In the old days, when a person was sick and needed to see an albularyo or manghihilot, he would first pray for guidance before setting out of his house. Apart from the usual prayer for protection, he would pray that he be guided to the right albularyo or manghihilot who would be able to help heal his illness.
Back in those days, some Filipinos used a specific technique while praying—while the sick person prayed to be guided to the right albularyo, the concerned albularyo himself would be able to feel that a patient would be coming to visit him. Upon arrival at the house of the albularyo, the patient and the healer would have a brief exchange. Through this introductory chat, the healer would be able to determine if this was the patient he had “felt” would be coming. On the other hand, the sick person, who is usually accompanied by another healer who had referred him, would be able to gauge the depth of the albularyo’s knowledge and whether he is indeed a genuine practitioner of the Philippine traditional healing arts.
After these formalities, the albularyo would lead the patient to the area of his house where he performs healing. He would have the sick person sit on a wooden bench or a low bed made of bamboo slats (locally known as papag) in preparation for the healing session.
Diagnosis. To determine the cause of the patient’s illness, the albularyo would take the sick person’s hand, place his fingers on specific points, and feel the patient’s pulse. Based on the quality of the pulsation, the albularyo would be able to tell which of the four elements (earth, water, air or fire) in the person’s body is imbalanced. The albularyo would then describe this imbalance in a way that would be easily understood by his patient—in terms of the encanto, or nature spirits, related to the imbalanced element. If the patient had an imbalanced earth element, his illness was attributed to engkanto sa lupa, or earth elementals such as duwende (dwarf) or kapre (giant). If the imbalance was in the water element, the ailment was said to be the doing of encanto sa tubig, or water elementals such as sirena (mermaid) or siokoy (merman). Imbalances in the air element were said to be caused by encanto sa hangin, or air elementals such as the diwata or fairy, while imbalances in the fire element were blamed on naughty fire elementals or encanto sa apoy, such as tiyanak or impernales (imps).
Apart from pagpupulso (pulse reading), some albularyos would use mystical means to determine the patient’s imbalances. Some healers would use tawas (alum), or a variety of other implements such as candles, leaves, or in more recent times, even pieces of paper, cellophane, or bottle caps. When used with oracion, these everyday objects became the healer’s aids to identifying ailing body organs.
Validation. Once the albularyo had identified which of the elements are problematic, he would place and run his hand down the patient’s back, feeling for changes in temperature, unusual lumps, and differences in muscle quality. From this, the albularyo would be able to determine which particular organs of the body are affected by the imbalance. He would validate his findings by asking the sick person to describe his stool and/or urine—if the patient’s descriptions matched the characteristic stool/urine outputs caused by the imbalance of that particular organ, the albularyo knew that he had arrived at the cause of the patient’s problem.
Hilot-Herbal Treatment. After determining which particular organ is imbalanced, the albularyo would proceed to do Hilot on the patient, carefully kneading specific muscles and underlying nerves for some ten to thirty minutes to facilitate the flow of neuroelectrical energy to the area. If needed, he would get a glass, drip a bit of alcohol into it, light it, and put the glass upside down on the patient’s back–a Hilot modality known as bentosa.
In the Filipino healing tradition, Hilot goes hand-in-hand with herbal treatment. After the Hilot, the albularyo would instruct the patient on what herbs to take to facilitate healing. The albularyo would put the patient on a step-by-step cleansing program (digestive, kidney, and blood) to eliminate waste products that interfere with the body’s efficient functioning and promote the growth of harmful organisms. If bacteria and other microorganisms are involved, the albularyo would take the patient to the next step of herbal treatment, and administer herbs that would fight them off.
In cases when the ailment is still not resolved after a given period, the albularyo would step up the frequency of Hilot sessions and apply specific Hilot techniques and herbs. He could also put the patient on a special regimen designed to target that specific illness.
Healing. Depending on the degree of the imbalance (or severity of the illness) healing with Hilot and herbs could take place in as little as one session, or over a more extended period, as in the case of chronic diseases. When there is a grave imbalance in the four elements of the patient’s body, and it has gone unaddressed for a long period of time, this physical imbalance could eventually lead to an imbalance in the patient’s mind and emotions, and require another level of healing.
While a person’s natural balance may be upset by factors such as a stressful lifestyle, destructive habits, and an environment that is not conducive for health, imbalances can be set right provided certain conditions are met, because in the Hilot healing tradition, health is the natural state of the body.
For more information on Hilot, please see Dr. Bibiano Fajardo and Ma. Aleli Pansacola’s book, Hilot: The Science of the Ancient Filipino Healing Arts, printed by Anvil Publishing, Inc.