CULTURE

What a Filipino spiritual healer looks like

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At the Manghihilot Festival, spiritual healers got acquainted and learned from each other’s thoughts and practices. Photo by KENNETH ABALLA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Rolando Comon sits with his uncle outside their home in Bulacan. Beyond them, a grove of trees, and a flock of birds circling the lush stretch of undergrowth. His Tito Boy points to the birds — small creatures who move together in unspoken rhythm, their dance orchestrated by an invisible hand — and one of them, as if by command, breaks from the group, swoops down, and softly perches on the crook of his finger. Rolando’s eyes widen not from surprise, but from deep fascination.

This is not the first time a close relative had shown him something peculiar and wonderful. After all, he has many aunts and uncles who have astounded him with sleights of hand. And there is his grandfather, Papa Mede, a mananambal in Siargao known for his healing concoctions, his vast knowledge of medicinal herbs. Rolando thinks about all of these in Sunday mass, his fingers trembling as he lights the candles by the altar, praying that God would hear his plea for powers, that somehow, he, too, would be able to share that same connection with the plants, with the air, with the gentle, knowing bird.

More than thirty years later, Comon considers his childhood as the very foundation of his life’s work. Although he still resides in Bulacan, he is now a teacher of faith and a Correllian Aghamic priest. The term “Correllian” harkens to the Correllian Nativist Tradition of Wicca, a global spiritual movement grounded on native heritage and indigenous practice.

Rolando Comon, whose spiritual name is Apu Adman Aghama, speaks fervently of Traditional Indigenous Faith. “It is our goal to be the light in the midst of Darkness; that people may walk again [on] the path of our race, which our ancestors once walked before,” he says. Photo by KENNETH ABALLA

Since its founding in 2000, the church Luntiang Aghama has provided services such as daily prayers, devotionals, weekly studies on Correllianism and Binabaylan, wedding rites, funeral rites, and healing sessions. Photo by KENNETH ABALLA

“Aghamic,” on the other hand, is its Tagalog nuance — derived from the word “agham,” which can either pertain to science or religion. There are numerous temples and shrines all over the world, and Rolando is the sole founder of the Luntiang Aghama Natural Divine Arts Shrine of Healing in the Philippines — the very first of its kind in the country, and, in fact, a registered church under the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission.

Comon, whose spiritual name is Apu Adman Aghama, speaks fervently of Traditional Indigenous Faith. In an email interview, he writes: “As Luntiang Aghama, it is our goal to be the light in the midst of Darkness; that people may walk again [on] the path of our race, which our ancestors once walked before.”

He describes the Angono-Binangonan petroglyphs, the subtle inscriptions that suggest healing rituals and magic in the Neolithic period. To him, and the five ministries he presides, faith is not merely religious devotion, but an exercise in historicity and collective memory — a reclamation of the past.

Rolando laments at how many Filipinos nowadays are detached from their language, culture, and have lost touch with indigenous practices. “As a group,” he says, “We would like to provide a path where all Filipinos could walk back [towards] their identity.”

Since its founding in 2000, Luntiang Aghama has provided services such as daily prayers, devotionals, weekly studies on Correllianism and Binabaylan, wedding rites, funeral rites, and healing sessions.

Luntiang Aghama also provides seminars and workshops on developing one’s psychic ability and ancestral workings. Photo by KENNETH ABALLA

For Comon, faith is not merely religious devotion, but an exercise in historicity and collective memory — a reclamation of the past. Photo by KENNETH ABALLA

They also provide seminars and workshops on developing one’s psychic ability and ancestral workings, “We call on the Creator in accordance to the revealed name per tribe, and work with the Diwata, Anito, and the Engkanto as the Roman Catholics have prayed to the saints.”

Just this last week of October, Hilot Academy of Binabaylan — one of the five ministries under Comon’s leadership — invited healers to a Manghihilot Festival where they could get acquainted and learn from each other’s thoughts and practices. According to their Facebook page, the practice of hilot is “known as a Holistic System of Filipino healing arts and sciences that uses the modality of massage for diagnostic and treatment incorporating the use of herbs, water, and bio-energy to promote positive well-being.”

It might as well be said that Luntiang Aghama serves as the torch with which one may spiritually connect with their Filipino roots, the seemingly indistinguishable etchings at the back of one’s mind.

Robert Rubin and his wife, Sarah Salcedo-Rubin (not in photo) are the founders of Mysterium Philippines. The couple has taught and trained hundreds of individuals in Reiki Energy Healing, Shamanism, Defensive Occultism, Tarot, and Intuitive Awakening. Photo by JL JAVIER

A few hours away from Bulacan, at the chaotic heart of Quezon City, is a group that practices magick, psychism, and the esoteric arts. Robert Rubin and his wife, Sarah Salcedo-Rubin are the founders of Mysterium Philippines. With their small, yet flourishing space in Katipunan Avenue, the couple has taught and trained hundreds of individuals in Reiki Energy Healing, Shamanism, Defensive Occultism, Tarot, and Intuitive Awakening.

To the unfamiliar, all of these may sound quite intimidating and frightening. After all, one might imagine sitting before a copious spread of cards and having their life read out before them, but, in fact, the couple grounds their work on courage, compassion, and even their Catholic faith.

In Reiki workshops with Sarah, she typically shares how she began her journey as a healer. Having suffered from depression and recurring illnesses in her 20s, she explored Reiki as a different form of healing. “It was ironic,” she remarks, in a conversation back in 2016, “that I was working in the pharmaceutical industry back then; I had access to the best medicines, but there was no improvement in my condition.”

“The stigma will always remain … However, I am proud to say that the populace is more open to these practices than ever before,” Robert says optimistically. Photo by JL JAVIER

The biggest misconception that anyone could have towards Tarot, Robert explains, is the belief that readings are set in stone. Tarot is meant to be a guide — not a condemnation — to your life, a life in which you possess the power to decide your fate. Photo by JL JAVIER

Reiki, a Japanese healing system, seeks to restore the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance in an individual. A healing session with Sarah may bring forth feelings of peace and serenity, as if one had stepped into a buoyant pool of light. Perhaps it is for this reason that Reiki healers identify themselves as “light workers.”

In a recent email exchange, Robert writes: “Mysterium is here to show the world that Intuitive practices such as Tarot and Reiki are meant to empower and give clarity. These practices have been given a bad name in the past, but our goal is to change the overall image of these practices so that one day they will be accepted fully in society.”

Robert explains that the biggest misconception that anyone could have towards Tarot is the belief that readings are set in stone. Tarot is meant to be a guide — not a condemnation — to your life, a life in which you possess the power to decide your fate. The understanding that one can choose between accepting their fate and wielding their future — to Robert, that is the greatest kind of empowerment that Tarot can give.

“The stigma will always remain … However, I am proud to say that the populace is more open to these practices than ever before,” Robert says optimistically. In a country where over 80 percent of the population practice Christianity, the esoteric may be flatly assumed as ‘plain ol’ witchcraft.’

Crystals play a huge part in the practice of healing and spiritual awakening. Photo by JL JAVIER

On the topic of the skeptical, and even the rapid commercialization of energy healing, tarot, and most especially, healing crystals, Comon briefly adds, “What [healers] have agreed about is that spirituality and magickal practice [cannot be] standardized, because it is faith-based.”

Suffice to say, the healers seek to clarify that these practices are meant to shed light, empower, and help connect the faithful to life, as they know it, and history, as it should be remembered.

Robert has been practicing Tarot for 23 years, has been deemed the Philippine Tarot Authority, and has, in fact, established Mysterium as the premiere Tarot School within the Philippines.

“If you like what I have to say, then accept it,” he joshes. “If not, you have the power to change the outcome. If at the end of the session, I gave you more hope, more enthusiasm, then I’ve done my job.”