What is a Babaylan?
Philippine indigenous communities recognize a woman (or man) as a Babaylan, someone who has the ability to mediate with the spirit world, has her own spirit guides, and is given gifts of healing, foretelling, and insight. She may also have knowledge of healing therapies such as hilot, arbularyo. She is a ritualist, a chanter, diviner. She has the gift of traveling to the spirit world or non-ordinary states of reality in order to mediate with the spirits. Babaylans are called by other names in the other languages of Philippine indigenous communities: Mombaki, Dawac, Balyan or Balian, Katalonan, Ma-Aram, Mangngallag, Mumbaki, Mambunong.
In contemporary contexts, whether in urban Philippines or in Filipino diasporic communities, the Babaylan name is used by those who are inspired by the spirit in which the primary Babaylans carried out their work: the spirit of revolution against colonization, their belief in Sacred Wholeness, their love of mother country, the desire to serve their communities in achieving justice and peace.
If we were to take a non-Filipino word to describe the various healers/spiritual practitioners, a “shaman” would be the closest. Some of our members, in their writings for a Western/Westernized audience, sometimes interchange shaman, “shaman-priest,” or “priestess” but our members also strive to use the local term when referring to a specific person, region, or ethnolinguistic group. Otherwise, it IS indeed a challenge to use English terms to describe or explain our Philippine traditions.
Babaylan Tradition concerns the Filipino Wisdom and Power within us. Filipinos everywhere can be empowered by traditions preserved, upheld, passed on by Babaylan women and men. Filipino leaders can individually and collectively strengthen, evolve and uphold this intensifying, re-emerging respect for indigenous traditions and identity, and can in turn empower communities they serve.
You may carry the traditions of the Babaylan within you because you have answered a calling of leadership in one or more of the following: advocacy, activism, teaching, increasing awareness, healing, spirituality and vision, struggling and working for justice—actions and motivation deeply connected to the context of being Filipino. If so, you may be interested in coming to our events and perhaps in helping us bring about these events and future offerings.
Those of us who are organizing CFBS and the conferences refer to ourselves as “Babaylan-inspired” out of respect for the primary Babaylans in the Philippines who are land-based in their indigenous communities.
Come and join us in an exploration and illumination of Babaylan indigenous wisdom and spirit that can empower us in our daily lives and our communities and enable the healing and evolution of Filipino soul.
Decolonization transforms the consciousness of the colonized through the reclamation of the Filipino cultural self and makes space for the recovery and healing of traumatic memory, and healing leading to different forms of activism. It is an open-ended process. It is a new way of seeing. As a way of healing, it is also a promise and a hope.
Leny Strobel | CfBS Founder &
Former Executive Director