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Quiapo Gayuma: How an Occult Practice Still Captivates Filipinos

Quiapo's gayuma vendors are highly secretive and protective of their livelihood.
IMAGE Mario Alvaro Limos/UNSPLASH
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Outside the hallowed walls of Quiapo Church in Manila, vendors peddle an assortment of goods: stolen cellphones, cigarettes, plastic toys, and gayuma—the Filipino term for love potions and spells meant to capture someone’s affection. Depending on who you approach and what you’re after, Quiapo’s gayuma specialists will either entertain you, reject you, or offer their goods for the right price.

This writer combed the corners of Plaza Miranda at night and looked for these vendors, who operated through whispers, eye contact, and discreet nods, inviting you to check their merchandise. But when I introduced myself as a journalist, most of the vendors, especially the elderly ones, rebuffed my efforts to procure information.

Plaza Miranda

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.
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Hindi nga puwede (I told you, no)," said an elderly woman after I asked if I could conduct an interview and photograph her gayuma. She was enticing me earlier with a reading of my future in front of her spread of tarot cards.

Hindi ko puwede ipakita sa iyo ang mga gayuma dahil kakalat iyon. Hindi puwedeng malaman ng ibang tao ang mga nakasulat dahil mawawalan ng bisa, she said. (I can’t show you the incantations because it will spread. It will not work if other people know the inscriptions.)

She was referring to a set of Latin incantations used to cast spells on a person to fall in love with you. I politely went away, and then got rejected by more fortune tellers, potion makers, and gayuma specialists.

And then I found Aling Diwata, who has been a vendor in Quiapo for the past 16 years. When I asked her about what she sells, she looked at me, smiled, and said, “Lahat, mayroon ako.” (I’ve got everything.)

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True to her name (diwata is a type of enchantress in Philippine folklore), Aling Diwata whispered some of her most powerful merchandise: “Kulam. Pangontra. Gayuma. Barang. Mga Dasal.”

I felt scared.

Kulam is a form of witchcraft used to cast spells on enemies (and obnoxious journalists). Pangontra is the counter to kulam, a protective charm. Barang is the Cebuano term for black magic or malignant curses. And then her “mga dasal” is a set of Latin incantations used for various purposes.

But just like the elderly woman who refused to show me a single bottle of love potion, Aling Diwata also politely refused, but not before offering a disclaimer: “May takot din kami sa Diyos, ano. Nakakahiya, nasa tapat pa man din kami ng simbahan.” (We also fear God, you know. It’s a shame, we’re right in front of the church.)

Quiapo Church

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.
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Quiapo’s gayuma vendors are afraid of their own instruments.

Some people might consider their livelihood as devilry or witchcraft, but Aling Diwata clarified that they are not working against God, but just lubricating his will with potions and Latin incantations.

Itong mga ginagawa naming, hindi naman ito masama, dasal din ito, eh. May Latin. At saka hindi kami nagbebenta sa taong gagamitin lang para sa masama, babalik iyon sa amin bilang masamang sumpa,” she said.

(What we’re doing is not evil, it actually has a prayer. There’s Latin. And besides, we don’t sell to people whom we know will use it for bad things, that will come back to us as a terrible curse.)

Akala ko naman kasi bibili ka. Kung bibili ka, may makukuhanan ako ng mga gayuma.” (I thought you were a customer. If you were, I could get some gayuma for you.)

I agreed and politely left her. I was about to head home emptyhanded when Ate Tessie beckoned for me to come to her stall.

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Ate Tessie has been a vendor at Quiapo for the past 38 years. She has been selling all sorts of gayumas with her mother since she was 16. Thankfully, she opened all her wares and allowed me to photograph them. She also agreed to an interview.

According to Ate Tessie, many people buy love potions not to ensnare an unsuspecting soul, but to keep them from cheating.

Sa 38 years ko rito, wala pang bumalik sa akin at nagreklamong hindi mabisa yung mga binenta ko,” she said. (In the 38 years that I’ve been here, not one has come back to me to complain that my goods are ineffective.)

Quiapo Gayumas vary according to their strength.

According to Ate Tessie, the most powerful Quiapo  gayuma is the set of Latin incantations, which you recite as a ritual regularly. People pay as much as P750 to P1,000 for the promise of fidelity of their partners. This one is kept as an absolute secret: Its efficacy disappears the moment another person apart from you sees the incantations (hence, no photographs of this gayuma).

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Ate Tessie then showed me a bottle of gayuma containing various herbs, roots, and stones taken from the mountain, river, and ocean.

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.

Gawa ito ng albularyo na taga-Siquijor. May silay, mga ugat, at saka mata. Lahat nakikita niya at malalaman mo kung may iba ang kasama mo.”

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(This was made by an albularyo from Siquijor. It contains seashells, roots, and eyes. It sees everything and will let you know if your partner is cheating on you.)

Albularyo is the Filipino term for a witch doctor, who casts spells and charms to repel or dispel curses. The counterpart of the albularyo is the mambabarang or mangkukulam, who casts spells to harm people.

Ate Tessie then showed me another bottle of roots and herbs, this one containing a plant taken from Mt. Banahaw. It is called buhok ng Birheng Maria. For some people, including Ate Tessie and her albularyo friends, Mt. Banahaw is the most sacred mountain in the country. They believe its flora has healing and magical properties.

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.
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The final Quiapo  gayuma is taken from the ocean. It contains seaweed, which allegedly has spells cast on it by an albularyo. According to Ate Tessie, there are several ways to prepare a love potion from the contents of each bottle: You can immerse it in oil or water and use it as perfume (the scent will allegedly make you more attractive to your partner). You can also use the solution to spike someone’s food or drink so they will fall in love with you.

Ihalo mo sa pagkain o beer ng asawa mo,” said Ate Tessie. (Mix it with the food or the beer of your spouse.)

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Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.

On a regular day, Ate Tessie would earn P500 selling gayuma. Come December and February, the customers come trickling in, and she would earn up to P1,000 a day. 

But not all gayumas work. 

"Nasa sa inyo kung gagana iyan o hindi. May kasama naming dasal iyan, at nakadepende rin kung ano ang hangarin mo, kung mabuti ba o hindi,” she said. (It depends on you whether that gayuma will work. It comes with a prayer, and its effectiveness will depend on what your true objective is, whether for ill or not.)

Ate Tessie has one final piece of advice: "Ang totoong pag-ibig, natatagpuan yan, nakatadhana yan. Walang gayuma para doon."

(True love is destined. There's no gayuma for that.)

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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