Rediscovering the Babaylan

Most of us might have learned the Babaylan during our high school, inside our  Philippine history classes. The Babaylan was just a simple history topic in our country’s past, right before the Spaniards came.  We had found them relevant because we needed to put the right answers on our history exams. Other than that, the Babaylan was just a piece of information in our textbooks meant to be forgotten.

We have been taught that Babaylans were women, and that they were ancient Filipino priestess or shamans. They were the ones who call the early dieties of Earth and Universe. The gods and goddessses spoke to them in mysterous ways. These are far the most common attributes we know about Babaylans. But we still lack the understanding of their true history.

Dr. Milagros Guerrero, a retired professor at Univesity of the Philippines and among the expert historians in the country, shared her wisdom last Saturday, July 30, in “Babaylan sa Kasaysayan” at UP College of Social Work and Community Development.  I was actually very privileged to talk to her before her lecture. Her understanding of Babaylan has led us all into an almost deeper and spiritual  appreciation of Babaylan.

According to Ma’am Mila, Babaylans were once part of the a tripartite leadership in the ancient Filipino community, of which the two of them were  datu and panday. Babaylan was often a role of a woman (commonly, the datu’s sister) and she was not just simply a leader. She was a healer of illnesses, an important decision-maker, an early scientist, and an intercessor between humans and the Divine. During the colonization and proselytization of Spaniards, the Babaylans were actually the only community leaders who were not swayed by the colonizers. The pandays disappeared when western weaponry were introduced, and the datus were the ones who politically collaborated with Spaniards and were easily christianized.

The Babaylans had lived the true essence of Love without using such word.

Thus, the Babaylans were left behind as the enemies of the church. They were mocked as brujas or witches by the early Spanish church and its friars. They resisted to give up their spirituality in exchange of the westernized concept of god. They were the ones ostracized, insulted, raped, tortured and killed. They were the ones who led numerous uprisings against the Spaniards. They were the long lost forgotten forebearers of the profound spiritual sensibility of our heritage.

Ma’am Mila told us that we cannot anymore revive the Babaylans of the past. But the spirit and value of what the Babaylans had preserved are the ones we can embody. Her powerful lecture taught me to see the Babaylans not just a piece of historical data but an inspiring symbol of awakening.  That in this age and time, while the Babaylans of our historic past have gone into oblivion, the Filipino soul we have rediscovered through them tells us that we have the power  to find and unfold our own wholeness. I am deeply grateful of how Ma’am Mila reminded me and the rest of the audience in her lecture  that  we can become “Babaylans in our own right.”

In my case, I don’t need to ask how. I might be biologically male, but I can deeply feel my Babaylan soul. The Babaylan has neither gender nor age nor time. As I unfold my presence through my advocacy on understanding and sharing the wisdom of Love, the wisdom of Babaylan sparks my capacity to transform the unseen potential of Love into a reality of human experience. And I can feel that the Babaylans had lived the true essence of Love without using such word. They knew. And they now remind me that I know.

Babaylan sa Kasaysayan (Babaylan in History) was held on July 30, 2011, at the Bulwagang Tandang Sora, College of Social Work and Community Development at the University of the Philippines. Dr. Milagros “Mila” Guerrero was the guest speaker, and Dr. Erlinda “Arlene” Natocyad was the ritual leader. This event was sponsored by Sanghabi, Bahay Nakpil and Ginhawa. 

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