Hilot: the Science and Philosophy of Ancient Filipino Healing Arts


Hilot: The Science and Philosophy of Ancient Filipino Healing Arts


The ancient Filipino healing art known as Hilot can be classified as a type of traditional/folk medical practice that details both the resourcefulness of Filipinos as well as a rich culture overflowing with different influences. It also ultimately showcases that our ancestors already possessed an ingenious knowledge of medicine despite a formal education or background in the subject.

“Ang manghihilot at ang albularyo ay mangagamot ng tao, hindi lang ng sakit”(The hilot practitioner treats the whole man, not just his illnesses)

Hilot incorporates various alternative medical techniques –  like herbal medication, chiropractic, and acupressure – into a shamanic ideology of healing and curing.  Since ancient times, it served as a mostly effective system of treating and curing our ancestor’s medical problems.

Even today,  in a period where the science of medicine is gathering tremendous developments, many remain faithful to the old ways of healing through a Hilot.

It is easy for some to doubt the veracity of the traditional healing practice since it is largely based on untested practices and lack of solid scientific proof. Despite this, some practitioners of this healing art proved, not just its effectiveness and benefits, but also a philosophical healing approach that goes beyond physical sickness.


Elements and Human

According to “Hilot: The Science of the Ancient Filipino Healing Arts” by Bibiano S. Fajardo and Ma. Aleli V. Pansacol, Hilot identifies the human body as if it is a little universe or microcosm. In parallel with ancient Chinese beliefs (and also with the philosopher Empedocles idea) that the universe is made from the primal elements  – fire, water, air and earth – the human body also shares the same components.

Each element corresponds to certain biological body parts/process and engkanto/elementals who allegedly cause it. The list is as follows:

A table depicting the engkantos and their corresponding affinity with the elements and human body parts.


Diseases are caused by the imbalance of certain elements within one’s body (which is known generally before as Pilay). Excessive or inadequacy in any of these elements can cause disharmony, which is the root cause of illnesses.

Due to the lack of proper medical terminology by our ancestors, imbalances are usually coined using cultural words referring to elementals or nature spirits that correspond to the affected elements of one’s body.

This can be explained when a manghihilot or albularyo will tell his patient that he is being possessed by a lamang-lupa (earth elemental) but in reality he is just suffering from muscular or bone problems such osteoporosis or rheumatism.

Therefore, the manghihilot might have the right diagnosis but due to the limited vocabulary, some will tend to ridicule them due to words they use to label medical conditions.


A “quackery” or a real thing?

A manghihilot, like any other medical practitioner, has a lot of techniques that he can utilize to bring order to the “imbalance” of the elements within their patient’s body. This includes treating them through natural/organic medications.

It largely involves different herbs and fruits that are now scientifically proven to cure and treat specific sickness. Practitioners of Hilot are widely known to have a vast and practical botanical knowledge which encompasses different plants to counter medical conditions.

Some of these include lemon grass and bamboo roots for neutralizing toxins from excess fat, guava leaves as an antibacterial agent, boiled sweet potato (Kamote) for cleansing the toxins of the intestines, and many others that are now being accepting as effective natural remedies.

Besides a vast knowledge of herbs, the art of Hilot is popularly recognized for the massaging technique that does not only relieve simple muscle pains, but also increases the blood flow in our bodies and even assists in mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system.

Under the concept of Init-Lamig (Hot and Cold), a manghihilot can affect the flow of neuro-electrical energy in one’s body. This natural electrical energy within us is responsible for the mechanical functions of organs and muscles, converting food to energy, and the complicated communication network of our central nervous system.

Healers utilize techniques ranging from acupressure, chiropractic, reflexology and Bentosa in order to distribute our neuro-electricity properly in all the concerned areas of the body.

In terms of diagnosing, manghihilot rely mostly on common knowledge with regards to their patient’s movements, skin color/quality, pulse reading and sometimes through their take on phrenology (measurement of the human skull).

It is necessary for a manghihilot to be a keen observer of  their patient. In addition, they must have a practical, but systematic way of knowing one’s disease by the texture, shape, color and consistency of stool, urine, sweat and other bodily fluids.


An example of a “Libreta” a booklet composed of various oracion

Oración in a Different Perspective

One of the most dubious techniques of Hilot is called oración. These are words or phrases that are a mix of Latin (after Christianity arrived) and the manghihilot’s vernacular tongue – but mostly come from an unknown language taught by the spirits to the practitioner.

These are spoken or chanted in different tones and modulation during the healing session of a manghihilot, which are said to aid in treating their patient. Some might interpret these words and phrases as magical incantations, while others tend to have a negative view regarding the puzzling, misunderstood chants or prayer.

Oración might be entirely connected to the traditions and rituals that involve invoking the names of deities and spirits.  This is evident in the teaching of Kabbalah, where practitioners are taught to chant the 72 sacred names of god in varying modulation to produce a certain “awakening” within their soul.

Also, the Hindu belief about the universal sound “Om Mani Padme Hum” or simply “OM”, referring to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge), may contribute to the development of oración; making it associated with mysticism and religion.

However, oración (as explained in the book of Bibiano and Panascola) is not just mere string of unexplained uttering. The pattern of sounds produced by oración is said to induced changes in the electro-magnetic frequency of our body –  which stimulates the neuro-electrical process and leads to faster biological changes.  This harmonizes the four elements within us and eventually heals our sickness.

Electro-magnetic forces (EMF) are ever present, not just in biological bodies, but also in heavenly bodies such as planets and moons. Through their rotation, EMF is generated to harmonize each of them within the solar system.

Similarly, our body which is composed of rotating electrons are also influenced by EMF. The only difference is that the frequency of EMF in our body varies and can be changed while a planet’s EMF is constant.

“The realization that extensive electrical activates occur in and above the troposphere, extending to the ionosphere and ultimately coupling to the magnetosphere have raised the theoretical and experimental questions regarding the sources of EMF which create the observed effects.

The current work has identified 17 Local Electrical Batteries (LEBs), which provide the electrical EMF that can be linked to the observed effects of Sprites, Elves, etc.”

Healing beyond the Physical body

Unlike modern medicine that only heals the physical body, Hilot encompasses an internal method that heals man from the inside to the outside; implementing a holistic approach and staying true to their tradition that they heal, not just sickness, but man himself.  

Balancing the four elements that affect both the physical and spiritual aspect of man plays a very large role in this. The manghihilot also incorporates the relationship between man and nature as well as synchronizing their mind, emotion and action to prevent conflicts which may cause chaos within themselves.



Since the roots of our ancient healing art is traced back with values and principles present in animism (harmony with nature and universe), it is no wonder that healing “spiritual” illness is also an important factor for them in attaining a healthy body, which eventually reflects a healthy community.

More importantly, true healing is attainable by improving our values and in taking the path of goodness which was beautifully stated by the late Gregoria Ignacio, a senior member of Union Adorades Cristiano Al Espiritu Divino (UNCAED) as follows:

“Kailangan ang tao ay gumawa ng Mabuti, na Makakabuti, na Makapagpapabuti”(Man has to do good, that will make things good and that will lead to goodness)


The Philosophy in accordance with Nature and Divine

There is so much to learn and to understand within our very own traditional healing art. More than giving us practical knowledge in curing and treating ourselves, it also promotes a philosophy that we need to introduce in our lives for a better understanding of the deep connection between man and the universe. 

From The Universal Law (the irrevocable rule that maintains the divine order of everything in the universe – from the orbits of planets in the solar system), to the Natural Law, these balances and limits of living beings to prevent disorder were followed and respected by themanghihilot and albularyo and consequently integrated into their community through healing their fellow men.

Achieving a harmonious connection with both the universal and natural law will not only make man healthy, but will give the answers in understanding how we are all connected and a part of something bigger –  thus filling the gap and intolerance in our soul; the true sickness that every man must learn to cure.

Published on : 27/01/2018 by Puerto Parrot

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