What does babaylan mean?

Babaylan is a Filipino word that refers specifically to an individual or a group of healers, mostly women, who were acknowledged by friends and family as possessing extraordinary gifts… having a gift of vision; an ability to see through schemes or situations and later advise on future plans… or the gift for healing; a specific touch or intuited or passed-on knowledge to specific processes of ‘fixing’ and ‘putting’ people and things together. The first priority of all Babaylan [is] her community.
— Carlos Villa.

Philippine indigenous 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, and is given gifts of healing, foretelling, and insight. She may also have knowledge of healing therapies such as hilot, arbularyo. She is a ritualist, a chanter, diviner. She has the gift of traveling to the spirit world or non-ordinary states of reality in order to mediate with the spirits. Babaylans are called by other names in the other languages of Philippine indigenous communities: Mombaki, Dawac, Balyan or Balian, Katalonan, Ma-Aram, Mangngallag, Mumbaki, Mambunong.

A Question of a Babaylan Tradition and Regionalism

(This was a very good question posted at a photo of two of our members in indigenous dress at the CFBS album)
Q. Hi, you have Apayao costumes of the Cordillerans. How could these be Babaylan? I’m confused. Babaylan is Visayan. Apayao is Northern Luzon amidst the Gran Cordillera in the Philippines. Igorots don’t recognize Babaylan spirituality. 😉 Igorots don’t recognize Babaylan spirituality. 😉

A. Our Apayao /Isneg clothing is a tribute to our ancestral ties to the region. Thank you for reminding us that it is important to point out the specific Philippine region and tradition that our dress represents. With such a diverse plurality of peoples and cultures in the Philippines it IS important to stress the local cultural manifestations and it is just as important to emphasize practices and beliefs that are similar across all of them.

The role of Babaylan has parallels throughout the archipelago, such as the Bagobo baylan, the Ilocano and Pangasinan baglan, and is known in other regions by the terms mangngallag, mumbaki, mambunong and katalonan. Because of the many cultures and languages within the Philippine Islands, other words are used, but the role is the same.

For practical purposes, “babaylan” was chosen to universally include all of the above.
The Center for Babaylan Studies is an organization that seeks to promote all indigenous and spiritual traditions from all parts of the Philippines. Its work is not restricted to one geographic location (i.e. the Visayas). As such we have members from Mindanao, the Visayas, and Luzon including the Cordillera.

If we were to take a non-Filipino word to describe the various healers/spiritual practitioners, a “shaman” would be the closest. Some of our members, in their writings for a Western/Westernized audience, sometimes interchange shaman, “shaman-priest,” or “priestess” but our members also strive to use the local term when referring to a specific person, region, or ethnolinguistic group. Otherwise, it IS indeed a challenge to use English terms to describe or explain our Philippine traditions.

Let us remain aware that throughout history and up to the present, European/Western and Christian chroniclers and conquerors of indigenous peoples have referred to shamans and other such practitioners as “witch doctors” and given them savage, barbarian, demonized and overall disparaging connotations to reduce them as inferior. Decolonization involves mitigating such prejudices and bias that colonization/westernization has programmed against the beauty and richness of our indigenous legacy.

Reclaiming ancient wisdom and esoteric wealth is a global task for humanity. There are universal practices found among old cultures that are considered indigenous traditions, which includes the belief that everything houses a spirit and/or the belief in communion with the ancestors. Our Filipino practices are no exception. CFBS strives to uplift our indigenous spirituality, which is universal to our people.

For full view of the lively discussion that came up from this question please view this link.http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?op=1&view=global&subj=1592258326&pid=1174559&id=1592258326&oid=96742027847&fbid=1481440287955


Questions and Answers On Becoming a Babaylan:

Q. How and who identifies a Babaylan*?

A. In the Philippines’ indigenous communities, the Babaylan is identified by her community. The community recognizes the Babaylan as someone who has the ability to mediate with the spirit world, has her own spirit guides, and is given gifts of healing, foretelling, and insight. She may also have knowledge of healing therapies such as hilot, arbularyo. She is a ritualist, a chanter, diviner.

In contemporary contexts, whether in urban Philippines or in Filipino diasporic communities, the Babaylan name is used by those who are inspired by the spirit in which the primary Babaylans carried out their work: the spirit of revolution against colonization, their belief in Sacred Wholeness, their love of mother country, the desire to serve their communities in achieving justice and peace.

*The Babaylan can be male or female or transgender. The use of the feminine gender in this FAQ is inclusive

Q. How is it bestowed to the person – is there a ritual or does a fellow Babaylan grant this title?

A. A Babaylan doesn’t usually self-ascribe. The community knows who she is and they may recognize and acknowledge her as a Babaylan.
Sister Mary John Mananzan** says: “The Babaylan in me recognizes the Babaylan in you.” When culture-bearers like Sister Mary John says this, she is acknowledging the influence of the Babaylans in her life and her own integration of the Babaylan spirit in her own life and vocation to serve.

**Sister Mary John Mananzan is President of St Scholastica College. Her chapter, “The Babaylan in Me” was her keynote speech at the FAWN2000 conference and is included in the anthology, Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous” edited by Leny Strobel and published by Ateneo de Davao University in 2010.

Q. Is Babaylan a title? Do you refer to yourselves as Babaylan?

A. Babaylans are called by other names in the other languages of indigenous communities: Mombaki, Dawac, Balyan or Balian, Catalonan, Ma-Aram. However, modern Filipinos may remember the arbularyos, hilots who may also have the gift of traveling to the spirit world or non-ordinary states of reality in order to mediate with the spirits.
Those of us who are organizing the CFBS and the conference refer to ourselves as Babaylan-inspired out of respect for the primary Babaylans in the Philippines who are land-based in their indigenous communities.

Q. What is/are the criteria/charateristics for determining a Babaylan?

A. Please see Questions for You below.
If you read Katrin de Guia’s book on Kapwa: The Self in the Other, she refers to “tacit knowing” as a way to knowledge and wisdom. Babaylan practice/work is a life-long process and it cannot be acquired in a short cut “how-to-become a babaylan” manner. Our tendency to ask for a manual on “how –to” is also a cultural conditioning that we must recognize. Wisdom and the work of the spirit do not lend itself easily to such requirements. That is why we need a community in which to articulate our language and concepts and our practices related to the Babaylan tradition.

Q. If there was a handbook on ‘becoming Babaylan’ what would the first five bullets be?

A. Again, please see Questions for You below. Additionally, you may want to peruse this:
We think it’s important to recognize the need for the process of decolonization as a path to the Babaylan especially for those of us who do not come from land-based indigenous communities. Our colonial history has over-determined our ways of thinking and being and we need to shed off the colonial layers of clothing we have been wearing in order to begin to remember our own Indigenous souls.

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Questions and Answers On Babaylan Work in the Philippines:

Q. How can we further deepen our connection with our Filipino roots?

A. You can explore and discover traditions and beliefs that existed amongst our ancestors before western colonizers came and made us think that our native ways were inferior to theirs. We must discover the Beauty of our ancestral cultures and the Universal Wisdom within their native spiritual culture.

Q. How can we empower our selves and our communities from the context of being Filipino? Filipino-American? What do we Filipino Americans do with the resources, opportunity and freedom that we have gotten by being in the U.S.? And how does Babaylan tradition come into significance within those actions?

A. We can learn as much as we can about where we come from so we can figure out where we are going. To learn more about Babaylan traditions can help us make choices that someday benefit ourselves and others in the community.

Q. Who can we turn to in order to learn about traditions that we lost during colonial times?

A. We all carry fragments of these traditions in our cultural memory. So we need to first believe that those memories are important and must not be trivialized or dismissed. Then we can start doing research within our families and clans and begin to tell stories about what we remember. Even fragments of stories mean something. But we must also remember that the way these fragments have been interpreted within colonial frameworks need to be questioned and re-interpreted. See below.

Q. What happened to the native healers, priestesses, female leaders and Babaylans when the Spanish friars and Imperial colonizers came to conquer and colonize the Philippine Islands centuries ago?

A. Under Colonial rule and with Christianization, the Babaylan tradition was suppressed and silenced, derided and demonized. Babaylans were branded as “brujas” or witches by friars and the Spanish. What Babaylans taught were condemned as pagan and satanic.

Q. What effect did ridding Filipino communities of Babaylans and tradition carriers have on Filipino people?

A. Filipino people began to believe what their colonizers taught them—that many elements of their culture and beliefs were inferior and “wrong” and Babaylans and their teachings became forgotten Filipino traditions — this is the beginning of the fragmentation of Filipino soul. Colonial mentality took its hold among the minds of Philippine people. Many educated Philippine people began to look down on their indigenous culture and strived to be less and less native and more and more western, like their colonizers.

Q. Have any of our Babaylans survived colonization and modernization?

A. Babaylanes managed to survive those oppressive times by going underground or by working within the fringes of society, looked upon with measures of scorn, suspicion and fear.

Q. I am deeply Catholic or Christian but also have a deep desire to connect with my ancestral Filipino roots and a longing to make my Filipino soul whole—I feel that somehow there is a contradiction somewhere in this—is there?

A. The conflict that arises is really a political conflict— that one can only be faithful to one power base—Christian/Catholic or Native Filipino. To reconcile that conflict, one must recognize Christianity and Catholicism as caretakers and vehicles of Jesus’ spiritual teachings. One must also be able to recognize that one must be Faithful to Jesus’ teachings and His Divine Light.

Perceptions of the superiority of one religious institution over another divide people. but Spirituality and Universal Wisdom, wherever found in humans around the world, throughout time, regardless of religion and culture will not contradict and give rise to competition and struggle. The wisdom of the Babaylan does not conflict with the Jesus’ teachings of spirituality and it can enhance and clarify who we are as Filipinos.

There is a strong movement of nuns who are social advocates and activists who recall the Babaylan traditions openly today. The Philippines, having always experienced an intermingling of folk beliefs with Christian heritage, now witnesses its nuns and priests who are digging deeper into indigenous spirituality to find greater meaning and spiritual guidance for the people of the Philippines.

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Questions for You:

These are questions on how a modern Filipina/o can reflect on whether she/he is Babaylan-inspired or not.

  • Do you find that your awareness has changed or is changing?
  • Are you awakening? Awakened?
  • Do you see things differently than you used to and/or than how others see things?
  • Have you ever wondered what Filipino indigenous soul can be like?
  • Have you ever wondered how a Filipino can deepen his/her connection with Filipino ancestral traditions?
  • Have your ever felt different from most other people. When you were growing up did you not always fit in with your peers?
  • Have you realized sometime in your life, early on, later or recently, that you had capabilities such as pre-cognitiveness, intuition, inner-knowing, third sight?
  • Do you believe that all people have capabilities such as these but they just aren’t aware of it or might ignore/suppress it?
  • Have you begun your own inner healing process, in order to do clearer, stronger work to do good in this world?
  • Have you come to an awareness of a higher calling through dreams, continuous coincidences, visitations, mystical revelations?
  • Have you begun deepening your own spiritual practice and awareness of the highest Truths or have you embarked on an active journey of finding yourself and awakening to your highest Inner Self? This process for Filipinos is also called pagbabalikloob.
  • Do you believe you are called to aid others in their own pagbabalikloob process?
  • Do your personal interests or any aspects of your work include a return, rediscovery, renewal of indigenous roots?
  • Do you help Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike on a path of spiritual wholeness, society on spiritual wholeness or personal fulfillment—in modern terms—empowerment?
  • Are you beginning to become aware of your ego and how it gets in the way of good sincere work. For example, are you beginning to become aware if you overly concerned with who gets the credit… and how that slows your down?
  • Are you aware that if you can step out of a power struggle situation that you can better dedicate your energies to the work at hand?
  • Do you find yourself leading “double lives” at times? For example you find yourself living one life where you are a healer or an intuitive, and the other life where you conform to the mainstream and live an ordinary, accepted, every day life?
  • Do your actions and beliefs sometimes solicit skepticism and/or ridicule from your family, colleagues, and the status quo?
  • Do you believe in human’s having a spiritual path? Do you belive in the soul’s karmic process?
  • Do you feel special from the inside out because you been given gifts of leadership, intuition, inner knowing, healing, vision, teaching, spirituality and mysticism, and/or a warrior’s courage?
  • Have you ever wondered what you should be doing with such gifts?
  • Have you ever felt that you had to do something good with your life and that there was a higher calling for you?

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