Re-initiating the Spirit Quest in Baguio

WE SEEMED to be everywhere in the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s. When problems of a supernatural nature would arise, the Spirit Questors were never more than an email or a phone call away. Shortly thereafter, sessions to contact the restless spirits would be initiated around dimly lit candles at the dead of night. Just as we seemed to be everywhere, so too seemed the spirits: every old house, strange tree and crumbling ruin harboured their presence. The purpose of the Spirit Quests, however, was for us always the same: to allow the spirits to find peace, whether it was harmony with the natural world or the promise of a blessed afterlife.

Those have been heady times, and since then there are less people today who accept the term “Spirit Questor” as their own. Regardless of how many years have passed, I know that those lucky few who were given such a title still take into heart one of its prime directives from decades ago: to make sure that the mortal human world respects the power of those who have gone before them. The souls of the dead have never stopped trying to communicate with the living, and we try our best to help if our services are asked for.

Baguio still harbors three Spirit Questors, myself included. Our founder, a quirky former US Embassy worker who is now enjoying his retirement, has essentially given us Baguio Spirit Questors greater autonomy with regards to our activities. We understand that the world of ten or twenty years ago is no more, and the spirit world no longer evokes a sense of respectful awe, especially among the young. This doesn’t mean, however, that we Baguio Spirit Questors have stopped crossing the curtains between the worlds: far from it. We still speak to the dead and broker truces with elemental beings. We don’t do those often these days, but people on occasion still do approach us when the need arises, and we still try our best to find time away from our busy work schedules to slow down and establish contact with the spirit world.

For us, speaking to the spirits has always been about establishing respect for their existence. Acts of selflessness allow us to prove our worth to them, showing them that that we’re not merely materialistic beings looking for a little scare. I find that the simple act of walking (among other things) helps me attune to the spirit world: to deny myself the luxury of riding a vehicle, and instead to feel the actions of my legs and feet on the ground, gives me the boost needed to connect clearly with the spirits even if the noise of the City surrounds me.

It has been tradition for us Spirit Questors, when contacting the spirit worlds, to form a circle surrounding a group of candles, which serves to focus all our attention on a point of light that would bind us all. After a quick visualization exercise of finding our center and raising protective shields, we would wait until the spirits themselves manifest, either as sounds or unusual sensations. We would introduce ourselves to them, and then in return ask for their identities; this would serve to establish the initial bond of trust. Unique to the Baguio Spirit Questors would be the atang, the food and drink offering so prevalent in the Cordilleras that would further attract the spirits’ favour—it was through this simple ritual that we discovered the gentleness of Baguio’s spirit world, and how less hostile it could be compared to the anger and angst of other cities such as Manila. Our Spirit Quests could take an hour or more to complete, depending on the problem at hand or the degree of compromise the spirits would agree to give the aggrieved.

As is often the case, a lost soul would agree to move on to the afterlife once it has realized that the material world can no longer supply what it needs. Elemental beings would settle their disturbances once the living would agree to repair their spoiled and polluted environment.

Successful or otherwise, each Spirit Questor never forgets to thank the spirits: they are, after all beyond our understanding of time, space and mortality.

Time’s passing has allowed our methods to evolve, and any method that perpetuates our founding principles of peaceful coexistence with the spirits is always welcome. Just last month I was invited to seek out the restless souls of a slum alley in Quezon City (among other places), and find out why they weren’t at peace. Instead of the trappings of crystals and religious implements we once used, I now carry an electronic device called a “Spirit Box,” used to give voice to the dead. It was painful to learn that the souls who were speaking out of the Spirit Box were children—and indeed, residents of the slum had confirmed that they had died there, and that they were now seeking justice. The laws of man, however, had to prevail at this point; Spirit Questors rarely intervene with crime investigations. My Baguio sensibilities urged me to instead advise those who were still alive to offer sweet food and fresh water to the hungry dead before the living themselves would consume them.

As a Spirit Questor I have been taught (as all Spirit Questors have) to commune with the unseen worlds not to generate scares or engage their denizens in “ghost hunts;” such activities are unproductive and ultimately detrimental to one’s overall sense of well-being. We speak instead to spirits as we speak to our loved ones or to our revered elders, and they in return teach us things that ultimately might stop us from being too brash and careless with our materialism. As late as ten years ago, I used to think that it would be much easier for the people of Baguio (than those of other cities, such as highly urbanized Manila) to understand the lessons the departed provide us, but I realize that these days such an idea might need a little bit more effort on my part to be inculcated.