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Features: Back from the Goddess Gathering – Part 1 | Center for Babaylan Studies

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 Babaylan.com 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.