Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Rizal's Poltergesit

(I heard this story from a Jesuit professor of mine. I will resume blogging 'regularly' sometime toward the end of Lent; right now, though, school requirements are killing me. I take solace in quirky, curious little anecdotes like this one.)

One of the more curious apocryphal anecdotes about the life of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines' national hero, held that he was tormented by a poltergeist for three days and three nights. The story goes that, upon his exile to the quaint island of Dapitan in Mindanao, Rizal immediately set about to work as an ophthalmologist. There, he shacked up with his Hong Kong raised Irish paramour, the lovely Josephine Bracken. Now, Rizal, like a lot of his fellow illustrados in the Philippine Revolution against Spain, was a Mason. This meant that he could not contract an ecclesiastical marriage with his beloved; but during his entire stay in Dapitan, he considered Josephine as his lawfully wedded wife.

One night, the two awoke to strange noises in the house. Pots and pans were banging, strange whistling sounds howling through the dead of night. Josephine was alarmed, and even Rizal himself was left wondering as to the source of the previous night's strange events. This went on for two more nights, the attacks getting noisier with each passing night. On the fourth day, Rizal resolved to contact the local priest, a Jesuit, indeed, one of his former teachers at the Ateneo. The priest addressed the first question to Josephine: 'Are you an espiritista?'The woman answered in the negative, stating that she had been raised a strict Catholic and had been one all her life; to believe in such things would be superstition. The priest blessed the house, and told Josephine to say some special prayers. This she did, and on the fourth night, they were left in peace.

Somehow, Josephine got wind of the news that her stepfather had died in Hong Kong. This she reported to Rizal; whereupon he, amazed, immediately wrote the local parish priest, thanking him profusely, and ending his letter with the statement: 'Truly there is no greater proof of the immortality of the soul.'

This may seem like a trivial episode in the life of Rizal, but if it were true, then it would have planted the seeds of Rizal's rejection of Masonry at the end of his life. This remains a particularly thorny issue today, with nationalistic and anti-clerical historians claiming that he never recanted. The Jesuits of his alma mater, on the other hand, are certain that he rejected Masonry, and that he had confessed three times and received Holy Communion most devoutly on the eve of his execution. I believe that he rejected Masonry, if only because he never seemed to doubt the existence and providence of a personal God, even in his time as a Mason. Fr. Javier de Pedro argues very eloquently for the retraction of Rizal in his excellent book 'Rizal Through the Glass Darkly'; do check it out if you can.


Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for the story. Is there a scholarly source?

Good luck with your requirements!

Archistrategos said...

Hi, I asked our professor and he mentioned that this account appeared in a scholarly journal called 'Philippine Studies' back in 2001. :)

christopher said...

There's nothing in that Philippine Studies article I sent you about Josephine finding out that her adoptive father actually died. Josephine did leave in August for Australia looking for her real father, it's conceivable she found out during this trip of her adoptive father's death (if he had died indeed). The part about the "proof of the immortality of the soul" was actually included in the note he sent to the priest the next day, asking for an exorcism, not in a later letter. I wonder where the professor got that info or if it's just become part of the story handed down by the Jesuits over time.

Archistrategos said...

Hmm I'll have to check again. I was in a hurry when I checked that article and did not have pen and paper with me. And thank you for your email :)