Albularyo: Spirit and Diagnostic Ritual

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An Introduction

If one is born and raised in a Filipino family and community, they will definitely recognize the term 'albularyo' (or 'arbularyo' which is a common mistake in spelling due to mispronunciation). Usually, Filipinos seek these 'albularyos' as an alternative for going to the hospital. By tradition and because of chronic economic constraints particularly in the rural areas, the albularyos are the general practitioners - the primary dispensers of health care. The word 'albularyo' came from the Spanish word 'herbolario,' meaning herbalist.

An albularyo is a traditional faith healer, an herbalist, and practitioner of white magic in the Philippines. Albularyos can be thought of as guides or liaisons between the natural and spiritual worlds. In harmony with nature, they know how to harvest the cures that nature provides, being able to concoct various remedies or potions to cure all sorts of maladies, whether caused by natural or supernatural origins. They are practitioners of magic, and can protect one from unknown or unseen paranormal forces.

A History

During the Pre-Hispanic periods, the function of an albularyo was part of the functions of a Babaylan, a shamanic spiritual leader of the community.

On the onset of the Colonial era, the suppression of the Babaylans and the native Filipino pagan religion gave rise to the albularyo. By exchanging the native pagan prayers and spells with Catholic oraciones and Christian prayers, the albularyo was able to syncretize the ancient mode of healing with the new religion.

As time progressed, the albularyo became a more prominent figure in most rural areas in the Philippines. Lacking access to scientific medical practices, rural Filipinos trusted the albularyos to rid them of common (and sometimes believed to be supernatural) sicknesses and diseases.

A spiritist group named Union Espiritista Christiana de Filipinas teaches the art of healing in the Philippines. They started in the 20th century and were influenced by Allan Kardec's Book of Mediums. There are approximately 10 thousand members from different parts of Northern and Central Luzon, particularly in Ilocos, Pangasinan, Baguio, and Manila. They teach different mediums for healing and the examples are: foretelling the future, speaking with spirits, and exorcisms.

However, the albularyo's role was slowly shadowed with the rise of modern medical facilities. Urbanization gave the masses access to more scientific treatments, exchanging the chants and herbs of the albularyos with the newer technologies offered by the medical field.

Still, albularyos flourish in many rural areas in the Philippines where medical facilities are still expensive and sometimes inaccessible.

How Albularyos Become What They Are

How does one become an albularyo? There are no schools per se. The knowledge is passed down through the generations orally and conveyed through an informal apprenticeship. As with the other healers, there is usually a history of a healer in the family-line and their healing considered a "calling," a power or ability bestowed by a supernatural being, often, attributed to the Holy Spirit. Often lacking in formal education, his skills are based on and honed from hand-me-down practices and lore, with a long period of understudy or apprenticeship with a local healer.

One becomes an albularyo because it is ther lot in life. It takes years of experience to know what works and what does not. A misidentification of a plant or leaf could have lethal consequences. The skills are a combination of botany, pharmacology, and spirituality. Due to their association with magic, albularyos are always respected, and sometimes feared. The true albularyo is, however, regarded much like a physician: you visit them when you have a problem and they try to help.

Different Ways of Healing

The term albularyo is commonly the general...
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