Third in a series, posted in 2008 at Global Balita

by Gemma Cruz Araneta

Re-inventing the babaylan

How did the babaylan cope with the onslaught of “cross and sword”? After the bloody revolts against their sworn enemies, the early Spanish missionaries; after burning churches and disfiguring Christian icons and after the painful betrayal of community members, the babaylans had to devise effective survival methods. They either fled to the mountains or adopted Christian ways to co-exist with the colonial order.

Mr. Adelbert Batica, a Filipino expat, sent his comments to my article “Silencing the babaylan.” He wrote: “The babaylan, as well as the symbols and images associated with them may have totally disappeared except where they have reappeared as modern-day healers and “hilot” who most often use oraciones as part of their healing practice. But, I would propose
that they were actually resurrected, “reinvented” if you may, under a Christian context.”

Indeed, there are several religious communities led by women like the “Ciudad Mistica de Dios”, at the foot of the sacred Mt. Banahaw that uses the Bible and Christian prayers as the basis of their own stylized rituals. Curiously, the “Ciudad Mistica de Dios” began with the “Iglesia Mistica Filipina” founded by Suprema Maria Bernarda in 1915. Mr. Batica observed: “The old ladies who act as prayer leaders at many religious devotionals including novenas (especially for the dead) seem to be carrying on the dynamic of the “babaylan”, although in this day and age instead of being armed with amulets she wears scapulars, religious medals, and usually carries a prayer book or “novenario” and a rosary.”

Complete text available on in the Global Balita archive.

Links accessed 7/19/2009