Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

26 November 2006

Going on a Witch Hunt: interviewing the Santo Niňo

Resurrection wasted no time launching a campaign to save Miracle’s white eye. She lit candles at the church; attended church services everyday and fried up a side of belly pork for Father Bert the parish priest so that he would include Miracle in his prayers. She wholeheartedly believed that prayer would have the power to heal the white eye.

Excerpt from Volcano Child

In Catholic Philippines, the image of the Santo Niňo, as the Christ Child is lovingly known, is more ardently venerated than any other religious icon.

And here’s a claim to fame you won’t hear anywhere else: I am probably the only journalist in the world who has ever conducted an interview with the Santo Niňo face to face.

Ate Vecing – the Christ Child’s miracle workerIn the first installment of my witch hunt adventure, I described how my photographer friend Mandy Navasero and I observed and interviewed psychic surgeon Alex Orbito who performed bloody operations with his bare hands. Our next subject was Ate Vecing, a woman who performed miracles with the aid of the Santo Niňo.

The Santo Nino and Ate Vecing’s Chapel’Santo Niňo and Ate Vecing’s Chapel’ was an unassuming breeze block building with a large sign above the gate, here pictured with one of Ate Vecing's acolytes.

When our ancient Volkswagen Brasilia rattled to a stop in front of the gate, a woman came to greet us, dressed in white with a blue sash around her waist, blue rosary beads around her neck.

“Excuse us, we came to see Ate Vecing,” I said, politely explaining that we were journalists and wanted to write a story about her.

Mandy feeling for a pulse when Ate Vecing collapses

To our shock, no sooner had I finished speaking than the woman collapsed at our feet. Another woman in white with owlish spectacles rushed to gather her up.

“This is the Ate Vecing you are looking for!” she declared, rather imperiously.

“Is she all right?” Mandy asked, her voice anxious despite the fact that she was clicking away furiously with her camera.

To which the unconscious woman suddenly stiffened. “I am the Santo Niňo, I am the King of the World!” she cried in a high-pitched voice.

I didn’t quite know what to do. But Ate Vecing’s assistant seemed unfazed by the peculiar moment. She helped Ate Vecing back up to her feet – eyes still closed – and walked her into the chapel. On an altar, covered with a red plastic table cloth stood a large collection of Santo Niňo images. Rising above them was a crucified Christ and the figure of Maria Dolorosa – the sad Virgin.

“I am the Santo Niňo!” Ate Vecing piped up again.

Ate Vecing’s helper smiled encouragingly at me.

“Uh, what should I do now?” I said stupidly.

“Go ahead,” the helpful lady said. “Interview the Santo Niňo.”

All my years of journalism had not prepared me for this one. What was the etiquette when confronted with a divine interviewee?

I swallowed … and interviewed the Santo Niňo – who it turns out was pretty media savvy, opinionated about the state of the world, and given to speaking in verse.

Later, when Ate Vecing had emerged from her trance and the Santo Niňo had taken his leave, she told us her story.

Ate Vecing had a husband who beat her but she stuck by him because she was a woman of no education and they had eight children to feed. During one of his rages, he tied her to a chair and stabbed her several times with a knife. She survived and spent much time in Church begging God for an answer to her problems.

It was while she was praying at church that the Santo Niňo inhabited her for the first time. She found herself speaking in languages that she didn’t understand, speaking with wisdom and confidence that she didn't know she had.

Amazed supplicants watch Ate Vecing become the Santo NinoThe townspeople were amazed and word of her transformations spread quickly. People came from far and wide to beg her intercession with the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary. They donated sums that helped her build a home for her children and allowed her to live independently from her violent husband.

Most importantly, the group of believers that constantly surround her keep her safe from his attentions. Pictured is the small crowd that gathered while we were interviewing Ate Vecing.

Ate Vecing speaking as the Christ ChildThe Santo Niňo did more than just change Ate Vecing's fortune. He gave her peace.

Each of the Santo Niňo figures on the altar had a different facial expression. “See,” Ate Vecing explained to us. “Since the Santo Niňo came to me, I haven’t had to feel any pain in my heart. When I’m sad, the sad Santo Niňo speaks through me. When I’m angry, the angry Santo Niňo comes.”

Ate Vecing's collection of images covered a gamut of emotions and moods – even a flirtatious Santo Niňo.

Ate Vecing is truly blessed. The Santo Niňo has set her free ... in more ways than one.

Photographs © Candy Gourlay.


16 September 2006

Going on a Witch Hunt! Psychic Surgery

“It’s only a story, Magic Auntie,” I said crossly. “And I was talking about witches in England, not witches in Santa Rosa.”

Magic Auntie stuck her bottom out and slapped it with a loud smack. “How is a fat bottom like this supposed to balance on a broomstick?” Mouse giggled and Bowow whimpered, as if suddenly afraid.

I scowled, but I knew that I could argue till kingdom come and the plain truth would be that Magic Auntie knew more about witches than I ever would. She was the real thing, a pro. Magic Auntie was a witch.

Excerpt from Volcano Child

Witch Child by Celia ReeseI once went on a witch hunt. No, not the accusatory, flesh-burning, blood-curdling sort of witch hunt described in that wonderful book Witch Child by Celia Reese.

It was the eighties, and I was a young, starving journalist on the look-out for pocket money and adventure. Mandy Navasero My great friend, photographer Mandy Navasero (pictured left in typical wacky mode), proposed we do a coffee table book about witches in the Philippines. She would do the photographs and I would do the text. So I hopped into her clapped out Volkswagen Brasilia and off we went.

Those were pre-Harry Potter days but I’d read quite a few stories about witches, usually to do with Halloween, brooms and screeching black cats. Nothing like the witches we met on our tour.

Witchcraft, in various historical, religious and mythical contexts, is the use of certain kinds of alleged supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a person who practices witchcraft, and may be male or female.

That’s what Wickipedia says about witches. Our first subject would not have liked the word – but what else would you call person who performs surgery with his bare hands?

Alex Orbito, psychic surgeonMandy and I were ushered into a hall filled with very ill but hopeful looking people. They sat in rows of plastic chairs peering through the glass wall that separated them from the brightly lit room where the 'surgeon' was operating on patients.

The surgeon invited us into the room. His assistants positioned me in one corner, at the foot of the operating table and put Mandy at the other end, at the head. A young woman wrapped in a sheet climbed onto the table.

The surgeon explained that the young woman had breast cancer and need to have the tumour removed. She bared her chest and he proceeded to knead the skin above her bosom. There was a loud pop and blood started to trickle from under his fingers. He began to pull little lumps of red fleshy stuff from her chest. The surgeon wore a short-sleeved shirt and, from where I stood I could see the area between his torso and the operating table – but no, nothing suspicious to report.

The whole time he was pulling blood and guts out of the woman’s chest, his assistants kept spraying the air with room freshener because, they said, he couldn’t stand the stink of blood.

Here’s a video I found of a female psychic surgeon performing an operation, all the while singing the Lord's Prayer. It’s pretty much similar to what we saw.

Now my friend Mandy is given to unexpected whims. When the surgeon finished and dismissed his grateful patient, Mandy wondered aloud if psychic surgery could help improve her eyesight, which was getting a bit blurry.

"Certainly," the psychic surgeon replied.

Mandy tossed her camera into my hands and climbed onto the operating table.

Without further ado, the surgeon shoved his finger into her eye socket. The eyeball popped out, or seemed to. He held it up to the light.

"Hmm, it’s just a little bit dirty. Needs a little wash," he said. His assistant rushed forward with a pan of water and he carefully rinsed the eyeball. He held it up to the light again, "Perfect!" And then he popped it back into Mandy’s eyesocket. Or seemed to.

Afterwards, Mandy’s eyesight didn’t improve but we came away with a good story to tell.

Later, I discovered that the psychic surgeon we met was quite famous. His name was Alex Orbito.

Here's an anti-quackery blog debunking Orbito's psychic skills:

… it's all an illusion by hiding animal organs and a balloon filled with fake blood in their hands, that’s that.

Even an amazing skeptic will be able to perform a "psychic surgery".

And here is a video of amazing sceptic James Randi doing just that:

In 2005, Mr Orbito was arrested for fraud in Canada.

Stay tuned for more true witch stories.