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An Itneg shaman offering pigs to anito spirits (1922, Philippines)

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:

Luhod na kamo saragudon

Luhod na kamo halaywan

Saka sa hagdanan

Indi mo na pagsawion sa hagdanan

Indi mo ron pagsawion sa pulongkoan

Diin ka na uris nga babaylan

Diin ka na uris nga dalongdongan

Dali-dali ginalawag kamo

Sunod na sa tupad ko

Luhod kamo sa tupad ko

Hamboy kamo sa abaga ko

Hay nalakat ko ron ang suba

Hay ako na si dagan-dagan

Bisan pa ang bukid natingadon

Parapit don kamo saragudon

Magkilala kamo kay _________ (name of patient)

Ang tanan nga baratyagon sa kalawasan

Bul-on mo ron ang hirab kang surok-surok

Bul-on mo ron and lingin kang ulo

Bul-on mo ron ang yami kang kalawasan

Ginalawag ta ron kamo sa kalag

Lingkod don kamo sa lingkuran

Magkilala don kamo sa natungdan

Indi don kamo kang paghinakiti

Basi nahinakitan kang tawo sa talon

Panghuksa ninyo ron

Magkilala kamo kang hitsura

Panghuksa, panglubda ang tanan nga baratyagon sa kalawasan

Laton don sa tulos

Laton sa bunang

Laton sa kalawag

Kay ako naghanggab don sa haranggaban

Basi kon natabuan sa hulot

Hay saragudon, haraywon

Bawion don ang kasakit

Bawion mo ang atay

Bawion don sa ampis nga itom

Laton don sa bunang

Laton don sa kalawag

Hay mabulos don ang kaupod

Ang akon iba indi ninyo ron pagyao-yauhan

Indi ninyo pagsundon

Indi ninyo pagbugnohon

Hay akon saragudon

Indi mo ron pagsindaon

Hay basi kon nalahog-lahogan ka ron sa laraywon

Hay kon nalahog-lahogan ka ron sang saragudon

Bawion mo ron saragudon

Bawion mo ron haraywon

Indi don kamo maghinakit

Basi ginsinda sa pagpanaog

Basi ginsinda sa pagparigos

Basi ginsinda sa paglagaw-lagaw

Basi ginsinda sa pagpamintana

Basi ginsinda ikaw kang tawo sa sidlangan

Basi ginsinda ikaw kang tawo sa seringan

Basi ginsinda ikaw kang babaylan

Hay ko ron ang kabangdanan

Hay indi ninyo ron pagpiriton

Ginahimo don ang kabangdanan

Ginsinda ang sinindaan

O, sinda, sinda

O, sinda, sinda

Laton don sa binuik

Laton don sa kalawag

Laton don sa ampis nga itom

Basi ginsinda ikaw sa surok-surok

O, sinda, sinda

O, sinda, sinda

Laton don sa pangalap

Kag dian kamo magpinitik-pitik

Saragudon, haraywon, bawion mo ang sinda kag aswang sa balay

Basi ginsinda ikaw kang diwata

Basi ginsinda ikaw sang aswang sa balay

O, maputi nga dalaga sa burotlakan kang adlaw kari ka

Bawion ang sinda kag tawo sa balay

Bawion ang tanan nga masakit nga balatyagon

Naghalay don ako kang patadyong

Tanda sang pakamatuod kon ano ang kabangdanan

Kon nabugnohan kang kalag

Pakaaydon don ninyo si _________ (name of patient) kon amo ang kabangdanan.

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