In the 1970s, the late Jesuit ethnologist Fr. Francisco R. Demetrio compiled a dictionary of Philippine folk beliefs and customs, with a chapter providing intriguing insights on our concept of death, spirits and the afterlife. Demetrio wrote that in Malaybalay, Bukidnon province,
“the ghost of a person returns three days after death. If there is constant noise in the house where the dead once lived, it means that there is something the dead had forgotten to tell to those left behind. People put candles at all openings in the house if they don’t want the ghost to come.”
These raucous spirits have been called poltergeist (from the German poltern, meaning “to knock,” and geist, meaning “spirit”), manifesting themselves through disembodied knocking or pounding, and inanimate objects floating or thrown about. Spiritualists believed that these paranormal entities are harmful demons, while parapsychologists consider these as psychokinetic phenomena emanating from troubled individuals.
Letter to a Jesuit
Interestingly enough, our national hero Jose Rizal witnessed this type of supernatural activity while he was in Dapitan, which he related to a Jesuit priest, Fr. Antonio Obach, in a letter dated April 12, 1895. Father Obach provided a copy to the Jesuit Mission Superior in a missive dated May 4, 1895.
This missive was later included in the multivolume work “Jesuit Missionary Letters from Mindanao” of noted historian Fr. Jose S. Arcilla, S.J.
In Rizal’s narration, the poltergeist phenomenon centered on Josephine Bracken, who feared her foster father, George Tauffer, had died and was haunting her:
“Here since Saturday night in this round house many things have been happening apparently without explanation. The English lady woke up last night while her cups were being broken and the lamp burned unusually bright. She believes her father has died. I advised her to talk with you, and the third time that she addresses a question, ‘In God’s name, I ask you what you want.’ All her cups, tea kettles, saucers, etc. fell down at the same time. All the boys and I saw it.” “…Tell us what to do, if it will be better to exorcise the clinic, sprinkle it with holy water. It might be good if you come and see the place. If it is certain that he has died in Manila the day before yesterday, is there a more conclusive proof to support the existence of the soul? I have talked to it, but it does not answer, nor does it perform this thing in my presence. Romulo will give you more details.”
Father Obach acceded to Rizal’s request and visited his clinic, along with another Jesuit priest, Fr. Esteban Miralles. Josephine explained that what had happened was an unusual and frightening event. Father Obach suggested that she might have engaged in spiritism, but she denied the accusation.
He further narrated that:
“Doctor Rizal defended her, that since childhood she had been and was a Roman, Apostolic Catholic. I answered him there were many who were Catholics only in name but did not practice their religion. In the end, I enjoined them to recite on their knees on turning to bed and on rising, one ‘Our Father’ and the ‘Creed,’ and if the things continued, to sprinkle the room with blessed water, that they should not be scared.” “…The next day they informed me the English lady did what I told her and that nothing had happened. Until today, May 4, there have been no further visits from beyond the tomb.”
What could have prompted the poltergeist events in Rizal’s clinic? Father Obach’s missive to the Mission Superior may provide a clue. Two days prior to the haunting, Rizal’s sister, Trinidad, accompanied by her nephew Antonio Lopez, arrived in Dapitan on a mail boat along with Josephine. However, the two women were indifferent and uncommunicative to each other during the entire trip. Father Obach wrote that:
“What caused the greatest surprise is that Trinidad returned to Manila on the same boat. I waited in vain for Rizal to talk to me about his future bride, although according to someone’s report, his entire family is against his marrying her; that on Trinidad’s arrival, there were crying and recriminations which led to the latter’s return to Manila. Later, there was clearly vocal opposition from Manila, Rizal’s sister who, with her son and her nephew, is sailing to Manila on the next mail boat, leaving Doctor Jose completely alone.”
Link (here) to the full article at the Inquirer.