The babaylan was a prominent figure in pre-colonial Philippine society, sometimes described as a priestess or shaman. Babaylans acted as healers, prophets and mediums, curing illnesses and exorcising evil spirits from objects or people. The babayalan would often be called when the community was experiencing difficulties that could not be resolved by physical means. They would perform a ritual through chants or prayers to pacify the spirits that caused chaos in the community.
The position of babaylan is usually associated with women. Men who were babaylans were usually considered to have feminine traits.
Becoming a babaylan
There were two ways to become a babaylan. First was through a mystical source and second was to inherit from a relative.
A prospective babaylan could experience a sacred call ("rukut") by a supernatural being, usually in the form of dreams, or they might go through a trance state experience called "sinasapian" (spirit possession). Assisted by a "surog" (spirit guide), she would be submitted to a spiritual journey, an intense religious encounter through which a successful navigation is pivotal to her physical and mental aptitude. This ritual involves the departure of the soul from the body, where it undergoes either a celestial or netherworld journey. At the destination, the soul communes with deceased ancestral spirits. When this trance-like state is overcome, the person is considered equipped to deal with psychic or supernatural forces.
The responsibility may also be passed on to a descendant or relative who might start to behave strangely and isolate herself from the family and the community. She may either become thin or may develop muscles and extraordinary strength.
A babaylan would go through training under the guidance of a practicing babaylan. She would usually be charged a fee such as money or cavans of rice. The apprentice was trained in the basics of herbal medicine, ritual dancing, chants and magical formulas and potions. After mastering the techniques, she would go to a cave to get charms and amulets ("pangalap") as her source of power and magic.
Spiritual interventions that pay homage to ancestral spirits were the usual rituals of babaylans. The rituals could be preventative or curative, and were designed to counteract the ill intent of the causative spirit. The rites were meant to empower the ill person against their affliction. As a preventative measure, the ritual can be seen as easing anxiety regarding any future attempts. As a curative measure, the ritual functions in much the same way: the ill person may feel relieved that actions are being taken to heal in a prompt and efficient manner. In these cases, the rites act as mental relief which increases the overall well being of the ill.
The following is a Hanggab chant to cure various illnesses which is performed by a babaylan in Hiligaynon society:
- Babaylan. (accessed on July 11, 2008).
- Lexipahnic. (accessed on July 14, 2008).
- Isis Women. (accessed on July 14, 2008).