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Feminism Ala Babaylan

December 16, 2010 in Books, Talks, Papers, CDs, Websites, Decolonization and Filipino Identity, Feminine Divine by admin

Manila Bulletin, Sept 20, 2010

MANILA, Philippines – It is hard to believe that modern Filipinas whose ancestors suffered two waves of colonial rule — Spain in the 16th century and the United States in the early 19th century — have a tradition of feminism that dates back to pre-Hispanic Philippines. Yes, every modern Filipina should know that she owes her freedom and strong-mindedness in part to a more than 500-year old tradition of intentional, forceful, and positive feminism, longer than the history of women’s liberation in the West.

The babaylans, an empowered class of women who reigned prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonials in the 1521, were healers, advisers of men, intercessors between material and spiritual worlds, inspirers of arts and crafts, and believers of a holistic world view, according to the scholarly writings of Dr. Fe Buenaventura Mangahas and Professor Jenny Romero Llaguno, co-editors of the 192-page Centennial Crossings, Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines, published by the C & E Publishing Inc. in 2006.

Identifying with the babaylans nowadays, appreciating what they went through when their men were defeated by colonial rule — how these women hid, survived, and preserved their culture during the colonial era — will give feminists in the Philippines a more solid historical ground to stand on in their advocacies on freedom and responsibility.

Majority of Filipinas would not have found it necessary to strut in the 70s and in the 80s like their bra-burning sisters from the West who eventually became anti-male and anti-family. At the time, feminism, coupled with romanticism and rebelliousness, claimed a major role in attracting young female intellectuals in universities to join the Maoist red flag. Later, many of them were dismayed to find out that macho culture was not only present but remained strong in the underground movement. Well, the season of tears is over and it’s not too late to get affirmation from an older past, sisters, asserts Mangahas, former chair of the Social Sciences Department of St. Scholastica College and now a full time book writer on history and Philippine feminism.”I have been studying the babaylans since the 80s,” she recalls.

In a joint project with historian Dr. Zeus Salazar in 2000, Mangahas remembers reconstructing the Philippine prehistoric socio-political structure in the pamayanan (kingdom) as containing four types of leaders: the datu (king); the sundalo (warrior); the panday (technologist) and the babaylan. “In 2005, I coined the word babaylan feminism because many believed then that we did not have an indigenous tradition of feminism,” says Mangahas. This was more than 30 years after she, too, almost succumbed to the belief that Western feminism presented the right model for emerging, liberal Filipinas. For Mangahas and Llaguno, modern-day feminists can use babaylan as an adjective to identify Philippine feminism. In a sense, the babaylan-spirit is like a cross to ward off the Draculas of the past and the neurosis of colonialism which have burdened us with disturbing questions about identity.

Knowing the babaylan spirit, the authors say, can help Philippine feminists understand why, despite their conscious drive for freedom, they continue to love men without guilt and nurture families unconditionally.

What was the inherent nature of the old babaylans? “Because of the babaylans, we can say that we (Filipinas) were the avatars of Asia. In pre-historic time, we never had patriarchy or matriarchy. Gender ties were egalitarian,” says Mangahas. The division of labor between men and women then was not a curse, but a form of harmony. In a country that was often visited by volcanic eruptions and typhoons, men and women shared the dangers equally and protected their progeny.

This magical order was disrupted. “When the Spaniards in the 1500s co-opted the datus, the babaylans resisted fiercely. Then, they creatively adopted Christianity in order to survive; they became pasyon chanters. They functioned as a priesthood — natural Christians who balanced both the connection between the material and non material world,” explains Mangahas. “When the babaylans became rivals of the Spanish priests, the latter called them bruha or witches who allegedly dabbled in black magic. They were demonized. But I think the babaylans had true access to the good spirits,” she adds.”It was a good thing that the priests who came to the Philippines also studied our languages and cultural practices, which they adapted to propagate Christianity. That also helped in the preservation of our culture (including the babaylans),” says Mangahas.”Our Western sisters too must have had it (the babaylan spirit), in the past, but their patriarchy became too strong and their society too rationalistic that they were forced to undertake a radical form of feminism,” she explains.

Asked about the reactions of Filipino men to the book, she says, “The Filipino men who have read the book were in awe. They never imagined there was a time in the past when Filipina women were empowered, who were part of a power system, and had an egalitarian relationship with men.”

“We speculate that the spirit of the babaylan still exists up to the present time. You see women who behave that way,” Llaguno says. For Mangahas and Llaguno, reclaiming (intellectually) the indigenous dignity of Filipina women in the past is, ironically, the only way to give a deeper dimension and unique meaning to the freedom being sought by post-modern Filipinas. Their other mission, they add, is to end the negative view perpetrated by the Spanish priests about the babaylans.

The book, composed of 15 articles written by contemporary women who were inspired by the babaylan spirit, was a project that began in 2005, recalls Llaguno, also the book’s copy-editor. A lecture on the book, including a re-launch, was held before members of the Diliman Book Club at Restaurant of Choice, University of the Philippines Alumni Association building on September 11.

COPYRIGHT 2010 Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp.
COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning

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Baybayin and Decolonization

August 23, 2009 in Creative Expressions, Performances, Art, Poetry, Decolonization and Filipino Identity, Events and Conference, Feminine Divine, Kapwa and Other Indigenous and Filipino Values by admin

In my blog Baybayin Alive, I encourage people to explore an indigenous way of thinking in order to understand the deeper meanings of the Baybayin Symbols. You can read that post at Holistic Approach: Returning to Ancestral Thinking.

Here is my latest post:

Fertility Symbols, Feminine Principle and BA

In summary it talks about the BA baybayin symbols…
both of which are yonni symbols or fertility symbols.
I also talk about the fertility symbols of the  lingling-o and the dinumug
lingling-o on left and dinumug on right
(Source: Kipas Gallery –
The lingling-o is a common ancient artifact symbolizing fertility found around Southeast Asia and the Philippines(ca. 500 B.C.–100 A.D.); dinumug is a fertility symbol and symbol of prosperity and love found in the Ifugao, Bontoc and other Cordillera regions of the northern Philippines.
This particular post at Baybayin Alive goes on to talk about how the fertility symbol shape could very well be the imagery from which the BA baybayin symbol (clefted version) evolved from.

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Features: Back from the Goddess Gathering – Part 3

June 17, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Definitions, Feminine Divine, Kapwa and Other Indigenous and Filipino Values, Modern Practices by admin

Over the weekend of May 15, Letecia Layson attended the RCG-I Gathering of Priestesses and Goddess Women in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. There Leticia presented a workshop titled workshop “Babaylan – Past, Present and Future”. The Center asked Letecia to share her experiences there. Part 1 of this article is her open letter to the Babaylan Yahoo group. Part 2 sets the context of her presentation. Part 3 is the resources she provided to workshop participants.

Here is some information to supplement what I shared about USA’s historical role in colonialism and in the shaping of what is now the Philippines: Information on US Territories

Two authors who have books on the History of US that you might not have gotten in school:

The US History UnCensored by Carolyn Baker
The Peoples’ History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Words of Power

As is the case of many cultures who have been colonized the original peoples of the land, indigenous people, are identified by 135+ distinct languages. Babaylan is the Visayan word, there were/are many words used in other tribes/languages. Common to these languages is only one pronoun. “ gender pronouns or suffixes to denote sex.” Carolyn Brewer, Holy Confrontation. Taking into account the varied creation stories a common theme is the co-creation of female and male. The most widely known creation story comes from the Visayan Islands of Magandas, the female (Beauty) and Malakas, the male (Strength). In the story, the human female and male emerge from a bamboo plant that was split. Regardless of which comes out first (in different versions of the story), Malakas bows to Maganda (as in strength bows to beauty) and they walk of hand in hand. The qualities of Strength and Beauty are cultivated in both males and females rather than gender assigning these attributes. You can read a version of the story here.

Ways of Knowing Tacit/Explicit

“Ancestral traditions are based on tacit modes of knowing. Examples are dreading body gestures, interpreting metaphors, deriving signs from complexities in nature. All these are aptitudes of this ancient way of understanding. Other skills are dreams interpretations, visualizations, trance techniques and more. Intergral to a lifestyle that is born from Filipino personhood, such pre-rational cognitive talents are universal and are found in every other corner of the world.”

“Tacit knowing is assumed to be the older way of human understanding because it works with the primary processes of sensing, intuiting and feeling (pakiramdam) . Its function is to find order, closure and consistency in an overwhelmingly complex world.”

“Explicit knowing evolved much later in our brains. Called the secondary process, it is seen to regulate the linear “either-or” operations at work when we make rational decisions. Its function is to regonize contrasts and to differentiate parts. This is also referred to as the “discovery process.”

“Filipino person hood, after all, can be expected to differ from personality, because it is grounded in the tacit knowing (pakirmandam) rather than explicit knowing.”

Note: Pakiramdam is “shared inner perception”
Quotes from KAPWA – the Self in the Other by Katrin de Guia

To facilitate the decolnization process and reference Filipinos back to their own her/history and culture Virgilio Enriquez developed Filipino Psychology or Sikolohiyang Plipino in 1975 . It is rooted in the experience, ideas and cultural orientation of Filipino http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Philippine_ Psychology A core value is KAPWA translated as ‘the self in the other’, the shared self or togetherness. Katrina de Guia has written a book entitled KAPWA – the Self in the Other (eds note: – this link disabled as of 6/15/09).

This book includes Filipino culture bearers and by their livingness demonstrate and illustrate a living psychology of the people, not bound by western filters. The female and male are equally honored. The culture is about the children, unlike western culture that is focused on the adult male. One can see this reflected in the way Catholic Religion has adapted to the culture with Santo Nino and the strong female influence as in Suprema Isabel Suarez that Sr Mary John Mananzan writes about in her book Women, Religion and Spirituality in Asia. You can find some information out about Suprema Isabel Suarez [here] and [here]. According to Mananzan, the Ciudad Mistica De Dios was founded by Maria Bernarda Balitaan born in 1876. Her birth was considered to be the dawn of the Age of the Mother. An article is availabe for more info.

Filipino Community Portrait “..names for various Filipino ethnolinguistic groups and geographical locations are derived from bodies of water…This water-based culture, coupled with a sacred view of the mountains, constituded the material basis of the beliefs, costoms and traditions of the ancestors of the Filipino.”

Holy Confrontation – Religion, Gender and Sexuality in the Philippines, 1521-1685 by Carolyn Brewer. Here is a review of the book and an article you can access on-line.

The Filipino Women;Before and After the Spanish Conquest of the Philippines (booklet) by Sr Mary John Mananzan
The Woman Question in the Philippines (booklet) by Sr Mary John Mananzan

Celebrating 100 years of feminism in the Philippines Sr Mary John Mananzan, Mother Superior of Saint Scolastica’s College hosted a celebration and Babaylan Symposium with Agnes N. Miciat-Cacayan as the keynote speaker. Her presentation “Babaylan: She Dances in Wholeness can be accessed here. Dance as trance, dance as prayer, dance as healing are central to the work of the Babaylan. Agnes is the author of “The Shaman Woman’s Dream – How can we worship god without the forest?”


Perla Daly writes at her website:

“Leadership is a sacred duty—not an act of self-aggrandizement . Let me put that in another way— the most essential role of leadership is for survival, but the most sacred role of leadership is service.”

“The Babaylan performed 4 main power roles in pre-hispanic Philippine village communities which were: Leader, Counselor, Healer, and Sage.

All those roles carried with it the qualities of community caretakers and bearers of wisdom.

Each role had a particular strength and spiritual principle that differentiated it from another.

The Leader embodied courage, making a stand and giving direction to a community. He or she was a leader and at times of conflict, a Warrior.”

The Four Fold Way by Angeles Arrien reflect these primary babaylan roles.

I quoted from Marianita (Girlie) Villariba’s article “Babaylan Women as Guide to a Life of Justice and Peace”

“Who is the Babaylan

Who is a babaylan? The babaylans, predominantly women, were mystical women who wielded social and spiritual power in pre-colonial Philippine society before the coming of the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century.

In his research on pre-colonial women, anthropologist Dr. Zeus Salazar described the babaylan as a specialist in the fields of culture, religion, medicine and all kinds of theoretical knowledge about the phenomenon of nature.

How did babaylans become babaylans?

Women had dreams and experienced life-altering events that led them to become babaylans of their specific communities. The traditional path in babaylan formation was to be called by a mystical source or to inherit the role from an elder babaylan. The sacred call would come in a dream or the person would experience a life-threatening illness, be healed by prayers and then experience a change of consciousness, or what is called sinasapian (a spirit possessing the self). But this possession is just a signal. What is important is the continuing transformation which gave the babaylan the ability to widen her circles of concern and learn her multiple functions in society.

In this writers interaction with members of Lumad communities in Mindanao, especially the Matigsalom, she learned that the practice of choosing a babaylan is a lifelong process. Any woman or man who could identify and solve the problems of the community can be chosen a babaylan. She had to demonstrate her leadership in solving its problems as they arise and mature. In other Lumad communities, a woman or man must be able to wield a sword or a weapon in defense of the community. Once proven as a warrior, she would develop further her role as a babaylan. The education of a babaylan is lifelong and she becomes a full fledged babaylan when she understands and embodies the multiple functions of priestess, healer, sage and seer. That is why babaylans are already in their maturing years when they assume the mantle of babaylanism. “

Filipino Goddesses

From the womb of Mebuyan (Mebuyan is an Earth Goddess) by Vivian Nobles, Agnes N Miclat-Cacayan, Sr Esperanza Clapano, Geejay Arriola

Reclaiming the Southeast Asian Goddess by Flaudette May V. Datuin

Contemporary Babaylan Movement International

The University of the Philippines Babaylan is the leading gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (lgbt) students’ support group in all campuses of the State University, at the same time maintaining national and international linkages and presence.

Babaylan Denmark is an initiative of Philippine women’s groups and women’s desks in Europe, The Philippine Women’s Network in Europe, came about as a result of the first Europewide conference of Filipinas held in Spain (Barcelona) on 23-26 September 1992. It was in response to a long felt need of Filipinas living and working in Europe to link together and forge unity to improve their situation, address specific issues affecting their lives as Filipinas, needing effective and liberating support for each other.

Babaylan – The Philippine Women’s Network in Europe is an initiative of Philippine women’s groups and women’s desks in Europe. A result of the first Conference of Filipinas in Europe held in Barcelona on September 23-26, 1992, it is a response to a long felt need of Filipinas living and working in Europe to link together and forge unity to improve their situation, address specific issues affecting women. It seeks to develop an effective and liberating support system for Filipinas.

Contemporary Babaylan Movement and Arts in the USA

Evelie Delfino Sales Posch
Mary Ann Ubaldo. One of my favorite articles on the website is Mutya by Grace Odal.
Filipino Scripts

I am including additional information mentioned in the course of the content linking/bridging to other cultures:

Korean Shamanism Links
Kim Kumhwa
Invoking a Spirit of Peace
Shamans: The Next Generation
Gukmu (eds note: this site is in Korean.)
Dancing on Knives: An Introduction to the Politics of Sexuality and Gender in Korean Shamanism

Raindeer Ancestors – Elen of the Ways part 1 and part 2

Greenwood Tarot by Chesca Potter
Online Greenwood Tarot Handbook by Chesca Potter

Mabel Katz on Hooponopono
Self-Identity through Hooponopono, Mabel Katz

Filipino Bookshop Resources:
Philippine Expressions Bookshop – The Mail Order Bookshop dedicated to Filipino Americans in search of their roots.
2114 Trudie Drive
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275-2006, USA
Tel (310) 514-9139 FAX (310) 514-3485
e.mail: linda_nietes@ sbcglobal. net

We blazed the trail in promoting Philippine books in America. 2008 marks our 24th year of service to the Filipino American community. Thank you for your support. Mabuhay! Linda Nietes, a cultural activist, also owned Casalinda, the first all-Filipina bookshop in the Philippines, (Metro Manila,1972- 1983) and has provided a home for Philippine writings on both sides of the Pacific.

Arkipelago Books
ARKIPELAGO Philippine Books
953 Mission Street, San Francisco, Ca. 94103 U.S.A.
415/777-0108 Tel
415/777-0113 Fax

Besides I also use these online resources that compare pricing (both new and used) at FetchBook and BookFinder.

I think I covered all the material presented in the workshop. In closing I would like to invite you to visit The Center for Babaylan Studies to find out about a conference I am helping to organize in 2010. And be sure to stay in touch with the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology and their conference in 2010.

I look forward to our next connect. If I have left anything out, please remind me. I do not think all the women who were at the workshop wrote their email addresses down for me (due to me going a bit overtime). If you might pass this post on to them, I would be most grateful.

Love and Gratitude, Letecia

Republished with permission and gratitude. Links accessed 6/15/09.

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Features: Back from the Goddess Gathering – Part 2

June 16, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Decolonization and Filipino Identity, Definitions, Events and Conference, Feminine Divine, Modern Practices by admin

Over the weekend of May 15, Letecia Layson attended the RCG-I Gathering of Priestesses and Goddess Women in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. There Leticia presented a workshop titled workshop “Babaylan – Past, Present and Future”. The Center asked Letecia to share her experiences there. Part 1 of this article is her open letter to the Babaylan Yahoo group. Part 2 sets the context of her presentation. Part 3 is the resources she provided to workshop participants.

Greetings from Southern CA!

Thank you for attending my workshop at the RCGI Priestess and Goddesswomen gathering. Congratulations to the congregation for 25 years of service to women and the community. Congratulations to the four new ordained Priestesses! I feel fortunate to be a witness to so much joy, fun, laughter, deep sharing and a time capsule to be opened at the 50th – wow!!

I appreciate the patience you had for the technical difficulty, though you briefly were able to hear the voice of Mendung Sabal, who died a few months ago.
Mendung Sabal is one of the 10 Filipino Oralists interviewed in The Shared Voice – Chanted and spoken narratives from the Philippines by Grace Nono At the end of the post I am including (see part 3) resources where you might be able to find books I listed, or invite your local library to order them and have them on hand. Maybe you will be able to get them by way of interlibrary loans. Here are a a few of Grace’s videos (eds note: the first few seconds of the Balaleng Video has a sharp teleprompter tone. Please be patient and wait through it, the video is well worth it.)

The time we had together seemed too short and I hope I did not overwhelm you with information. This workshop is inspired by the work co-presented at past gatherings with Deb Trent “She of Many Colors” It was my hope and intention to honor Deb with is work, our ancestors, our teachers, the ancestors of the land, the elements and the elementals.

It was is important to set a context from which the babaylan tradition lives in – yes, a living tradition that managed to exist through the 333 years of colonization by Spain and the 50 years of the USA’s presence in the Philippines. “Without looking back at the past, one cannot go forward into the future.” — Jose Rizal. The challenge I had presenting the material is in the relam of the Sacred, the past is now, the future is now and the present in now. “The Geography of Thought” by Richard Nisbett shares insights into how culture affects thinking processes – the differences of Eastern and Western thought. Here is a review of the book.

“The Shared Voice” by Grace Nono also provides some good references regarding the oralist and the literate styles, recognizing the secondary oralist as one who bridges the two styles using both systems. Note: the book comes with a CD that has recordings of those interviewed with their music/songs with English translations in the book. To quote Grace:

“It is an enormous challenge for oral traditions to thrive in the era of globalization that has followed centuries of colonization. The survival of these traditions requires conscious effort, fortitude, and commitment, not for one, ten or a hundred, but of all Filipinos who are reawakened to the oralist calling.”

“May we, secondary oralists, develop the habit of regular self-examination as well as a general attitude of humility in the face of our own frailties, and in acknowledgement of the inexhaustible source of wisdom from which we can draw guidance, hope, and inspiration in the course of our journey.”

I shared two poems that nested the major content of the workshop, Recipe for Cooking Fear and We Are Born With Gifts, written by Leny Mendoza Strobel from A Book of Her Own – Words, Images to Honor the Babaylan. You can find links at Leny’s website for her blog. Leny’s first book, Coming Full Circle – THE PROCESS OF DECOLONIZATION AMONG POST-1965 FILIPINO AMERICANS identifies the experience of many Filipino Americans. While my experience being born to a Manong who arrived on the mainland in 1926 at age 16 and a WWII War Bride, who arrived on the mainland on 1947 (just as the Philippines was given its independence at the end of WWII) had many similarities as described in Coming Full Circle, I was raised with traditional Filipino values in the home.

Two streams of western Goddess Traditions and Filipino Spirituality/ religion came together in the first series of classes I took at Circle of Aradia in Feminist Witchcraft in the Dianic Tradition. At the end of the first class we were asked to research a Goddess from our ethnic background and if that was not something that worked for us, research a Goddess that called to us. The Coulorful Mandaya: Ethnic Tribe of Davao Oriental by Ursula Cinc Valderrama. The book is an ethnographic study of the people (you can read a bit about them here). In the chapter “The making of Baylan (the same as a babaylan)” the rituals, chants, etc are included. Any woman of the tribe can be a baylan (providing they qualify), a priestess. The diwatas show their acceptance by possessing the baylan becoming a channel, oracle, healer, visionary, etc. During the ordination ceremony, the woman would need to invoke and make tributes to Gamaogamao, believed to be a water goddess.

I spent the next five weeks meditating on/with Gamaogamao as part of the workshop series. I was to ask if there was something that She wanted share with the women of the class and what She wanted me to tell the women about her. The last class we were required to invoke and aspect (speak as) our Goddess. I invoked and spoke as Gamaogamao in that last class forever linking my two spiritual streams.

Republished with permission and gratitude. Links accessed 6/15/09.

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Features: Back from the Goddess Gathering – Part 1

June 4, 2009 in Feminine Divine, Modern Practices by admin

Over the weekend of May 15, Letecia Layson attended the RCG-I Gathering of Priestesses and Goddess Women in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. There Letecia presented a workshop titled workshop “Babaylan – Past, Present and Future”. The Center asked Letecia to share her experiences there. Part 1 of this article is her open letter to the Babaylan Yahoo group. Part 2 sets the context of her presentation. Part 3 is the resources she provided to workshop participants.

Dear all,

I think the workshop “Babaylan – Past, Present and Future” went well. The women seemed to get a lot out of it, some taking notes, tears, laughter, big ah-ha’s The workshop was about 1.5 hrs Out of the 15 women in the workshop, five women (including me) who do not identify with European Roots/History – a woman from Mexican heritage, Korean – mixed blood, Native American – mixed blood and a woman from Puerto Rico. All women at the gathering are in agreement with The Affirmation of Women’s Spirituality, are woman honoring, woman identified and generally focused on Goddess Centered, but not all from the same religions our spiritual traditions (meaning there were women who identified as witches, pagans, native american traditions, Mayan, buddhist, hindu, etc).

Before the gathering there was a Goddess Symposium which I was able to attend. The participants are part of the RCGI community. Kathryn Henderson presented a talk on “Working with Living Traditions with Respect”. She interviewed Buddhist, Hindu, Voodoo, Yoruba and Native American spiritual leaders. She had a lovely one page handout with guidelines developed from the interviews, which was simple and direct. I referenced her work at the beginning of my workshop to remind women that there are unbroken lineages of babaylans in the Philippines. As a FilAM woman, I too must approach these lineages/teachings/ people with the proper respect, though my roots are also from similar cultures.

[In Part 2 of this post] the reference materials sent to the women of the workshop [appear] – and of course [I] invited them to come to the Babaylan Conference in 2010!

I had a simple 1 pg outline that I worked from, starting out with a welcome and a check-in. Women were asked to say three things, their name, the ethic or culture they identified with and their religion/spirituali ty. Once the check-ins were complete I spoke to the elements and the elementals, the ancestors the women just spoke of, the ancestors of the local land and invited them to be with us, to support us in the work we were about to begin.

I had a simple altar that included two pictures, one of my two sisters, mom and me, the other one was taken at the FAWN2005 gathering with some of you in it. I introduced you to the group and let them know this virtual circle has supported me on so many levels stepping forward in knowing more about the Babaylan. And then I read a poem from Leny’s A Book Of Her Own, “Recipe for Cooking Fear.” At the end I held up the garlic that was near me on the altar.

I quoted Jose Rizal “Without looking back at the past, one can not go forward into the future.” In order for the women to appreciate who the babaylans are/were, I needed to set a context in her/history, language, the georgraphy of thought, tacit knowledge, oral and literate ways of transmitting, sharing and recording information by way of poems, images, crafts, dance, music, song, etc. I talked about the challenges that Filipina/o authors have writing in English about our culture and wondering where the audience is for the writing – yet still writers write and books are created.

I talked about decolonization and felt hearts breaking – open. Paraphrasing Grace Nono by telling them “there is not a single one of us in this circle who has not be touched by colonization, either by being colonized or as a colonizer,” it is time to work together now to move forward for all the children. The women of color were relieved I spoke of these issues, especially the woman from Puerto Rico who shared briefly what it was like politically – how Puerto Rico not too long ago was able to have a sense of self government, but are still a colonial holding. She cried and I think felt relieved that she could share the difference and the frustration. She also shared how she was pained knowing her ancestors had almost killed an entire race, some of her other ancestors – having difficulty finding a place to speak about the internalized pain and confusion. She is the one who asked about Hooponopono (see links at the end of the post). A Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and healing. But I digress…

I told my story, of how I first came to know about babaylans – 18 years ago in my first classes on Dianic Witchcraft and read from The Coulorful Mandaya: Ethnic Tribe of Davao Oriental by Ursula Cinc Valderrama

While the outline I was working from had a progression, the items were presented based on the energetic in the room. How the women responded to what was being said and what else needed to be clarified, processed or referenced before moving on. So even now I am not clear on which went topic followed/flowed one after the other. I am pretty sure the unfolding into Babaylan was easy from here out….the past and the present linking in the readings from Perla’s website article on Leadership, to Marianita (Girlie) Villariba’s article “Babaylan Women as Guide to a Life of Justice and Peace”, touching on creation stories, Filipino Psychology and Kapwa. I read from Agnes’ Babaylan:She Dances to Wholeness’ noting the intersecting realities of political and sacred, the dance of life and creation.

Examples of present rising of the Babaylan Spirit as in Babaylan UP, Denmark and Europe. Of Ann’s work, Evelie’s work, Geejay’s work and the work of your circle.

I encouraged the women to reconnect with their own roots and make a commitment to step forward as herstory makers, women of spirit and women who work to ensure that all children are cared for in a good way. We did not have time do dance…though I closed with a second poem from Leny “We Are Born With Gifts.”

They clapped, hugged me, thanked me and I was especially touched by the connection with the women of color. Lol, they were warned at the beginning of the workshop, they might not remember much of what was said….but they would leave here feeling better….and they did. Each woman seemed to have a sense of relatedness to each other and to the notion of Babaylan.

Hope this makes a bit of sense to you….

Thanks to Bec and Leny for encouraging me to share with the list. And thank everyone here. Your contributions to the list found their way in part of the weave of the magic I shared at the RCGI gathering. I excited about the upcoming conference. It is really amazing to see how the notion and spirit of the babaylan and babaylanism is touching people in a good way.

Love, Letecia

Republished with permission and gratitude. Links accessed 6/5/09.

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Conversations: Land and Women – The Matrilineal Factor

June 2, 2009 in Conversations and Stories, Feminine Divine, Historic Context by admin

Land and Women: The Matrilineal Factor
The cases of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
by Kristina E. Stege, Ruth Maetala, Anna Naupa & Joel Simo. Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Elise Huffer, Editor (2008)


“The women here are so sure of themselves… maybe it’s that we know for sure that we have land…Even if I don’t get land from my husband, I still have it from my mother and nothing can change that…”— (Palauan woman [no name given], cited in Margold and Bellorado, 197?)

This report brings together three studies on matrilineal land tenure carried out in the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. The respective authors, Kristina Stege, Anna Naupa and Joel Simo, and Ruth Maetala, conducted their research in at least two areas in each country – including one urban and one rural – with the overall objective of providing a better understanding of the current status of women in relation to land tenure, land management and
access to land in matrilineal areas.

This work is aimed at contributing a gendered perspective to the current regional focus on land issues and reform, particularly initiatives such as the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s Land Management and Conflict Minimization for Peace, Prosperity and Sustainable Development project (LMCM) and AusAID’s Pacific Land Program. It is also designed to provide updated, accessible
and locally derived information and recommendations for national land policy and legislative changes currently taking place in the three focal countries.

Submitted by Letecia Layson
Full text accessed 5/31/2009

by admin

Conversations: Reclaiming the Southeast Asian Goddess

May 31, 2009 in Conversations and Stories, Feminine Divine by admin

Reclaiming the Southeast Asian Goddess: Examples from Contemporary Art by Women
By Flaudette May V. Datuin
Image & Gender, vol. 6, 2006, pp.105-119


In this essay, I will invoke – as a form of strategic essentialism – the figure of the Southeast Asian goddess and the babaylan, the ancient priestess as theme, metaphor and signifier for women’s life-giving, nurturing and healing powers. By reclaiming the legacy of the Southeast Asian goddess, I will present the emerging outlines of a Southeast Asian feminist framework revolving around embodied spirituality – a concept where the body is construed as an anatomical, spiritual, social and psychic space grounded on fluidity and wholeness, instead of hierarchy and dualities. In the process, I will argue that while most women artists in Southeast Asia are not consciously and overtly “feminist,” they nonetheless point to the contours of emerging feminisms in Southeast Asia, and perhaps, in Asia. These “feminisms” cannot be defined solely on the basis of individual autonomy, hinged on sexual and body-centered liberation (as in radical feminism); or on “equal rights” in an untransformed social structure (as in liberal feminism).Drawing from my ongoing study and engagement with women artists in the visual arts of Southeast Asia, I will present examples of how selected Philippine, Indonesian and Thai women artists articulate and embody the Southeast Asian goddess figure through their lives and their works.

Submitted by: Mary Ann Ubaldo and Lorial Crowder
Full text accessed 5/31/2009

by admin

Laguna’s Midwives of the Soul

May 1, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Feminine Divine, In the News, Modern Practices by admin

~~ In the News ~~
LOS BAÑOS, Laguna – They call themselves “midwives of the soul.” But while midwives assist women during childbirth, these hospice volunteers “give comfort to the dying.”

“When dying, there is so much pain – physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual. The hospice attends to all those,” said hospice president Monina Mercado.

In 1993, Fermin and Lourdes Adriano, both professors at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), lost their 14-year-old daughter, Sarah, to cancer. Trying to assuage their grief, they attended a hospice seminar of Filipino oncologist Dr. Josefina Magno in Manila.

Magno, who was the pioneer of hospice care in Washington D.C. and Maryland, was then commissioned by the World Health Organization to bring the idea of palliative care to Third World countries.

The Adrianos introduced hospice care to colleagues and to some members of church groups in Los Baños the following year.

The Madre de Amor Hospice was founded and its first president was Antonio Mercado, Monina’s husband.

Since then, the hospice has serviced about 500 dying persons in 15 years and is considered the longest running community-based foundation with its center located in Los Baños Subdivision, formerly the Umali Subdivision, in Barangay Batong Malake.

“The dying usually asks not to be left alone, to be forgiven, to reconcile differences with spouse or children,” Monina said.
Death, she added, comes with the “fear of the unknown and of the end of things.”

The dying fears leaving loved ones behind.

“We do not promise cure to the patients, it is not in our hands,” said Monina. The hospice, instead, offers companionship and friendship to the dying as well as to the family of the dying.

A dying person goes through the denial stage and the hospice helps him/her accept the fact.

“Death is not death. It is a passage to the next life,” Monina said. As the body perishes, the soul remains. She said this is the “healing” the hospice could offer.

Monina remembered Emma, a hospice patient who had cancer of the uterus.

“She could not sleep. She said she could hear children crying in her head and wanted to stop them,” she said.

Emma was a known abortionist in the town for 10 years and only stopped when she was diagnosed of the illness.

The volunteers accompanied Emma to a confession, but it did not stop the crying.

“We told her, you have to forgive yourself,” Monina recalled.

However, the anguish continued. It only ended when Emma opened up about her adopted son Boyet.

Last suffering

According to Monina, there was a young student who wished to get an abortion. Emma refused as the student was already on her ninth month of pregnancy. She instead adopted the boy.

“It was her last suffering. She worried about who would take care of Boyet,” Monina said.

Emma’s sister promised to take care of the boy and shortly after, Emma died in 1997.

As referred to by WHO and insurance companies, hospice workers are often called volunteers.

“It is only here in Laguna that we are called nambibisita,” Monina said. She said the term came from the volunteers’ approach as “nambibisita po kami (we are here to visit).”
Madre de Amor has about 50 volunteers operating in 17 towns of Laguna. They come in pairs when visiting homes of patients usually at Stage 3 or 4 of cancer.
Most of the time, relatives, neighbors or doctors enroll a person to the hospice.

“It’s not easy to see a dying person. Sometimes, the breasts are open and rotting. Most (patients) also take time before they open up,” Monina said.

But she believed the volunteers were mature in age and experience. “They have a certain kind of depth. They are brave because they carry their faith,” she added.

A beginner volunteer undergoes a two-day training at the hospice.

The volunteers regularly meet each month to review and discuss the case of the patient they are handling and to consult with the hospice doctor regarding the patient’s medical needs. They also conduct quarterly spiritual recollections.

“A volunteer is never left alone. He has a support system,” Monina said.

When the patient dies, the volunteer joins the wake and attends to the bereaved family.
For the whole year, the volunteer looks after the family by regularly calling and visiting them.

If a relative of the volunteer dies or the patient he was taking care of passes away, the volunteer is not allowed to do hospice work for a year to recover from bereavement. He, however, continues to attend activities at the hospice.

A volunteer gets by “through prayers and friendship” the others offer him, Monina added.

They receive no pay for the service, as the foundation survives through donations and drugs sourced from health organizations.


Teresita Gonzales, 68, was one of the hospice’s pioneer volunteers. She joined the service believing “it was pay back time.”
Teresita earlier worked at the University of Missouri Medical Center, whose patients were children with terminal illnesses.
In 1986, she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“They gave me six months (to live) and I am alive up to now,” she said, owing her survival to medical doctors and to the “Divine physician.”

She said her faith and the support of loved ones were a big factor to her recovery. “I felt first-hand how to have this kind of disease. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to touch and heal the dying,” she said.

She remembered one hospice patient, Pauline, who had a brain tumor. Hours before the girl died, Pauline talked to her about seeing images of God and angels.

“That is the stage called playing with the angels. Her eyes were stuck on the ceiling,” she recalled.

Teresita lamented that the dying are often ignored in society today.

“What if death sneaks in and you are caught unprepared? Every day, you need to make a difference in the lives of other people,” she believed.

Hospice movement

Hospice care in the Philippines has not gained much support and popularity, said Dr. Rhodora Ocampo, Madre de Amor medical and program director. In Asia, she said, Singapore has so far the most number of hospice centers.

“The need for hospice care could be referred to the millions of people dying unrelieved of pain and suffering,” Ocampo said.

Most hospice patients in the Philippines suffer from breast and lung cancer.

Only 11 percent die in the hospital, while 89 percent die in their homes, mostly without available treatment.

Madre de Amor helped establish the National Hospice Palliative Care Council of the Philippines and in 2003, the umbrella organization Hospice Philippines that now has 20 member hospices.

It has also moved for the declaration of the National Hospice Week celebrated every first week of October.

Laguna’s ‘midwives of the soul’ By Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 01:03:00 04/16/2009, accessed 4/24/2009

Contributed by Mary Ann Ubaldo