Discernment, Defense, and Dickweed Indigenous Fae

The following entry may contain triggering material.

After an entry about santol fruit, I wanted to write up a local myth about the taro plant. Taro is best-known as a root crop that may or may not be purple, although I know a recipe that stews the very green leaves into mulch. (Dioscoria alata is definitely purple and a root crop, but called something else.) My research, which in this case means Wikipedia, suggests that taro is one of the earliest cultivated plants, its origins being Malaysian although cultivation has spread as far as the New World since then, whether by trade routes in Oceania long Before the Common Era, or because colonial masters said so.

It could be interesting to consider, because the story I know has an Engkanto in it, and I’m not entirely certain that’s an indigenous folkloric being. Neither do I know how strong the connection ought to be between the story about the plant and the corporeal plant itself. If this is a Philippine myth about a Malaysian plant, and Malaysia is like right there, why is this story so Spanish?

In the version of the story that I picked up by osmosis, the taro plant is known as gabi because of a girl named Gabriella whose nickname was Gabi. The stress is on the wrong syllable to suggest any association with the evening (gabi) which has more Austronesian vowels than Indo-European etymology anyway. An Engkanto tried to flirt and seduce Gabi into the otherworld to be his wife, and she said something like, “no thanks”. So, the Engkanto cursed her into a plant. Her toes became underground tubers so that she could never move from where she’d been cursed, and also they’re maybe sometimes purple? The plant’s leaves would be heart-shaped so that the whole world would know what her heart was like. The rain would fall upon the leaves and roll off, like his rain of love and attention upon this shrewish soul-eating harpy who couldn’t appreciate it. When her heart softens to him, Gabi can become human again. Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. But how can this curse not have already been broken? Hasn’t this otherworldly suitor been so charming???

Seriously though, there is no story I know about Engkantos that tells of them being anything other than total dickweeds.


I think this is a gabi plant but they’re not usually so large.

I can’t take it too literally. Gabi’s toes are tasty, and go well with tamarind broth and a bit of salt. There might be something to be said, too, about Engkantos in the Philippines being an expression of post-colonial anxiety. The characteristics of an Engkanto as I learned them, anyway, were as follows: suggestively bipedal, doubly armed to five-fingered hands, single-headed, basically anthropic but…offensively tall, with peculiarly long and pointed noses, and ghastly pale-skinned until an emotion (such as anger, in Gabi’s Engkanto’s case) makes them glow a demonic red.

I suspect this magical being might have been inspired by white people.

When I was very young, my mother and her friends from university pooled their resources into a summer house in the country, and all these families would vacation there together. One time, it got haunted by something that had never been human. My mother’s friend’s spouse had recurring nightmares there of a strange, pale, long-nosed man lying on top of her in bed. Some other things happened that I’m sure to misremember, some worse than just someone else’s nightmare, others technically better but still eerie, and eventually the grown-ups consulted an expert—probably a diviner rather than a priest, but I don’t remember because I never got to meet them. One elderly grampa—who was perfectly lucid and honest to the point of curmudgeonly, I remember that much—reported sightings of friendly, disfigured wee folk. (That is, disfigured as though—and this is how I tell it, not how Grampa Salvador would have told it—they were plants or rocks trying to become human-shaped enough to communicate something, which they did, through the diviner: “Stop letting the kids play with water pistols in our part of the forest, please.” They didn’t like something about that, but wouldn’t harm children to stop it. Oh, and: “Beware of Mr. Long-nose.” The wee folk weren’t overly fond of him, either.)

I haven’t read or heard of any folklore about the Duende exactly: I only know the word because when this happened, all the grown-ups started using that word. Eventually, as I recall, the diviner recommended a ritual that involved filling the house with smoke while Aunt Rose who’d had the nightmares (and the diviner’s assistants) were still inside it. They could all still breathe, as the smoke itself wasn’t so much the point. Mr. Long-nose never bothered Aunt Rosa or anyone else again, and sadly, neither did any of the Duendes. The ritual basically went “get out” and meant everybody who wasn’t corporeal.

The grown-ups seemed to take it as just another hazard of being out in the country. I don’t remember if they tried to just decide it was odd and went back to the city, if anything continued uncannily then.

I wish I could remember more of what really happened, what convinced them that this “haunting” was serious enough to do something, and how they found whatever expert they found on this. Or that it was a sort-of haunting at all, and not just a bad dream from one person coinciding with several senior moments from another. (Ahem, Grampa Salvador never had a senior moment.)

Generally, though, I figure there’s just some process to getting it sorted. That goes for whether it’s a collective imagining or subtle reality (or both, some philosophies or cosmologies have both without dualism, so,) or whether a being is malevolent or merely strange. If these Duendes had simply struck us down with mysterious and painful afflictions for playing with water pistols, it would be difficult to figure out that we’d done anything wrong or to who. Still, we’d probably want to understand just as much as most other people—even the incorporeal ones—want to be fully understood.

But that’s hypothetical. Maybe the grown-ups would have just decided that Duendes, too, are pure evil that can be neither predicted nor negotiated with. Aunt Rosa’s Engkanto remains rude and scary for as far as we can care to consider—incidentally, he also behaved rudely and scarily. So, I call that one an Engkanto, and I don’t think he was a racially white guy entity. Aunt Rosa would have simply said so, were that the case, and might have explored the idea that this was a ghost from World War II, if the idea that it was “just a bad dream” wouldn’t have held for long. Instead, this one had never been a living human—and in that case, why bother with anthropomorphization? How did that even work? (Not that I would want to conjure that one back up in our lives to satisfy that curiosity.)

Granny Weatherwax had never heard of psychiatry and would have had no truck with it even if she had. There are some arts too black even for a witch. She practiced headology – practiced, in fact, until she was very good at it. And though there may be some superficial similarities between a psychiatrist and a headologist, there is a huge practical difference. A psychiatrist, dealing with a man who fears he is being followed by a large and terrible monster, will endeavor to convince him that monsters don’t exist. Granny Weatherwax would simply give him a chair to stand on and a very heavy stick.


Anyway, I could go the headology route and say that it doesn’t make a difference—if smoking the place out got rid of a bad dream more effectively than simply deciding that it was a bad dream, then great!—but generally, I should think that what we do about a problem does depend on what we believe the problem to be.

MacCoun made the distinction between “true” spiritual entities and “imaginary” astral entities by how much deliberate attention one needs to continue experiencing them: Spirits need a specific mindset and concentration on the part of the Alchemist. Astral beings would be persistent, even internally consistent.

I think it’s the other way around, but of course I would think that, because I learned from both corporeal school and general corporeal life that things are really real when they happen without you, or happen even if you don’t want them to. Personal biases and wishful thinking might influence a view of reality, but aren’t themselves worthy of reliance, because they can change or vanish mysteriously. (This philosophy comes with six oxcarts of problems: validates pessimism and depression; confounds circular logic with ‘sufficiently valid’ self-sustaining paradigms; even puts positivist science in reliance with observing any given thing in a vacuum or otherwise in an environment of controlled variables, rather than in a natural habitat that’s more usually where life and the universe happens, and passed that attitude onto the goal of ‘invisible’ ‘objective’ historians when what it really is are historians with hegemonic social power—but it’s one I tend to get stuck on.)


In any case, Aunt Rosa began to hone that psychic sensitivity since then. I was afraid of the dark as a child, and then as much older than a child. Some time after the fiasco with the country fae, we went on a beach trip, and my mother sent me back to our cabin to get something we’d forgotten. It was dark. Aunt Rosa comforted me (or tried) with, “Just imagine a white light over your head,” and something about guardian angels. Nothing bad happened, but despite my excellent visualization skills, it didn’t help much either. I suspect that I really just needed therapy.

Later on, sometimes something like it would work well, other times it didn’t. In the latter case, I did visualize a golden bubble filled with pentacles, and the thing walked right through it. This is not the occasion anybody wants to find out that a protection spell doesn’t work.

I believe, for that latter, it was this thing bothering me:

This is that very Mab / that plaits the manes of horses in the night… / This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,/ that presses them…

Painting by Fuseli, quote by Shakespeare’s Mercutio, initially appeared to me as animatronic Regan McNeal from The Exorcist movie, and there is something like this mentioned in local folklore (known as Bangungot, or, for fans of Trese, better-known as Batibat.)

But then conflating Fuseli’s incubus with Shakespeare’s Mab with pop culture imagery with Philippine folklore is bound to have something wrong with it, and never mind what happened to me or what I saw—Why do all these cultures despise fat people?? Do I subconsciously despise fat people? Is that why I could see the Batibat?


There’s a post about the general nature of other posts going around out there about why, if (what I call) Questing is so horrifically dangerous, the proscribed method to defend oneself against the dangers is, “…so be very extra sure that you visualize a bubble!”

The reasoning goes, well, if something like an Engkanto really could turn me into a vegetable, and was spiteful enough to really want to, I’m really not knowledgeable enough about how that would even work to successfully stop him. I doubt an imaginary bubble would do it. Imaginary bubble failed me before.

So, when it comes to protection, now I’ve got to admit that I don’t know what works for everyone every time. I usually try figure it out what’s going on with me this time with intuition, confidence, and experience—although, having a bad thing walk right through the wall you set up to keep said bad thing away is not an experience I recommend, even though that wasn’t the worst part. (The worst part wasn’t all that bad, but I can’t say that means I’ve already seen the worst it can get.) I can’t give someone else an intuition for what works (like I even always have it on me), or confidence that would assuredly never be misplaced (it can still be misplaced). But neither do I want to go, “so just in case, don’t get into this at all” as though blissful ignorance is the solution to anything, or “so just in case, (insert random thing to do) anyway“. Some popular random things being: Imagine a bubble or white light, wear ancestral silver in the shape of something geometric and associated with protection, mark a circle in eggshell dust and sea salt, pray to beings that might not answer and/or who consider your suffering part of a greater plan…Not that these never work. Some of these have, sometimes, and I want to say it’s more than a hit-and-miss, but what that more than even is isn’t clear to me right now. (I need to get into a lot more trouble, to test these properly. Hah!)

Still, if the sort of thing has been going around of, “Beginners make sure to always do this random thing or else…” Engkanto will literally turn you into a plant, or spinning heads and projectile vomiting pea soup ensues…Somehow I’m more inclined to suspect, then, that it’s just a way to scare a lot of people into all doing the same thing, because then there would be some shared symbolic vocabulary and that’s validating.

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