POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 1 November 2012, Thursday
Todos Los Multos
It was “All Hallows’ Eve” last night, which the ancient Celts called Samhain (sow-een).
The festival marked the beginning of their winter season, which they observed with sundown-to-sundown rituals from October 31 to November 1 as their equivalent of New Year’s Day.
The Christians adopted the pagan festival into their religious calendar, and made November first a feast day to honor all the saints, todos los santos, known and unknown; November second, a day to remember the departed.
For Filipinos, these three days are a time to reflect on family ties that bind in life and death, a time to visit the sleeping dead who lie forever, a time to keep vigil and pray for their souls.
And where some are gathered on such a night as this, perched by beloveds’ gravestones in the dark fitfully illuminated by guttering candles, one might step forth, he or she a teller of tales, to spin stories such as these…
* * * * *
This happened three years ago.
There were only four of us students in a PhD class at the College of [redacted] in the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
We were seated with our professor at a conference table in the graduate studies department having an animated discussion at eight o’clock one night when the door creaked open, very slowly.
That in itself was unusual because the door was outfitted with a heavy brass automatic door closer that made it difficult to move.
We froze. It was late and there were no other people around. We watched as the door opened about eight inches, then, just as carefully and slowly, closed.
We stared at our professor in fright.
He nodded matter-of-factly. “Yes, there are ghosts here at the College.”
He told us about something that regularly occurred to him in a certain classroom off the main building lobby. This room was constructed like a mini-ampitheater, with students’ seats rising in tiers toward the back.
“Sometimes when I’d call the roll during evening classes,” he said, “there would be a shadowy figure at the back whose face I could never make out. When I’d count those present, there would be one more than the number of enrolled students.”
Which is why our tiny class had ended up holding our sessions in the graduate studies department instead of that classroom in the first place. I am not superstitious. The moment the door shut upon our unknown visitor, I jumped up and peered through the large glass inset in the door.
There was no one outside.
I pulled open the heavy door and went out into the corridor and lobby.
The place was deserted and quiet.
Another student, who said she attended MA classes at the department also at night, said they would sometimes see shadows peering through that glass inset.
They’d get up to inspect, like I did.
But there was never anyone there.
* * * * *
We live in an abandoned racehorse stable beside the former Santa Ana Park racetrack in Makati. It is falling into ruins; the horses were moved to the racetracks in Cavite three years ago. My househelper claims to see ghosts and shadowy figures lurking in the darkness of the stalls.
One side of the stables by day.
I’d tell my ex-husband, and he’d snort in derision. “Tell Gay she’s being superstitious,” he’d say. We’d have ourselves a good laugh over her “sightings.”
Then, a year ago -
“Guess what Gay’s come up with this time,” I said. “She said – get this – that she saw a man wearing white hanging by the neck from one of the horse stalls!” I chuckled.
This time my ex didn’t smile. “Which stall did she say?”
“The last one beside the paliguan. Why?”
“When we bought this property in the ‘80s, we were told that during World War II Japanese soldiers hanged a man on that same spot. He was said to be wearing a white shirt when he died.”
* * * * *
There’s a diwata that lives in the tree right outside our front door, or so I was told by an acquaintance who said she has the “third eye.”
She described this nymph for me as wearing white (also), nestled in the tree, glaring balefully at humans, but, being an elemental, not likely to cause harm.
The tree outside my front door, where a diwata may or may not be in residence. On the horizon, Mandaluyong City office buildings rear up against the clouds.
She also told me that the spirit of another elemental, who takes the form of a child, lives inside my house.
“She loves it here,” my psychic friend said. “Your children have plenty of toys for her to play with.”
This must be “Beech”, a spirit my former mother-in-law claims they brought along with them when they moved here from Calamba thirty years ago.
“Once there was a racehorse owner,” she said, “who came to our stables to visit his boarded horses. He pissed in the garage below where your home is now. Some weeks later he came back to us in great distress.
“His private parts, he said, had swollen to abnormal size. He visited doctors who told them they could not find anything wrong, aside, of course, from the fact that his Jockey shorts could barely contain his inflamed genitalia.
“He traced the beginning of his condition to that afternoon he visited our stable. Daddy [my former father-in-law] told him, “You offended Beech. Probably pissed all over her, I wouldn’t be surprised. Make an offering of a gallon of ice cream at the scene of the crime and apologize.””
“The horseowner did, and the problem, err, shrunk within a couple of days.”
When there is something missing at home that won’t turn up after an assiduous search – keys, a box of colored pencils, a book – my children and I have a habit of going, “Give it back right now, Beech!” Oh, wait, that’s me. My kids say, “Please.”
Almost immediately, that item will be right where you’ve already looked.
* * * * *
I am not sensitive to the supernatural; indeed I do not believe there exists a realm beyond that of science, except that fashioned in our lively and infinitely creative imaginations.
Yet I have experienced things which science and logic cannot account for.
Perhaps you have too, during these same days when the Celts said the “veils between the worlds” grow thinner.
A blessed Samhain, and keep safe on your Undas journeys. ***
Photos taken with an iPhone 4S.