Tuesday, September 14, 2010



Leny Strobel posted a question on the alleged abuse of “babaylan.”


I must admit that the use of the term also surprised me when I began seeing it all over the internet. The term was mostly used by Filipino-Americans.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I felt that originality of custom belongs to those who own the custom / tradition. Thus, I could not understand the necessity of performing Pilipino Cultural Night when all of the performers were Americans and had no cultural connection to the Philippines or to the specific region / tribe.

As I have matured, I have also gathered enough grains to figure out that what the Filipino-Americans were doing was to create a cultural bridge between America and their parent’s homeland. They were creating a culture within the vacuum that they held in their existence. In one sense, they were taking steps to decolonize themselves. Who am I to stop them?

Now apply this paradigm to the use of babaylan and I can see somewhat the same context.

The major difference that I would propose, however, is that the energy of being a babaylan is entirely different than that of a PCN. And here, I must admit my ignorance of the whole babaylan tradition with respect to its actual detail. Suffice it to say that in my experience in the Philippines, there are levels. There are the healers (hilot). There are the albularyo (medicine man). And there are those who deal with the spirit world (I don’t know their name, for convenience call them spirit talkers). Where the babaylan fits into this simplistic notion of a hierarchy, I don’t know.

What I do know is that it requires a lot more training to go from one stage to another (hilot to albularyo to the other kind). If I were to guess, a hilot would need to know physiology / anatomy / massage. The albularyo would have to know herbalism, along with physiology / anatomy. And the spirit talkers, they go to certain locations to commune with spirits and learn from them. Spirit talkers have the ability to open doors and more importantly to close them. If I were to guess, spirit talkers are capable of being in multiple locations in different dimensions. This by definition would have to be the realm of metaphysics. (Again, I am trying to translate what I know about this topic into scientific jargon that most of us in the US would be able to understand.)

Getting back to the term “babaylan,” the discomfort for me stems from wondering whether or not the people who are using the term are getting trained or are not trained in the use of the mystical / psychological / unexplained powers. In the Philippines, the trainees are chosen by the experts. In the US and outside of the Philippines, how are the trainees coming forth and being selected?

As I see it, there is a fundamental need to be trained as in all disciplines. Not all people can handle the energies that will come with being a babaylan. As I recall the stories of my childhood, they call someone who lost their way in the training as “crazy.” Literally, the mind could not handle the psychological and metaphysical strain such that the person became unhinged. (Aside: Now, as a scientist, I should by today totally discredit what has been said from my childhood. The problem is that my personal experience is so strong that I know this type of power is real, though I can not explain it in precise physics, chemistry or relativity theory.)

From what I know of spirits, they like to hang out and chill out in the neighborhood. However, spirits don’t like to be disturbed, to be used, to be ogled, to be prodded, or to be experienced as some sort of carnival or theatre experience. Thus, if you have lost your way in life, don’t go poking spirits, they don’t like unbalanced people on the edge of survival. They tend to push them across the tipping point.

If you are from that region or were introduced as a relative of the property owner, you might have a chance of not offending the spirit. If you have offended a spirit, usually, what happens is some unexplained disease, malady or death happens. If the spirit is ticked off, usually this happens to one person. If this happens to 3 or more, something else happened that truly offended a spirit.

And let me just clarify that I am both Catholic and a scientist who believes in evolution. However, I also happen to believe in spirits and spirit talking and all the above discussion. Yes, hard to believe that all that can marinate in my head. But after all, I am a fusion of Ilocos and Nueva Ecija. That should explain that.

So where are we with respect to babaylan? I believe that Filipino-Americans can use the term all they want. They must take responsibility for the power they wield. For example, I read into an account in the babaylan conference something about making offerings to “Buwaya.” I must admit for a moment, this scared the living crap out of me. But then again, there has not been any unexplained deaths, maladies or sickness among the participants so I can only assume that this procedure was done properly with the proper offerings, gifts and subservience to spirits that are so much a part of Philippine culture.

What I am scared of is that one time, I saw a product in which the story of a babaylan was told and recorded in a CD. It was an oral history. But the literal translation of what she said raised the hair on my back. It was the story of pain and death and oppression. Now, if it were just an immigrant story, that’s fine. For me, it was so scary because she was telling her story in the backdrop of her spiritual power. Sorry folks, at this point this becomes a metaphysical weapon / bomb. May your ancestors protect you when that bomb goes off. I skidadled away pronto from that website.

In going back to our roots, we seek the power we have lost. We must understand that to wield that power, to even come close to that power, we take the risk of physical harm, insanity and death. We materialize into the western world the power of the spirits, then we must be willing to pay the price.

Use of the word babaylan without referencing the spiritual power behind it is fine. Use of the word babaylan with the spiritual power and a lack of understanding results in a very focused center of sickness, maladies and death.

(These are my opinions. I have not received training in any hilot/albularyo/spirit talk traditions. I do have training in BBQing, biology, WoW and money.)

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