babaylanism reconsidered

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I was not attracted to biblical studies not because I did not like the sedentary form ... from their more fortunate neighbors (the New Manila millionaires) they could ...

BABAYLANISM RECONSIDERED by Ferdinand D. Dagmang, Ph. D.

Eight years ago, I ventured into the study of Filipino folk religiosity to fulfill the requirements of my M.A in Theological Studies at Maryhill School of Theology (MST).1 I prepared myself to undergo further honing in theological analysis and to acquire a basic knowledge of anthropological field research—something needed to get a picture of the folks' religion. An additional training in theology was a task within the familiar field; the field research, however, proved to be not only an unfamiliar work but also one that required throwing myself into unfamiliar territories. Folk religiosity as an object of study was quite an uncommon choice for a student of MST like me. Most of my classmates and other schoolmates were then busy dabbling with Liberation Theology or the favorite scriptural studies. If you were a socalled “involved” student the logical choices for further studies would be those topics that could serve to intensify further your involvement, like Liberation Theology and Basic Ecclesial Communities. If you were a serious academician, you could channel your energies and talent into biblical studies. In fact, more than 70% of the MST theses produced so far are those of scriptural studies; and that is still the trend. This could show that the more sedentary research is not repulsive to many students. I was not attracted to biblical studies not because I did not like the sedentary form of research but because I was also that “involved”. But my involvement neither led me to study liberation theology nor BEC. There were some important reasons. When I was still a seminarian of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCD) I already had the chance to get into some community work albeit on a very limited scale like the modest task of gathering some squatter folks in Damayan Lagi, New Manila, Quezon City, for the regular Saturday prayer sessions, or some teenagers for our Sunday choir and community theater group. Towards the third year of my “involvement” I took part in the very challenging work of organizing and mobilizing squatter people in view of the impending demolition of their shanties. In this involvement I managed to integrate my expertise in conducting prayer meetings, choir sessions and theater presentations into addressing the broader land problem and squatters' dislocation. These issues were hot and in no time we were able to gather a broad representation of squatter folks for a series of meetings meant to meet the threat of demolition and dislocation. It was a sustained move which proved to be successful—the owners of the property did not press on with their original plan. Although the squatter folks were still under constant threat of future demolitions, this development was to be considered as our first taste of “victory.” It was for me a real baptism of fire, in the struggle with the squatter folks. When I left OCD I stayed with the 11th St., New Manila, CICM 2 community for a while. The congregation was kind to accommodate a stranger and wanderer, until I found my way among the squatter folks living in the same New Manila area. For about six months I stayed with the squatters who would then look at me as one, although of different kind, of their neighbors. It was now a case of knowing them from within their world, although they could not figure out why into their world must I throw myself. For a long time I breathed their air, I watched their games, I listened to their fights and to their music, I washed myself with the water from their illegal outlets, I absorbed their noise and even to a point internalized their coarse language. I had a chance to know them well. While I was in MST, I also frequented several political mobilizations/rallies, symposia, etc. organized by some politically militant groups, Christian groups among them, against the forces of the former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. I was working with the social activists and to some extent with militant Christian organizations. Perhaps because I was with them, I was also like them.


My study is entitled Debosyon Kay Santo Niño sa Calumpang: Isang Pagsusuri, Unpublished Thesis (Maryhill School of Theology, 1987). See also the review of Vicente Marasigan, "Notes and Comments: "Debosyon Kay Santo Niño sa Calumpang: A Case Study," Landas 1 (1987): 240-243. 2 Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a missionary religious congregation of Belgian origin. The CICM also owns Maryhill School of Theology located in New Manila, Quezon City.


But no, I was not like them. I was somehow different. Something that was brewing in my mind made me somehow different. All those times that I was in MST and with the activists, I was also with the common folks. When the familiar social activists shouted their slogans the familiar figure of my squatter neighbors who did not quite decipher the social activists' slogans of justice and freedom was in my mind. It was this gap in communication on the part of the activists and reception on the part of the folks that made me think about some questions, questions other than makibaka huwag matakot. It was in the face of seeming common folks' “indifference” to the issue of political emancipation that made me think: there must be something in the activists' message that did not jibe well with the folks' head; and there must be something in the activists' words or militant message that couldn't get across the folks' head or there must be something in the folks' head that competed with the activists' language. Many times I tried to ask myself why in the midst of utter deprivation majority of the squatter folks could still afford to ignore the analysis of the activists; why in utter impoverishment they were able to say “ganoon talaga ang buhay” when the social activists would point out the root causes of poverty and indicate to the folks a way out; why in glaring estrangement from their more fortunate neighbors (the New Manila millionaires) they could still call them ‘kapwa’ when the activists would call them ‘oppressors.’ Then the EDSA revolt happened—this made me dumb. I could not figure out why, without the exhortation of the radical left, the folks congregated in EDSA to face a formidable enemy. These were the same folks who would eventually send Marcos away. While many of the more militant activists could be credited for preparing many people's energies to gel for political struggle, I could not understand why the folks had left them alone and without company at the foot of Mendiola bridge in favor of EDSA. I was informed that one of the militant leaders suffered a heart attack for utter disbelief and frustration at the turn of events—unexpected, unpredictable events where the forces of the folks who through the years were “indifferent” and longsuffering would surface. And when they showed up we witnessed an extravaganza of their religiosity—something which the activists belittled. This I did not quite comprehend and I had wanted an answer. As I prepared to complete the required M.A. thesis, I set my mind to tackle that religiosity problem. I knew I had a very important problem. One question was clear to me: what was in the mind of the people that made them different from the activists? This was a question of discovery (partial, of course) of the folks' mind. That question I tried to wrestle with. And my thesis, I thought, could serve to answer it. My thesis helped me so much in understanding our countryfolks. It also deepened my understanding of folk Christianity. But if one must profit from it today, it must be studied in a new light for it contains so much stuff that can not rest with the interpretations that I gave eight years ago. Now, as a professor of Theological Ethics in MST, I re-read it using different tools of analysis. This re-reading has proven to be so enriching. It contributed further to my enlightenment as regards the nature of folk religion and our approaches to it. Moreover, it further made me think about folk religion’s implications for the practice of our faith that may either follow the mainstream Roman Catholic tradition or the more militant Christian liberationist line. The reflections that follow contain some of the insights that I have gained in revisiting the Devotion to Sto. Niño of Calumpang, Marikina. The Research I had to scout for an expert in folk religion and that I found in Prof. Prospero R. Covar of the University of the Philippines. He introduced me into his field, made it familiar as I gradually learned the art of producing primary ethnographic materials. We decided to delimit my study of folk religion and even agreed to concentrate on describing and examining the life of a religious group in Calumpang whose devotion is centered on the Santo Niño (Child Jesus). One thing was special in the ways of the group: their leader was an old man who reportedly was possessed by the Santo Niño. In this sapi by the Santo Niño the people congregated around the sinasapian to implore healing and blessings. I found out that this sapi phenomenon was central to the religious ceremonies of the Calumpang devotees. For 6 months I was their regular visitor. I tried not to miss their meetings every Wednesday, Saturday and first Friday of the month as well as the other feasts associated with the Holy Child. The 6-month field research was done from November 1985 up


to April 1986--this period covering the very important feast days identified with the Holy Child like Christmas and the Santo Niño feastday. One thing that was clarified initially was the method of field research or data gathering. Prof. Covar was a master. I was not a very good disciple but I learned fast. The method imparted on me was basically participatory and intersubjective. As such, it didn't just require from me a mastery of a technique but a more basic attitude of openness and sensitivity. As a budding anthropologist I had to learn the art of ethnography—the dictionary defines it as descriptive anthropology. Ethnography aims at reporting phenomenologically people's beliefs, rituals, groupings and practices. Thus the first requirement of bracketing my presuppositions was in order. So when the group of devotees acted and verbalized themselves I listened, observed and tried to be as open as possible to their ways and beliefs. Prof. Covar had made me adept in data gathering. Since the approach was intersubjective or participatory, it meant that I should not gather data while I interacted with them or joined in their activities. No tape recorders; although towards the later stage of my research I was already taking some photos of the place and the group's activities. That is why after every meeting with the group I had to get my journal when I got home and put into writing what I had observed. After so many months I was able to produce an ethnographic material in the form of journal entries which depicted much of the group's regular activities and sets of beliefs. My journal then became the material for dissection—a primary source akin to the annotations of the 16th century by the Spanish Morga, Chirino, de Plasencia and Pigafetta about our native beliefs and practices. My journal as a primary source for a study of folk religiosity was rich with entries on the practices, beliefs, rituals and organization of the local Calumpang group. Per se, these four areas of study on culture lent an organizing framework to my cluttered ethnographic material. But organizing them was different from making a sense out of them. A further step was needed: to look for a broader picture where this local picture of Calumpang would somehow fit. Re-Searching for Explanation I was not inclined to give the local picture a sense coherent with the usual universalized picture painted by the traditional official doctrine—making local folks' religion as merely local and thus lowly. This claim of universality readily treats the local Calumpang group as a misfit. Thus, it can only gain legitimacy if it fits itself into a universalized Roman Catholic framework. The local group could only be recognized if it abandons its peculiar practices and beliefs and be integrated into the center (the local parish run by a priest who called them fanatics). The primitive-religion model could not be used either since this would immediately put the local group as inferior to the universalized Roman Catholicism. This assumption of the primitive character of the local group's ways is rather sweeping since it tends to treat all elements in the folk religion as needing purification. This forgets the fact that many of the major religions' elements are really made of various cultural elements that entered their way syncretically, like some elements of the Latinized Christian mass and other Christian rites. This also forgets the fact that the local folksy culture could offer many lights to the Christian tradition. Something of an integrist approach where the local data is summoned to integrate itself into an extrinsic model could not be my approach. I saw so many of their practices that did not conform with the official branding of fanaticism. As already mentioned, the Calumpang group had a special focus on this non-Roman Catholic ritual of sapi, a so-called “spirit-possession.” In this ritual their recognized leader and educator in faith (Mang Bening) was believed to be used as a medium by the Santo Niño and sometimes by Jesus and on rare occasions by God the Father. In most of their meetings where Santo Niño presents himself through Mang Bening, healing was the central event where the “God-man encounter” happens. In instances where Jesus is believed to appear, there usually is no healing session but a pangaral, an exhortation or hortatory message on how to conduct one's life or how to deal with one's kapwa. It is interesting to note here the duplo or the Balagtasan tradition carried out by “Jesus” in the pangaral. When God the Father in Mang Bening appeared the setting becomes that of “fear and trembling” where the Father castigates the errant members or the more hard-hearted ones among the group. Generally, however, sessions were conducted in


a very light-hearted and informal, almost childish, manner. What can we expect when a child facilitates the running of affairs? But such a way was most welcome for the folks. The folks are at home with a child. Now, going back to that problem of making a sense of this particular phenomenon of sapi. What Big Picture could fit this small picture? My literature study on the topic led me to the discovery of the pre-Hispanic rituals of sapi among native babaylans (or catalonan, baglan, baylanes, etc.). These indigenous priestesses (and sometimes priests) of yesteryears were the recognized mediums of anito (spirit or spirit representation) worship. Many of the ethnographic materials written by the early colonizers point to this common or cultural practice of the natives. So we have in Juan de Plasencia's Customs of the Tagalogs3 an account of the beliefs, rituals and practices of the Tagalog natives. Although de Plasencia's perspective was derogatory to the native religion, I found a correspondence of the pre-Hispanic religion he described with the acculturated folk Catholicism of today. I found out that in pre-Hispanic times religion was healing and healing was a religious ceremony that the folks usually hold in places called simbahan their place of worship. In all these healing rituals (mag-aanito or magdidiwata) there was this babaylan who, while using herbs and other indigenous materials, called on the anito to take away sickness. Basic to this practice of propitiation is the underlying belief informing it--that everything that happens in this world is attributable to an anito of some kind. Benevolent and malevolent ones roam around our world. In all that happens, good or bad, we are supposed to call on these anitos to render to them gratitude for the benefits they shower on us or to plead for mercy or exemption from suffering in case of sickness and other misfortunes. In the many pre-Hispanic rituals of healing, sapi (or langkap, talaytay, suklob, sanib, tungtong) was common. In this sapi ritual the babaylan was supposed to be possessed by a benevolent anito who brings blessings and healing to sick people. Prayers and sacrifices were the normal offerings to the benevolent anito who is supposed to be more powerful than malevolent ones. Within these rituals-meetings people would also ask the anito in the babaylan other favors like protection of their crops from locusts or their lives from the dangerous buwaya that inhabit their rivers. In the people's gatherings in a simbahan there actually is a liturgy, a work or a drama, where the anito and the people touch each other in propitiation and healing carried out through the person of the medium. This historical data, at least, provided me a bigger picture within which I could fit today's folk beliefs in sapi of Santo Niño. Though there was a need to investigate further on the nature of the transformation from the rites and practices of yesteryears to today's acculturated Catholic rites and practices, at least I found an indigenous connection. Researchers of religion consider in acculturation (the encounter between two differing cultures) an explanation for the emergent syncretism in the folk's Catholicism.4 Thus the encounter of native pre-Hispanic culture with the Roman Catholicism brought by the Spaniards produced an acculturated folk Catholicism. The expectation of colonizers in their efforts at evangelization was to make the dominant Roman Catholic symbols, rituals and practices colonize and supplant the native beliefs and practices. The natives, however, had an autonomous way of reception. The indigenous reception could be called a syncretic way of making the dominant Roman Catholic symbols, rituals and practices mix or dance with the elements of native religion. However, those who resisted the colonizers-evangelizers did not welcome change. These religious personalities (like


Juan de Plasencia, "Customs of the Tagalogs," in Philippine Islands VII, ed. Blair and Robertson (Rizal: Cacho Hermanos, 1980). See also the accounts of Morga, Chirino and Pigafetta. 4 See Antoine Vergote, "Folk Catholicism: Its Significance, Values and Ambiguities," Philippine Studies 30 (1982), pp. 526; F. Landa Jocano, Folk Christianity (Quezon City, Philippines: Trinity Research Institute, 1981); F. Landa Jocano, "Conversion and Patterning of Christian Experience," in Acculturation in the Philippines: Essays on Changing Societies, ed. Peter G. Gowing and William Henry Scott (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1971); Jaime Neri, "Syncretism in FolkCatholicism," in Readings in Philippine Religious Values, ed. Edward Gerlock (mimeographed), 40-45; Valeriano Sitoy Jr., "The Encounter Between Christianity and Bukidnon Animism," The South East Asia Journal of Theology X:2-3 (October 1968-January 1969): 53-79. See also Aylward Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988), pp. 7ff.


Pagali, Tapar and Tamblot--babaylans in their own right)5 even formed their own armies and fought the Spaniards. But, generally, mainly because of the sustained colonization-evangelization campaign, the common folks became the acculturated Catholic. Most acculturated Catholics did not and could not shed off their native beliefs. A more remarkable breed of acculturated Catholics were those who, notwithstanding the official Church's ban or prohibition of many native practices, were still able to squeeze into the accepted Roman Catholic beliefs many indigenous practices and rituals. One of these practices was the sapi ritual where the anito is now a Roman Catholic saint or Jesus himself and the sinasapian already a baptized Christian; the healing session integral to the ritual is now within the context of a Christian para-liturgical celebration like the one practised in Calumpang. Many other groups similar to the local Calumpang group may be found in so many places around the country, not to mention the babaylans of our non-Christian tribal countryfolks like the Mandayas of Mindanao and the Mangyans of Mindoro. Many of today's folks continue with the pre-Hispanic tradition of gathering in chapels. The only difference is that before the Spanish colonization-evangelization these places of worship were called simbahan--now the term simbahan is attached to the colonizer-evangelizer Iglesia and the original simbahan a mere kapilya or bisita. A case of transformation happens here where the local folks were deprived of what was theirs. This case of the simbahan becoming the dominant tag for the colonizers' Iglesia and the former simbahan forced to receive from the colonizers-evangelizers an inferior tag is not simply a tag-switching, but following the dynamics of displacement, deprivation-appropriation and imposition. The natives' simbahan is displaced and appropriated by the colonizer who gets an inferior tag and imposes it on the natives who are now content in calling their former simbahan a bisita or kapilya. Something formely autonomous becomes an adjunct of an implanted foreign entity. The natives must be disoriented here. An edifice they previously recognized as their own has now an unfamiliar name, and the foreign edifice gets the name of their familiar place of worship which, on the other hand, they can no longer call their own and even beyond their control. The poor folks who still carry with them their native beliefs and practices would later on carry out in their bisita or the kapilya of their homes their more familiar rituals clothed in Christian symbols and language. In many of these bisita or kapilya they take charge. But the dynamics of displacement, appropriation-deprivation and imposition resulted in the marginalization of these bisita or kapilya gatherings. As marginalized groups, they are deprived, misnamed and dominated. Thus the sapi phenomenon, even if Christianized by the group, is actually a religious expression of folks who are marginalized, deprived and dominated. Needless to add the deprecating character of the scientific mind's labelling of a primitive character on these native practices. I could not readily take up the one-sided imposition of the traditional Roman Catholic normative picture of itself or the modern scientist's position or our activists' Marxist-scientific branding of religion as opiate. Thus I tried to discover the positive things found in the sapi phenomenon as well as in the healing sessions of the Calumpang group. Fr. Lode Wostyn, cicm,6 was there who helped me evaluate the data. He showed me how by taking Edward Schillebeeckx's idea of the Christian life as a framework for my evaluation.7 In other words, the picture of Schillebeeckx about the Christian life was used to measure the fitness of the picture that I saw in the devotion of the Samahan to Santo Niño. This, at that time, was the most I could do. Today, on hindsight, I would say that the Schilebeeckx framework came too fast and given too much importance. What could have been done was to sustain the reflection by not only focusing on the indigenous folk beliefs and practices as object of study, but also as prospective fonts of generative ideas that could serve to build a local framework for analysis. Prof. Covar's 5

See Teodoro A. Agoncillo and Milagros C. Guerrero, History of the Filipino People (Quezon City: Garcia Publishing, 1990), pp. 105ff. 6

Fr. Lode Wostyn is a professor of Systematic Theology at Maryhill School of Theology.


See Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ (New York: Seabury Press, 1980), pp. 638ff.


studies that time were not yet my focus for more constitutional indigenous reflections. Today, many of his anthropological studies have indicated a more promising direction for the emergence of a Pilipinolohiya.8 I wish to present here some of those directions for an indigenous sourcing of materials for analysis. I will present the idea of a folkloric anthropology. I will try to look at the nature of folk practices from the point of view of folkloric analysis. In such an exercise I will try to draw out some of the insights we gain from our folks and pose them as challenge to the dominant Roman Catholic traditions. A Folkloric Hermeneutics It is customary to look at man/woman from the repository of insights about the human being in the many philosophical traditions like Platonic idealism, Stoicism, Augustinian separatism, Aristotelian hylomorphism and the more modern schools of Western European personalism, existentialism and materialism. Most of these schools have the tendency to deliver anthropological insights which are generalizable in character. They deliver frameworks that pose as Big Pictures within which other small pictures must fit themselves. Some smaller pictures indeed fit themselves into these Big Pictures but the consequence of being swallowed by the lattter is a great loss for the smaller picture's unique dynamism. But we must remember that these pictures posing as Big Pictures really started as smaller pictures themselves. As they gained wider acceptance their local nature is forgotten. Take for example the case of the personalist tradition. The concept of the person in personalism is itself a social construct, a form of social strategy, aimed against systems that undermine the dignity of every individual. Personalism has its own history in its challenge to every form of totalitarianism or system that swallowed and determined individual identity. It has gradually developed in history in the way of a progressive differentiation from homogenous constructs that subsume the private into the public: polis, congregation, guild, Christendom, State, commune, Party, etc. As a system, personalism cannot assume a univocal central position for it will defeat its original inspiration--a liberating critique of closed, authoritarian and integrist systems. To assume a central position is also to undermine other possibilities of understanding the human being--giving personalism a privileged generalizable status that forgets its local origins. The recent studies of Prof. Covar on folkloric analysis has shed light on the ways our folks view the human being. His Pilipinolohiya is a proper picture within which we should initially fit those beliefs and practices associated with the phenomenon of sapi and healing. One thing that is needed, though, is that cultural anthropology must now acquire a more philosophical approach, i.e., to become a philosophical anthropology. Here, the sustaining of reflection à la philosophical speculation should not immediately and totally depend on the Western tradition's Big Pictures. Our local culture already provides the primary resources for a sustained indigenous analysis. This should mean that the Western tradition may now be considered as providing secondary materials or pictures for further analysis. This means that in theology one may have to build first a Pilipinolohiya as a tool for theological reflection. Thus, a jump to Schillebeeckx without Pilipinolohiya is not very promising for an inculturated theology. Schillebeeckx, one must not forget, also utilized several philosophical anthropologies developed from within his own Western European cultural tradition. Covar in his seminal essay Kaalamang Bayang Dalumat ng Pagkataong Pilipino9 provides an indigenous source about how our folks look at the human being. For our folks the human being is “taken for granted” as a vessel. She is like a jar (banga) which has a labas, loob and lalim. Covar used the metaphor of the banga to describe this three-dimensional picture of the person and the tambalang-lapit (close-congruent pairing) nature of the many characteristics attached to the human being. Just like a jar, the person is a container of different elements; say, a container of halo-halo, bulanglang, pinakbet or karekare. So, she may be one who is “saksakan ng bait” or “saksakan ng malas”—a container where things may be deposited.


See Prospero R. Covar, "Pilipinolohiya," in Pilipinolohiya: Kasaysayan, Pilosopiya at Pananaliksik, ed. Violeta V. Bautista at Rogelia Pe-Pua (Quezon City: Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, 1991), pp.37-45. 9 Prospero R. Covar, Kaalamang Bayang Dalumat ng Pagkataong Pilipino (Quezon City: Dr. Jose Cuyegkeng Memorial Library and Information Center, 1993).


Regarding the tambalang-lapit analytics, the labas is what is shown and externally known, but which must correspond to the loob of the person and this labas and loob must be supported by the lalim as salalayan consisting of kaluluwa and budhi. The fundamental pairing of the labas and the loob may be seen in the expectations that the mukha (labas) should be a congruent expression of the isip or diwa (loob); what is expressed by one's dibdib (labas; as in pag-iisang-dibdib) should be congruent to one's puso (loob; as in pagtataling-puso); the budhi (loob) of the living person speaks of her kaluluwa (labas) when she dies. Let us apply this labas-loob-lalim dynamics in human behavior formation. A child acquires her personal character/habits primarily from her habitat--at home within a wider socio-cultural habitat which in turn is within a broader, i.e., global habitat. Responsible for the child's development are the parents who act as the primary agents of socialization. This means that these parents live the socio-cultural ethos at home where the child slowly internalizes those standards of behavior which our community or society marks as acceptable or normative. In that homely setting the child is seen as “hinuhubog” or “nahuhubog sa pag-alalay ng mga magulang” where “paghubog” means pagsasaloob and pagsasanay. “Masasanay siyang maging mabait” becomes an expectation for the parents. As the child acquires the habit of “behaving” we may call her “mabait na” which generally means “naisaloob na niya ang kabaitan.” She has internalized “kabaitan” already. As the child grows, her peers recognize in her that quality of “kabaitan.” First impressions of this “kabaitan” will elicit responses such as: mukhang mabait or hayag ang kabaitan. When some people say “pang-ibabaw lang 'yan” to such a hayag na mukha they are actually requiring another element: the loob. If in her loob is pangit and does not correspond with what is shown in her labas then people call her doble-kara or pakitang-tao lang. Thus it is not only required that the loob is good but that the labas and loob are congruent. So even if we have a loob that is good it must be shown through our labas; and when the labas is seen it must be something that genuinely resonates from the real loob. If the jar is empty the sound it produces is hollow and noisy--that we know. But then a person cannot be called real mabait if she is only mabait for a day or for a year or even for ten years. She must be able to sustain that kabaitan for life. If she is a totoong mabait, this totoong kabaitan also needs a patunay in her action-pangangatawan (“kailangang patunayan niya ang sinasabi niyang totoo”)—and what she has pinangangatawanan is founded on a firm salalayan: the budhi and kaluluwa. What is now considered as firm salalayan of this kabaitan must be the lifesustaining congruent pairs of budhi and kaluluwa. When a person dies her kaluluwa separates from her and judged according to what she has done or what she has been when she was still alive. Internal to the person is the budhi that qualifies the state or character of her kaluluwa now socially recognized as either good or bad: napatunayan na siya ay isang mabuting tao. Among our folks, the ones who have made patunay of their credibility are those whose loob, labas and lalim have been recognized as whole and not fragmented. They are those whose labas have been seen to be congruent with their loob and that their lalim have been seen to be talagang malalim and durable because they have undergone testings like trials and suffering where they came out healed and victorious. Those proven in the crucible of suffering are perceived to have acquired exceptional strength and wisdom. They are persons whose loob is now clean, open and ready to receive the higher gifts of kabanalan. Some of these people are conscious of themselves as special members of their community, called to serve their kapwa. This sense of mission is also recognized by the members of the community. In fact, only those who have been proven by fire are to be recognized as the folks' genuine religious leaders. Many times the extent of suffering qualifies the quality of the gifts or powers that settle in the loob of the suferrer. Thus persons who come out alive and sound after a series of terrible illnesses are considered to be repositories of wisdom and possessing extraordinary sensitivity to the divine powers. This perception by the people will be validated by these chosen persons' moral behavior as well as by their ability to heal. In the pre-Hispanic times, some persons would have the experience of being “filled” (possessed) by spirits, sometimes by benevolent ones. In our present context, both the medium and the spirits are Christianized. The spirits are now the saints and the divine persons of the Trinity. As the spirits fill the container the latter is cleansed and transformed into a worthy vessel. Those recognized to be transformed persons after undergoing trials become the recognized leaders of their community once the people see in them signs of moral transformation or the ability to heal sickness and the ability to give sound advice to people.


The babaylan was the recognized leader of every community--as moral educator, healer and priestess. She was perceived to be the repository of goodness, proven by her words and deeds. In religious ceremonies the babaylan was often “possessed” and used by the benevolent spirits who were the sources of healing and other forms of blessings. In this ritual of sapi we see the ideal characteristic trait of a person in her labas, loob and lalim at play. In sapi the sinasapian (medium) is the appropriate or worthy container/vessel in whose clean and open loob the spirit may dwell for a time and accomplish its purpose. The body becomes the proper tahanan (home) of the spirit. Since sapi is a religious event, it must be seen as a rite. From within our cultural anthropological assumptions such a ritual could be given a sense. Sapi as a rite may thus be understood as a liturgical drama where the people, through a worthy medium, encounters in the medium's labas the sacred inside her loob. The loob of the medium as inhabited by the spirit makes the medium's labas the immediate representation of the divine. This then is the indigenous ideal characteristic way of touching the divine and the ideal characteristic way of the divine touching people: immediate and sensuous. Sapi is a sensuous contact with the otherwise unreachable and spiritual deity. Through the rite of sapi the people experience themselves as being visited and touched by the sacred; such a touch is experienced as healing and making whole of broken lives. Their lives being transformed, their illnesses being taken away as the spirit through the medium breathes life into them or soothes away their sufferings. The acculturated rite of sapi where the spirit of the Santo Niño or the Virgin Mary takes the place of the anito as healer has to be studied within its own turf. To measure its value from within, we may have to emphasize these rites as functional and meaningful for the folks who believe in them. But the following passage from the Christian scriptures may also help us to treat it in a very positive light: John said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk. 9:38-40) Some Lessons My more immediate concern now is to discover in those folk beliefs and practices some lessons for the enrichment of our Christian tradition. I am not saying here that we should become folk Christians ourselves to be able to effectively live out our Christian faith in the Philippine context. From our discussion I may just emphasize that we have to listen to what our folks tell us by their tenacity in clinging to their most cherished beliefs and practices. What are some of the things that we can learn from our folks? Regarding the common folks' religion as characteristically immediate and sensuous. From this we can learn to criticize the traditional ways which overemphasize very Latinized and cerebral approaches to religion. When folks gather around the sinasapian to encounter the possessing spirit they actually are bringing their whole katawan before a deity who can also be touched in the katawan of the medium. The deity becomes alive as it dwells in the loob of the modern “babaylan” who now allows herself to be used. Our way of celebrating the liturgy is so often foreign to the mentality of our folks that when they are inside the churches to hear mass they still need the more material and sensuous rosaries and scapulars. When the deity is presented as a healing spirit in the person of the babaylan the liturgy becomes a dramatic, i.e., sensual encounter with the sacred. We need to retrieve this kind of sensuality in our religion not just to make our liturgical celebrations more alive but really to be able to reach and touch the minds, hearts and flesh of our folks. Regarding the babaylan's qualification as a model of formation for religious leaders. The way a babaylan is recognized as leader of a community is a rich indigenous resource for the re-evaluation of our models of formation. Many of our Greek Fathers of the Church in the formative years of the Christian communities have regarded the philosopher (male) as


the secular model of spiritual perfection. Many of the religious communities formed in those times have internalized the ways and worldviews of these philosophers who emphasized self-mastery, moderation and even purification through purgation and illumination as in the case of St. Augustine who idealized the ways of Plotinus. These philosophers were cultural models of behavior whose ways have entered into the practices of Christian monks and contemplatives. Our indigenous folks offer the person of the babaylan as the model of behavior and religious leadership. Can't we also follow the examples of the Fathers of the Church by valuing the ways of the babaylan as a rich resource for the rethinking of our ways of recognizing and identifying religious leaders? Think of the way a Roman Catholic cleric is chosen—the candidate is not “required” to pass through life's testing through the “crucible of suffering” before he gets ordained. Thus, even if his labas is not congruent with his loob he may still be ordained; and we ask the folks--actually we order them--to impute by imagining in the canonically ordained priest those qualities of a leader who will bring them close to God. The more sensible folks actually marvel at the idea of many ordained priests not being tested in the crucible of suffering but who are still to be recognized as their wise leaders. Much more, their religious leaders are now male priests. This is probably another case of displacement, appropriation-deprivation and imposition. They had their own priestesses who now are marginalized and supplanted by priests whose qualities they cannot recognize as bearing the qualities of their formerly revered moral and religious leaders. Regarding the patunay as a verificatory principle of morality. Our classical, idealistic and overly-Western inclination to the idea of truth as reflexive is another anomaly that our folks cannot fathom. We usually speak the truth and this is something we can express through our speech. The speaker communicates truth to the hearers and the latter ought to believe in this truth even if the speaker, like the preacher, is not living the truth. Anybody who has claims to the truth is in sure footing if such truth is already defined as such by the authorities, like doctrines defined by the magisterium. But this idea of truth fails to touch our folks. It is not only the patotoo that is needed but also the patunay if they are expected to believe in our preaching. Going back to our labas, loob and lalim triad, what we express must be congruent to our loob, and such loob is said to be napatunayan if it is expressed as in pinangatawanan (it is made into flesh); and surely this must be founded on a stable and pure salalayan, the budhi. For the folks, without the patunay, our rhetorics are hollow sounds from empty jars. Regarding the healing rituals. Today's emphasis on wholistic health and the more ecologically sound sourcing of medicines put the modern babaylans at the forefront. Their approaches to healing also confirms the insight of today's wholistic medicine by their recognition of the moral and physical aspects of healing, not to mention its religious aspect. Our rituals which still overemphasize the working of the left part of our brain render our spirituality fragmented and partial.10 There is too much rationality (in terms of predictability and control) in the ways we approach the divine. The intuitive and symbolic ways of approaching the sacred as part of our tradition may be re-emphasized by the ways of the babaylan and their followers who put great emphasis on the “presence” of the sacred in the immediate moment. This we need to recapture. The babaylan points to a healthy direction.


Agoncillo, Teodoro A. and Guerrero, Milagros C. History of the Filipino People. Quezon City: Garcia Publishing, 1990.

10 Cf. the following: "The flight from our sensuality is built into an educational, cultural, or religious view of the world that rewards only the left side of the brain. ...the neglected side of the brain in western culture since the eighteenth century is the yin side which includes darkness, night, receptivity, and sensuousness. To recover sensuality and spirituality is to recover our psychic holiness that has been lost under the influence of the Enlight-enment when truth became exclusively identified with "clear and distinct ideas" of daytime and male-dominated scientific problem-solving." Matthew Fox, All the Way Home: A Guide to Sensual, Prophetic Spirituality (Santa Fe, NM: Bear and Company, 1981), p. 7.


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