Engkanto & Anitos
Engkanto are environmental spirits. They are often associated with the spirits of ancestors in the Philippines. They are also characterized as spirit sorts like sirens, dark beings, diwata, and more. Belief in their existence has existed for centuries, and continues, with some, to this day.
Anito is used to refer to spirits, deceased ancestors, nature-spirits nymphs and diwatas. Ancient Filipinos kept statues to represent these spirits, ask guidance and magical protection. Trees, rocks, ,bodies of water, and animals were believed to be animated by an anito.
During the last decade studying the Creatures of Philippine Mythology I have spent a profound amount of time pondering the spirit realm of the Engkanto. The evolution of folkloric creatures almost always begins with the belief in these spirits. Outside cultural influence, historical events, and oral tradition then transform them into the physical descriptions that exist in Filipino folks tales. Examples of this may be seen in my recent documentaries on the Tikbalang and Kapre. I take issue with the notion that belief in these folk creatures is completely born of ignorance and superstition. I think there is more to it, and I believe that science may be close to explaining why.
” Eyewitness testimony is the lowest form of evidence in science.” – Neil Degrasse Tyson
When I discuss these topics, I am usually met with, “I’ve never seen one, so I don’t believe they exist.” On the other hand, those who do believe in such beings are relying on an eye-witness testimony from a second, third, and even fourth party. As Neil Degrasse Tyson so eloquently said, ” Eyewitness testimony is the lowest form of evidence in science.” Another hurdle is how us humans tend to immediately dismiss anything that falls within the communal gap in our knowledge. Every day science is advancing in methods to see further in the universe and deeper into the microscopic world. We are constantly discovering new ways to measure and calculate the unknown. Is it possible that we simply don’t yet have the scientific method to measure or detect Engkanto as an observational fact or predictable certainty?
Animist beliefs involve both the observed physical world and the unseen spirit world. What happens in one world, affects the other. In the seen world, nature is believed to be alive. Trees, caves, mountains, rocks and lakes are often viewed as sacred places where engkanto, or anitos dwell. Animals may also be embodiments of spirits.
Our animist ancestors believed that everything was connected and that you could not take away without giving back. They created a sustainable life in their surroundings. Science is now proving that everything is actually connected – not just in dogmatic theory, but based on the physics of reality. You may look at ancient societies as primitive, but I believe they had an accepted understanding of their surroundings that our science is just now beginning to understand. Recently in Canada, scientists discovered a clay that kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria in lab tests. The First Nations people in that area have been using this clay for centuries due to its healing properties. The First Nations couldn’t tell you the science of how it works, but they knew it did. It is not inconceivable that early civilizations also had a philosophical understanding of physics that science has yet to discover. Philosophical reflection is the backbone of scientific discovery.
Where the Engkanto and Science Meet
Quantum mechanics is the science that explains the behaviour of matter and its interactions with energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. Dr. Stuart Hameroff and physicist Roger Penrose theorized that human consciousness comes from microtubules inside our brain cells responsible for quantum processing. This could possibly be interpreted as our “soul” (what makes us who we are). Hameroff and Penrose believe this is stored as “quantum information”. When people have near death experiences, or their ‘soul leaves their body’, it could be quantum information leaving their brain, causing a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ experience. They go on to theorize that this quantum information could live on after physical death. Most animistic belief systems hold that the spirit survives physical death. In today’s day and age, with 100-240 volts of electricity running through our walls, cellular phones at our ear, Wi-Fi signals on every corner, and hundreds of years of religious dogma telling us what is “real”, is it beyond the realm of possibility that we have lost the ability to sense the unique energy (or quantum information) that represents the soul?
In physics, energy is a property of objects which can be transferred to other objects or converted into different forms, but cannot be created or destroyed. Quantum energy teleportation is a hypothesis first put forward by Japanese physicist Masahiro Hotta of Tohoku University. Protocols of the quantum teleportation transfer quantum information, but cannot teleport energy itself. There is a growing sense that the properties of the universe are best described not by the laws that govern matter but by the laws that govern information, which could lend itself to the theory that quantum information (the soul) lives on.
Now before you start scoffing, Galileo‘s theory that we did not sit at the center of the universe was widely rejected. He was condemned in 1632 for his heretical notion that the earth was a globe floating around the sun. It was not until 1668, after Sir Isaac Newton invented the reflecting telescope, that it became clear that the Earth was not the centre of our solar system. Speculation that the Sun (and not the Earth) lay at “the centre of the spheres” dates back at least 2600 years (7th century BCE) to the time of the Indian philosopher Yajnavalkya. Historically, we have automatically rejected anything that requires abstract thinking. When something is unknown, the general population tends to say it doesn’t, can’t or won’t exist. Luckily, much of the science community accepts their ignorance of the unknown and tries to find answers.
Many scientists are exploring the implications of what we’ve discovered with quantum physics, including the notion that our physical material reality isn’t really physical at all? We are all energy, radiating our own unique energy signature. In a typical human of 70 kg, there are almost seven billion billion billion atoms. Of this, almost 2/3 is hydrogen, 1/4 is oxygen, and about 1/10 is carbon. These three atoms add up to 99% of the human mass. We know that when an atom changes its state, it absorbs or emits electromagnetic frequencies, which are responsible for changing its state. Do different states of emotion, perception and feelings result in different electromagnetic frequencies? Yes! This has been proven. Now we need to ask how these atoms react with disembodied quantum information, or another soul. We might not ever know the answer, but science is on the cusp of profoundly impacting our understanding of consciousness.
“If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” – Niels Bohr
Just because the current scientific paradigm doesn’t recognize what could be regarded as the spiritual dimension, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Our interpretation of ancient beliefs is limited to our current acceptance of the physical world. As modern science advances, we are easily drawing parallels to general understandings from early belief systems. Part of this early belief system was that after we cease to physically exist, the soul (quantum information?) lives on. Quantum information and the unique energy of living things may explain ancient animist beliefs in Engkanto and Anitos. Perhaps early Filipinos weren’t so superstitious after all.