The author Maureen Murdock writes in her book “Unreliable Truth,” that a person writes a memoir in order to take a look back at a significant time in her life in order to understand it. My book about the Philippines is a memoir about my personal experiences with the healers, who impacted my life in ways I am still trying to comprehend. The book also contains an in-depth essay on the obscure, often misunderstood subject of psychic surgery.
Most of the people I’ve meet since the book came out have wanted to engage me in a discussion of “is it real or is it fake?” Particularly radio interviewers. This question is irrelevant, from my perspective, the more important issue being how humans living in physical bodies interact with the spiritual dimensions. If we are truly Spirit made manifest, how can we experience ourselves more fully as Spirit?
My memoir PSYCHIC SURGERY AND FAITH HEALING: Revised Edition contains a good story that is quite funny in places; it also offers a close look at life in a country very different from America. The book contains a detailed, historical essay on the subject of psychic surgery, but here I’m going to post excerpts from the memoir. First, my favorite passage, and then my favorite chapter:
We leave in the jeepney before dawn the next day—Joseph drives east, first crossing the wide flood plain that runs north/south through the center of Luzon. This area is an enormous river when it rains, but now, in the dry season, the jeepney raises a cloud of dust. Mile after mile, the wind flows through the open windows bringing with it the smell of the dry fields, cow manure, cooking fires, and molasses. The dust of the road contains everything that has ever existed. This fine powder, carried around the world by breeze, squall, and tempest, might once have been my ancestor, the clouds of another planet, or even my own body. When Joseph stops the jeepney for a short break, I wander out into the fields, my sandaled feet kicking up some farmer’s forgotten furrow, and I feel as if I am touching the stars, the moon, the very heart of God. I meet myself in the fragmented earth.
THE FILIPINO ELVIS PRESLEY
Ti arac managrabrabac. Wine creates a jovial atmosphere.
Since early morning, the man known locally as the “Filipino Elvis Presley” has been carefully stirring the contents of a large pot over an open fire on the other side of the irrigation ditch. He was given this nickname because of the emotion that pours from his slight, angular frame when he sings—as if every cell of his body is lamenting his own, private “Heartbreak Hotel.” Although he is blind in one eye and has a large gap in the front of his mouth where he is missing two teeth, he is quite attractive.
I am distracted from thinking about Elvis when visitors arrive. Descending from several jeepneys parked in front of the church, they are dressed in their Sunday clothes, the children scrubbed until their faces shine. The adults are carrying packages and bedrolls bound with twine.
“Today we welcome our Brothers and Sisters from Maria Aurora,” announces Mely. “They have traveled many hours to celebrate The Lord with us.”
Soon everyone is drifting to the patio behind the church, and the packages are piled on a table. The visiting women, who are wearing nylon stockings even in the stifling heat, sit and begin to fan themselves. They look like a bouquet of drooping flowers. Mely welcomes each person individually and, as usual, I do not understand most of the conversation. They are from an isolated, mountain province far to the east and do not speak English. I can only observe as Mely and Trinidad serve the guests tall glasses of sweet, lukewarm tea and cookies. After awhile, the women retire to the house to begin cooking, and the children disappear in the direction of the basketball court.
My gaze begins to wander again across the irrigation ditch. Most of the men have gathered in front of Buyat’s nipa hut. They are sitting in a large circle, laughing and singing, and they appear to be passing a bottle around
Drawn to their laughter, and to Elvis and his pot, I balance myself carefully on the log that crosses the ditch, inching my way slowly. When I arrive at the circle of men, at first they seem disconcerted by my presence. Perhaps a Filipino woman would never be so bold as to join in the camaraderie of men
But then Joseph smiles. “Jessica, sit here with us,” he says, motioning to a chair beside him. “I will give you a taste of basi, sugarcane wine.”
This produces some snickering among the assembled men—perhaps they are aware of the attraction between Joseph and me. They watch closely as he pours some of the clear liquid into a small glass, their joking silenced. Taking a sip, I begin to choke violently. Gasping for breath, I nearly fall on the ground. Basi is strong like vodka or tequila, but my “initiation” must be completed. I drink the rest of the wine quickly and without further difficulty. The men applaud and roar their approval.
They return to their drinking and gossiping, and my attention is drawn back to Elvis, who is a short distance away, still stirring. Unnoticed by the others, I quietly approach him.
“What are you cooking in your pot?”
“Ah, Jes-se-ka, this is very special. This soup is the head of the dog. It makes man very strong with woman.”
He says this with great reverence, as I gasp and recoil backwards from him and the pot, my American love of pets standing in stark contradiction to the Filipino habit of eating just about anything. Consider balut, for example: fertilized eggs containing the partially-formed bodies of ducks, which are boiled and eaten. (Balut are also believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.)
Unable to come to terms with either the idea of eating the family dog or the mystery of male virility, I decide it would be better to return to the more reasonable activity of cooking with the other women.”
Blessings to you, gentle reader, from Jessica at: