Tag Archives: witch doctor

Tree People of the Philippines – Dwende

Text and Context

DA (informant) – We have the dwende in the Philippines (I think a lot of cultures have them, even Guam). They’re kinda like dwarves and they live in anthills, tree stumps, stuff like that, which is why growing up we were taught to ask for permission before entering the woods.
My mom told me my brother got really sick to the point that they had to go to the hospital, but they couldn’t tell what was up. Apparently he peed on a tree stump and it pissed off the dwende living under it and it cursed him. He was fine in the end though. (laughs)
Interviewer – How were you supposed to ask permission to enter? And what might happen if you didn’t? Similar to what your brother experienced?
DA – You would say, “Tabi tabi po” which basically means “excuse me.” And yeah, it’s so you don’t get cursed in case you happen to disturb their home by stepping on them or something.
Interviewer – Is there anything you can do to lift the curses of the dwende?
DA – Yeah! Witch doctors (in the Philippines: albularyo, in Guam: suruhanu). First they see what’s causing whatever you’re feeling. Usually with melted candle wax and a bowl of water: they let it drip and the hardened wax would form into who caused it. And they tell you what to do based on that. But I don’t really know much about this part.
DA – I remember whenever I got sick as a kid, my mom and my grandma would bring me to an albularyo. She would do this ritual with candles over my head, but I don’t remember much.


The informant was telling me about where they had grown up, including the Philippines and Guam, spurred on by an art project that drew upon magical creatures.
The dwende are little tree spirits who, if you disrespect, will cause harm to you, but if you are polite to them, they will leave you alone. I have heard similar stories of the tomten from my own Swedish heritage, who could cause trouble if the inhabitants of the house did not leave them offerings or respect the coexisting tompte.
Belief in the dwende demands respect and politeness for nature, as a dwende could be under any tree one passes. Dwende curses could be lifted by healers who had mastered traditional remedies and were also deeply woven into the traditional Filipino culture. There is a particular saying that can grant you access to these spaces without harm, which lets the dwende you mean no harm to them.

Ancestral Spirits of Guam – Chamorro taotaomo’na


DA – In the Chamorro culture in Guam, there are the spirits of the Chamorro ancestors. You ask for permission so you don’t disturb the spirits, called the taotaomo’na.
Interviewer – For entering the forest?
DA – Yeah. The taotaomo’na live in the forest and also protect it.
(DA shows me a picture of a stone structure. It is made of two massive stone shape: one is a wide column, and on top is a round bulge with a flat side facing upwards. There are two people in the background to show how massive this structure is)
DA – If you see these structures in the forest, you should leave immediately. These are the latte stones and it’s a marker that it’s an ancient Chamorro site. They were just used as pillars or support for ancient Chamorro homes and stuff like that.
Interviewer – What is the significance of Chamorro sites and what would happen?
DA – I guess you can kinda treat them as tombs. There’s probably very likely ancient spirits in there that you shouldn’t disturb out of respect, and if you do, you would be cursed and get some sort of illness or physical pain.
Interviewer – Are ancestors and spirits generally a big part of Chamorro culture?
DA – Yeah! Respecting your elders is one of the important things you have to learn in the culture, so that also plays a part in it.
Interviewer – And is there anything you can do to lift the curses of the Chamorro?
DA – Yeah! Witch doctors (in the Philippines: albularyo, in guam: suruhanu). First they see what’s causing whatever you’re feeling. Usually with melted candle wax and a bowl of water: they let it drip and the hardened wax would form into who caused it. And they tell you what to do based on that. But I don’t really know much about this part.•
DA – I read up on it to refresh my memory, but it makes sense why they wouldn’t be kind to visitors. Spain, Japan, and the US fucked up the culture pretty bad. (By the 18th and 19th centuries, travelers were likely to see latte stones in areas abandoned after foreign diseases wiped out a lot of the Chamorro population)
DA – It’s a good thing a big part still survived, but barely anyone speaks the language. It’s part of the required courses in the education system. My Chamorro teacher and I talked about this before. The problem is not many people are really interested in continuing to learn beyond the requirements. You only need to take one year of Chamorro language in high school, and most students take it freshman year. And like everyone tends to do, they forget most of it by the time they graduate. And there aren’t many speakers in the first place either.


The taotaomo’na spirits were the ancestors of the Chamorro people, native to Guam. It is important to be respectful not only to living ancestors, but also to those who passed on a long time ago. Signs of their presence, like the latte stones, are common in places where many of the Chamorro had been killed of from foreign plague, and also act as tombs. It is common knowledge in Guam not to risk drawing bad things or curses to yourself by disrespecting the dead. The informant recalls that these stones are some of the best preserved remnants of the Chamorro culture, because so much of it died out due to foreign plague, assimilation into western cultures, including the language. Although the informant learned more of the Chamorro language than most in their high school, the informant regrets that they have also forgotten much of what they learned.

Haunted House in Indiana- The Funny Man and the Woman with the Red Eyes: Sleep Paralysis and Two Traveling Ghosts, Cured by a Witchdoctor

I first heard this story when I asked the speaker if she had ever seen a ghost, but when she began telling her story I remembered that I had heard parts of this tale before. The speaker told her story in a very matter-of-fact tone and spoke first about her experiences with friendly and unfriendly ghosts. For another example of a ghost legend by this same speaker, search “Haunted Theaters and Ghost Lights” in the USC folklore archive.


When the speaker and her twin brother were three years old, they shared a room in Gary, Indiana in a house completely made of brick. “My mom came in [to the children’s bedroom], she had just put us to bed. And then she heard me and my brother laughing. And so she like came back into the room and she’s like, What’s going on here? She’s like, what’s happening? And we’re like, ‘The man, the man. He’s making a funny face.’ And there was nobody there.”

“Was I scared? No, because he was one of the friendly ones of the house,” the speaker said. “He was kind of just there for jokes and like to make children laugh, because apparently, um, his grandchildren died in the house. And he like, died out of grief. And he loved kids. So he would just play with my brother and I [sic] occasionally.”

The speaker said that there were also unfriendly ghosts, and that she had recently gotten rid of one of these malicious specters. ” “They moved with us to Florida. And at first, I didn’t notice because they didn’t approach me. At first, they would just stay in the corner. And I didn’t realize it would always be a really scary woman with two red eyes. And I didn’t know what she was. I thought she was just like, a spirit… But no, she turned out to be worse than I thought.”

The speaker said that she began to experience sleep paralysis and that “I would be screaming, and she’d be attacking me. And I couldn’t move. And I’d wake up with bruises on my arms and my legs because she was sitting on top of me.” She slept with her mother at age 17 because of these nightly attacks. When she returned to her bedroom, she said, ” “I was screaming to save my mom and my brother. But they couldn’t hear me. And then just the woman was just taking my family away from me. And I didn’t like I couldn’t do anything. I was just sitting there. And then again, my mom woke me up screaming, crying in real life. “

The speaker’s Puerto Rican grandfather, Julio, was a witch doctor. “We had to pin a square piece of black cloth underneath my pillow. I don’t know what it was to catch her something like that.” Soon after that she moved to Southern California to attend school, and she hasn’t seen either ghost since.


This story was told at night in the kitchen, and three college-age females were present. The speaker said that she was relieved to be rid of the ghosts, and that after her parents’ divorce, she rarely visited the Gary House. She also said that the house was torn apart after the divorce, and that her father would start projects that he wouldn’t complete (for example, fixing the bathroom tub). I think these ghosts may have something to do with the divorce, but I believe that this experience was very frightening for the speaker.

This speaker later scoffed at my mentioning that a friend received therapy when recovering from his parent’s divorce. Her response suggested that children do not need therapy for this life change.

For another example of ghosts stories indicating changes in property ownership or status quo, see the scholarly article “Ghostly Possession of Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore” by Ulo Valk (2006).

The concept of traveling ghosts is certainly frightening, and this story was welcome after a long day’s work.

Witch Doctor

Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.

A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”

While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.

“My history teacher, I’m 100% sure he was serious about it. He’s from Mexico… he has a lot of family there. His family lives in this pretty small village, and his grandma was one of those witch doctors. There was this lady in the village who was this really big girl. I don’t know what was going on with her but she was doing really bad, I think she was homeless, like not doing well. My teacher said they were at their grandma’s house one day. His aunts were also there and he was young at the time, but him and his siblings snuck out into the back yard, they weren’t supposed, they were supposed to stay in at night. When they went back there they saw his grandma completely passed out on a chair. And in front of her was the other lady on the chair, and the four of his aunts were lifting the chair up on a finger, like really high up. He asked her about it and they were doing some healing thing.”

The patient was not healthy, and to lift her would either suggest that the aunts had extreme strength for the moment, or she became extremely light for the moment. The latter suggests the aunts were using homeopathic magic to making her lose weight. A.G. thought his teacher’s story was genuine, and shows some belief in the supernatural.

A Panamanian Exorcism

“One day, my friend was very pale and talking in strange voices/tones. She was claiming that she was not herself and not in control of her body. And so, her friends took her to the hospital and they couldn’t find anything wrong. Then, one of the girls thought that getting a curandero was going to help her. He waived some plants over her and said some prayers. The demons quickly left, and she was fine after that. She doesn’t remember anything from when she was being possessed.”

In Panama, exorcisms are still quite common, as many still believe that they may be possessed by demons or The Devil himself. When someone appears to be possessed, a curandero (translates to healer) is hired to force the invaders out of the victim’s body. Usually, they tend to wave various plants and spices over the possessed in order to free them.

The informant, Jonathan Castro, is a 21-year-old student from Panama. Because until recently, he had spent his entrie life in Panama, he believes that he is well informed in Panamanian folklore. His friend was the one who introduced him to the practice of exorcisms after revealing her personal story to him. Jonathan does not believe that what she claimed is true, but he does know that she becomes genuinely uncomfortable when talking about the subject, as it brings back traumatic memories for her. To him, the whole event is just a remnant of the older and more religious Panamanian beliefs.

The story told by Jonathan is as great look into the folklore that has survived from Panama’s past. While Jonathan and the doctors at the hospital had a hard time believeing her story, Jonathan’s friend was convinced that an evil entity had entered her body and was eventually forced to leave. Evidently, even though certain beliefs may seem outdated, their lack of prevalence does not mean that they are completely gone.