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Babaylan: Definition, Short History & Frequently Asked Questions

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What is a Babaylan?

Babaylan are those men or women who act as intermediaries between humans and the deities, or spirits. They are the bridge between the physical world as what our five senses can detect and the spirit world. Their primary role in society is to cure spiritual and physical ailments.

Definition of the word 'Babaylan'

Despite many theories, it is largely still unknown where the word Babaylan originated. Alfred McCoy, a distinguished historian in Southeast Asia, claims that the terminology is derived from the Malay words "belian," "balian" or "waylan" from Java, Bali and Borneo. They not only share the same root word as these terms are also reflected in their rituals and their roles in society. Apart from healing, their rituals helped to aid their community to be cohesive, ensure their harvests are plentiful and that epidemics are repelled.

The Babaylan: A short History and their Healing

One renowned Babaylan is Estrella Bangotbanwa. She is a female Babaylan famous for conjuring good weather at will to ensure bountiful harvests. One of her most remarkable magical feats was when she called upon a great downpour that ended a three-year drought in the towns of Miag-ao and San Joaquin in Iloilo. She saved the town of Tubungan repeatedly from drought and starvation by performing the ritual of Sambayan which meant invoking rains and identifying underground springs. She is widely known to summon the rain by simply hanging her hair loose. She is that powerful that to this day, modern-day Babaylans still invoke her name to help them in their rituals.

The end of the Babaylan era began in the 16th century when the Roman Catholic religion was introduced into the country. They and their followers were punished, and idols representing their diwata were burned. But there were many who rose up to fight the foreign invaders. Among them were Papa Isio of Panay and Tamblot of Bohol.

Tamblot was a Babaylan who led around 2,000 followers opposing the religious conversion of the Boholanos into the Catholic faith in what is now known as the Tamblot Uprising (1621-1622). He feared that Bathala would be replaced by the God of the Catholic religion. He gained the trust in his village of barrio Tupas in the town of Antequera after winning a challenge against a Spanish priest.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Babaylan

How can I be a Babaylan?

There are various ways to become a Babaylan but more often than not, these people go through a lot of trials before they are ushered into the world of Babaylan.

In the olden days, it is the diwata who select those who can become a Babaylan. Many are stricken by very serious illnesses to the point of death or they encounter a series of events, accidents or phenomena that drive them to the point of insanity. A common scenario is that they are almost beside themselves because of some kind of trauma, illness or accident that happens to them, and that the only way for them to surpass it, is to be initiated into the fold as a priestess/priest. The other Babaylans in the village conduct the initiation rites or what is known in the vernacular as “tupad.” From that day onwards he/she is a full pledged Babaylan who can conduct healing rituals with the help of his/her assigned spirit guides or abyan.

And yet there are also those who willfully choose to be a Babaylan because they primarily want to heal or do miracles. They also must go through the initiation rites or “matupadan” before they can be genuine or full- pledged Babaylan. After consulting his/her spirit guides, a legitimate Babaylan conduct the initiation ritual.

With the dominance of modern religions, the Babaylan way of life is nearly forgotten or at best misunderstood. Due to the dwindling number of true Babaylan practitioners nowadays, the diwata have allowed that anyone can become a Babaylan as long as they choose to be one.


Do Babaylans believe in God?

Even before the Spaniards conquistadors came to Philippine shores, it is largely known that our ancestors believed in the Creator, Ang Lumikha. The Creator is called by different names in different locations on the archipelago. The people known as Tagalog call him/her Bathalang Maykapal.

What are the rituals of a modern Babaylan?

The modern Babaylan functions more like a priestess or miracle workers. They can do the following rituals:

  • Batak dungan  - Babaylans conduct this ritual to set the foundation of a person's physical health and protect him/her against any hex or curse.
  • Pagluluya or Pagpupulso – It is a diagnostic tool used by the Babaylan to find out what are the current and future physical or spiritual illness of a person. Oftentimes, the Babaylan can recommend a remedy or treatment plan.
  • Pagtutupad – This is the Babaylan’s initiation rites. It is a simple but powerful ritual that heralds a new Babaylan into the fold by affixing spirit guides who assist the new priest/priestess in his/her work.
  • Spiritual/Psychic Healing or Panggagamot - Apart from knowing the physical pain of a patient, Babaylan are capable of granting the healing of diseases borne about by “kulam” or “sumpa” or by supernatural beings which are invisible to the eye.

Albularyo vs Babaylan, what is the difference?

The healers we call albularyo come from the same lineage of the Babaylan tradition. They are the witch doctors who continued the healing practices when Spanish conquerors began to persecute the Babaylan and label them as typical witches. It was then that the Babaylan community went underground. The albularyo remained among the villagers and continued the ancient method of treatment of the Babaylan by combining Catholic prayers, practices and ceremonies within the Babaylan healing rituals. The use of orasyon in healing sessions became prevalent and more accepted by the Spanish authorities. By injecting Catholic folklore, they made it possible for traditional psychic healing to thrive under the watchful eyes of the foreign invaders.

Where are Babaylans located? Where can we find them?

Babaylans are located in different parts of the country. There is no one particular location which stands out as their main origin. They may be called by different names following the local language of the area but they all have the same spiritual abilities and roles in the society.

Babaylan has resurfaced now after articles were written about them and more studies have been presented to the general public. TV GMA Network launched Amaya, its epic-serye also depicted the Babaylan’s way of life.

Healing as a Babaylan

It was a case of a 24 year old man who was said to be “nawawala sa sarili”. According to his mother, he started behaving differently and was acting like he was being possessed by some spirit after killing a large monitor lizard which lived by the seashore where the river and sea meet.

The albularyo or native doctor advised the mother to make sure that the boy is not exposed to any smoke from any burnt parts of the dead monitor lizard. But since the boy was possessed, he was able to influence his mother to burn the dead creature. It was then then that his condition began to worsen. The boy stabbed himself in the stomach which injured his intestines. He was brought to the hospital and was in critical condition.

At this point, the albularyo refused to cure him saying he will resume only after the boy becomes stable and he's released from the hospital. Desperate to prevent his son from further injury, his mother resorted to tying his hands and feet. “Lagi syang nagwawala,” says the mother.

His cousin asked me to heal him at a distance. With the help of my spirit guides or abyan, I was able to restore the child’s diwa and he became normal again.

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