5 Philippine plants used for space clearing

There has been a global resurgence of interest in the esoteric arts, and it’s no different in the Philippines. One of the most important aspects of an intuitive practice is space clearing, especially before and after rituals. Clearing one’s space rids it of negative vibrations and prepares it to accept good energies.

While the internet is full of resources on Western space clearing, it’s hard to find information on what local plants one can use (foreign materials can be expensive and hard to source and sometimes, as in the case of white sage, be endangered and considered cultural appropriation). I spoke to a a local practitioner who is called “Mananabas” (literally “cutter,” as in one who cuts with a panabas or forward-curved sword) because of their ability to walk grey areas, to find out what local plants are traditionally used to cleanse one’s space. This is their answer:

As told to Yvette Tan

Garlic is a common but highly effective space cleanser. (Engin Akyurt/ Pexels)

I started when I was 14 years old. Half my life I dedicated into studying what remains of our true belief system. Rich and varied, Philippine Mythology is as diverse as the islands it comes from. Currently, I practice Folk Catholicism which amalgamates the strength of indigenous beliefs and the power of Christian faith. In some circles, I am called Mananabas. A pleasure to meet you.

Below are 5 herbs/plants which we use to cleanse the internal and external space in preparation for a ritual.

  1. Garlic (Bawang) – A pungent herb that has long been used to ward off evil. The scent of garlic overpowers the heightened senses of aswangs, malignos and other creatures of the dark. Simply hang garlands of garlic bulbs around the desired space and it will be sufficiently warded. If one finds a victim of Black Magic, especially those who have ingested human liver as a means to transform them into aswangs, one can simply force feed them a handful of garlic before the next full moon. This is enough to make them regurgitate the liver and save their humanity.
  2. Sweet Flag/Calamus (Lubigan) – A perennial and aromatic herb that has been used since the days of Moses when he was instructed by G-D to make anointing oil for the tabernacle. Here in the Philippines, the babaylans and albularyos have used Lubigan to treat various ailments. To use it ritually, one must peel and dry the roots then thread them together to make either a wrist band or a bikig. This affords the practitioner protection from bales and the evil eye.
  3. Sweetsop/Sugar Apple (Atis) – a small tree introduced by the Spaniards. Originally from tropical America (Mexico and other Latin countries). This was co-opted by our albularyos to create tonics and tinctures that promoted blood flow or acted as purgatives. Our babaylans/shamans/salamangkeros found that the aborted fruit of the Atis is useful as a component in untons. Some of us use the leaves as ritualistic wards because they are naturally vermicidal and insecticidal and if you shared our beliefs, insects and vermin are the usual familiars of those who call themselves Mambabarang.
  4. Blumea Camphor (Sambong) – a woody and aromatic shrub commonly found in open fields and grasslands during February to April. Recent trends and hypes have made sambong quite popular due to the efficacy is shows when used as a treatment for kidney problems. Ritualistic use instead focuses on its ability to purge the body of negative energy and bad juju. One simply has to make a tea out of its leaves at either dawn or dusk. This purgation treatment must be done a day before the ritual.
  5. Heavenly Elixir (Makabuhay) – a climbing vine famous for its protuberances. Makabuhay is a common sight on the stalls that line the streets of Quiapo. Often touted as a cure for scabies athlete’s foot and infertility, to name a few. This vine is truly wondrous as it has so many uses in the medicinal spehere. In ritual, one can simply drink a makabuhay brew to relieve the self of any malicious magic. One can also boil the vines and use it as a ritualistic bath in order to cleanse the aura of the magician. Alternatively, one can also use the water as a cleaning material that removes any lingering effects in a particular area.

Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

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