The Babaylan spirit

ESSENCE - Ligaya Rabago-Visaya (The Freeman) - November 14, 2020 - 12:00am

The young generation may find it odd or very much unheard of in what I love doing. I love dancing in a ritual form what is considered as primitive yet has a long-established socio-spiritual groundwork in Philippine history.

In school gatherings at the University of the Philippines Cebu, I have performed such ritual a countless times in Gender and Development-sponsored activities, during the national conference of the Sociological Society of the Philippines, and during the Valediction Ceremony for the UP Cebu graduates of 2020.

Just recently, I was grateful and honored to have been invited by Caridad “Ms. A” Guivelondo of Palm Grass Heritage Hotel to perform a ritual during the convergence of passionate groups that champion the ideals of the babaylans. My ritual centered on the four elements of spirituality: fire, air, water, and earth.

The forum is aptly titled “SYODI!” Witches or Spiritual Leaders?” where gender rights leaders and activists of a national organization, Cebu, and Iloilo looked back to the time when women and “feminized” men were the spiritual leaders in the community. Fr. Brian Brigoli, chairman of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission of the Cultural Heritage of the Church, also shed light on traces of the babaylan influence on Cebu folk Christianity.

Bahaghari spokesperson Rey Valmores-Salinas, Iloilo Pride Team chairperson Irish Inocete, and Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector (CURLS) President Magdalena Robinson also shared their insights on the babaylan and today's gender discrimination in the workplace.

But what really is the significance of such practice? Is it still relevant to the present time?

It is important to note from the Center for Babaylan Studies website that indigenous Philippine communities recognize a woman or man as a babaylan, someone who has the ability to mediate with the spirit world, has her own spirit guides, gifts of healing and prediction. A ritualist, a diviner, a chanter, in mediating with the spirits, she has the gift of moving to the spirit world or non-ordinary states of existence. She is called by other names in the other languages of the indigenous Philippine peoples as Dawac, Balyan, Ma-Aram, Mumbaki, and many others.

In contemporary contexts, the babaylan name is used in urban Philippines or in diasporic Filipino cultures, by those who are motivated by the spirit in which the primary babaylans carried out their work: the spirit of revolt against colonization, their belief in sacred wholeness, their love of motherland, the desire to serve their communities in the achievement of justice and peace.

I would like to pursue the last two works that we should do as Filipinos, one of which is our love for our country and our utmost desire for service. By looking beyond ourselves, anchoring our attempts at these two would ignite our selfless desire.

Filipinos everywhere can be empowered by traditions preserved, upheld, passed on by the babaylans. Filipino leaders can individually and collectively strengthen, evolve and uphold this intensifying, re-emerging respect for indigenous traditions and identity, and can in turn empower communities they serve.

After all, because we have responded to a call for leadership in advocacy, activism, teaching, healing, spirituality and vision, we can bring the babaylan traditions within us.

My hope is to illuminate our young generation with the indigenous babaylan wisdom and spirit that can inspire us in our daily lives and enable the healing and evolution of the Filipino soul.

We are warriors of our past, healers to the broken, teachers to the new generation, and visionaries for a better future. There is babaylan in us.


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