, we are still essentially animistic in philosophy.
The power of the mind over matter is very strong. If one believes in an idea strongly
enough, it will work. That is why the placebo effect of folk healers and unconventional medicine is still very popular today.
People believe in anting-anting because they have experienced its efficacy while those who have not do not believe in it in the slightest. Whatever our beliefs are, whether it's magic or science, spirits or logic - we should at least try to respect beliefs and opinions apart from our own.
Do you believe in the powers of Amulets or Talismans?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.