"Pagtatawas" is a ritual in psycho-medicine in Filipino Psychology (but considered just as a Filipino superstition in Western Psychology) where an affliction or psychological disorder is diagnosed by interpreting the form produced in a basin of water as heated alum or molten wax drop from a lighted candle.

Earlier and in some rural areas in the Philippines, alum (i.e., hydrated aluminum potassium sulfate called tawas in the vernacular) is ritualistically used by the albularyo or medicine man for diagnosis of a variety of health conditions: a child's incessant crying, frequent fatigue, or even failure to conceive. The tawas is used to 'cross' (sign of the cross) the forehead and other suspicious or ailing parts of the body as prayers are being whispered (bulong or oracion). It is then placed on glowing embers, removed when it starts to crack, then transferred to a small basin of water [1]. As it cools, its new form spreads on the water surface and assumes a shape that may suggest the cause of the illness, often one of several indigenous forces: dwarfs, devils or other evil spirits (na-nuno, na-kulam, na-demonyo). The water in the vehicle is then used to anoint the ailing part or parts of the body to counteract the evil forces or illness. The tawas is then discarded and thrown westward, preferably into the setting sun.[2]

Presently and in most areas, it is an albularyo who simply lights and holds the candle during the ritual. In some, it is the albularyo's assistant or the afflicted person who holds the candle, but almost invariably, it is the albularyo who interprets the vague forms and shapes produced by the wax as it solidifies in the basin of water. An albularyo may see supernatural beings displeased as cause of the illness in the shapes and forms, and suggest some cleansing ritual or peace offering. Variations have also been observed lately where the 'albularyo' no longer use alum, but instead employ a variety of materials such as eggs, mirrors, plain paper, cigarettes[3], chewing gum, chicken feathers, the liver of a newly slaughtered chicken or pig, etc.

Filipino psychologist Jose Fadul observes both consistencies and inconsistencies in the ritual and suggests that the diagnoses obtained can be explained in terms of the stock knowledge of the albularyo and recovery from illness must be largely due to placebo effect.[4] He notes that that the method of interpretations in pagtatawas can be compared with the earlier methods of interpretations in the Rorschach inkblot test, and thus, is expected to be rejected by rival schools of thoughts in psychology. Furthermore, he believes that pagtatawas still flourish in many rural areas in the Philippines because medical facilities remain expensive and inaccessible[5].


  1. SITO Artchive: 'Pagtatawas' by Jose A. Fadul
  2. Tawas (Alum): Miscellaneous Therapies in Philippine Alternative Medicine
  3. FMAdigest
  4. Public Forum on Witchcraft and Illnesses. Rizal Technological and Polytechnic Institute, Morong, Rizal. July 24, 1988.
  5. 100% PINOY (Kapuso Network's cultural program on GMA7 featuring Filipino Culture and Ingenuity. Hosted by Miriam Quiambao and Joaquin Valdes, aired internationally through GMA Pinoy TV. "Bata, bata, paano ka ginawa?" episode aired August 28, 2008. Pinoy culture, beliefs and practices about "paglilihi, pagbubuntis, panganganak at pag-aalaga sa bata". Actual interview with Dr. Jose A. Fadul held in De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Manila on August 22, 2008

See alsoEdit

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