A few weeks ago, I had a friend read my setting draft. I wanted to get some feedback on it, so I would know what it lacks and what not. After reading a portion of it, he asked something to the effect of “How do the natives react to the more supernatural elements of the setting?”
To answer that question, I went reading. I had recently bought John P. McAndrew’s “People of Power: A Philippine Worldview of Spirit Encounters”. It was just what I needed.
The book has modern accounts of spirit encounters; modern sensibilities and Catholic beliefs have been mixed in with animist beliefs, so it’s not gonna be entirely accurate to how it was in precolonial times. However, if I learned anything from this book, it’s that folk’s beliefs are hard to change. They adapt, use different symbols and iconography, but they keep the beliefs passed down to them. So I think this book is a good basis, at the very least.
Animism and shamanism have an ecological and harmonious attitude towards the environment. Well obviously, if your religious beliefs tell you everything around you is alive and has spirit, you’re more likely to respect them. However, humans are still forgetful and selfish, and that’s where conflict starts.
People can remember spirits by being mindful of the areas where they live, or doing rituals and making offerings regularly. Forget the spirits and they might make people remember with drastic methods like sickness.
People have relationships with the spirits around them. Relationships with spirits are as varied and robust as human relationships. Shamans have spirits as friends and kumparis. These spirits grant their shaman friends power and knowledge; this is how shamans can heal. There are even accounts of people marrying spirits and having children with them.
If people and spirits can be friends, then there would also be enemies. There are accounts in the book about sorcerers with dark magic and curses. They are said to come from Satan, which is borrowed iconography from Christianity, but it goes to show there are hostile forces, not just friendly and helpful forces.
I think I could use this for my setting. Tawo, Aswang, Bantay Dagat, Umalagad, Diwata, and many more; they are all equally natives of the islands. There is compassion, there is indifference, there is conflict. There are allies, there are strangers, there are foes.
If there is conflict, what happens then? How do humans react? For this I think I can take pointers from how spirit healers do their job, as described by the book.
For spirit healers, illnesses are a disruption of harmony. To heal illnesses, you either strengthen and restore one’s power so they can fight through the illness, or you neutralize or expel the forces causing the disruption.
In RPGs, this kind of healing could be cause for quests. There is an herb deep in the forest that is needed by the victim to recover, go and find it! Or, if a party wants to take a more direct approach: someone in the Barangay is truly an Aswang and is eating the victim’s organs slowly, find them and destroy them!
It’s also common for healers to parley with the opposing party. This is good for the OSR style, where violence is better off as a last resort.
Illnesses in this context are directed towards one’s body, but I think you can also extend this to a community or even bigger contexts. If illnesses are disruptions of harmony, then couldn’t you categorize War, public disorder, or even natural phenomena like storms as disruptions, too? In a larger sense, isn’t colonization an illness as well?
This opens up a direction for players in my setting. Aside from participating in the zeitgeist of war and getting rich and powerful, they could be healers and problem solvers. Sort of the same job as witchers, now that I think about it.