There is no name for my path as they are ethnic and indigenous folk beliefs from the Philippines, particularly of the Tagalogs and Visayans, which I am and specifically an Akeanon under the various Visaya’s groups. (Though Anito is what Western scholars have used to call the beliefs systems in the Philippines because most if not all have a reverence for the ancestors and of idol worship.) These beliefs are still around despite Roman Catholicism however they have blended in with the religion and developed to it’s own form of Folk Christianity. The worship of old deities aren’t around anymore however they have been personified as various Saints that is worshiped in different towns.
You can say those ethnic and folk beliefs are still around especially in the rural areas by mixing in with Catholicism, however, I practice our indigenous beliefs before Spanish missionaries and conquistadors came to our islands. In a way I guess you can say I’m a Reconstructionist and I do refer myself as one sometimes but only because no one works with the old deities any longer, at least not in a grand scale. Some local cultural beliefs and practices that blended with Catholicism are still practiced however so it wasn’t totally gone. My path is one that is taking our ethnic beliefs out of a Christian context and reverting back to how my ancestors originally practiced.
So no my beliefs and practices are not related to Neo-Pagan and other Pagan belief systems such as Wicca and Asatru and I prefer to refer myself as an Animist and Polytheist, than Pagan. Our indigenous beliefs are essentially just that, ethnic, indigenous, and folk religions. My spirituality is not only as a part of my life but also plays a huge part in my decolonization.
First and foremost the spiritual practices of Pre-Hispanic Philippines and the those of the remaining indigenous groups are animistic. The belief in spirits is prevalent even today and is the core of my beliefs. There is a belief in the anito and diwata, which depending where you are in the Philippines the terms are used differently. Anito is generally used up north in the Luzon regions, and parts of the Visaya’s, while diwata is used in the south in Mindanao and part’s of the Visaya’s.
The anito are the ancestors and nature and land spirits who are around us. It also sometimes includes the deities, but in my path reserve it for the ancestors and spirits. The diwata are the same but the term is used in the South and in some parts its used either for the deities, a specific deity, or for the nature spirits. Coming from the Visayas the term is used for deities which is what I use.
The belief that there is a spirit in everything from the plants, animals, rocks, mountains, rivers, and even rain, thunder, and lightning, meant that nature was sacred and to be treated with respect.The balete tree or banyan for example, was a sacred and revered tree. It was where the spirits lived in and people were careful not to disturb them. There is a phrase, even now that many Filipino’s still use to not anger the spirits and risk harm to themselves. When walking in forests, mountains, fields, and other sacred and natural places, people say “tabi-tabi po”, which is basically “excuse me, excuse me” with “po” being a term used for respect. It is asking the spirits for permission and telling them that we are passing through and mean no harm. Despite being a dominant Roman Catholic country, we still believe in spirits and do this. I remember my parents telling saying this when in forested area’s and they would tell me to say it to so I don’t anger and disturb them.
I am a Polytheist and I believe that all the deities from all culture’s are their own being. I don’t believe in the concept of a God and Goddess though I do believe that there is a sole universal energy that makes up both the feminine and masculine energy found throughout the universe, and that deity is a genderless Divine source known by several names through out the different ethnic groups.
Now being a Polytheist I work with the deities from the Philippines mainly the Tagalog and Visayan deities because that’s what I am. There are plenty of other deities from the different ethnic groups in the Philippines which is a lot, that I acknowledge but I don’t personally work with due to not being those ethnic groups. I call on and work with them when I need to depending on their attributes or just out of respect before leaving them my offerings. Some deities are Aman Sinaya the Goddess of the Sea, Mayari the moon goodess, Apo Laki the sun God, Lakapati the transexual deity of fertility, Mapulon God of the seasons, Ribung Linti god of thunder and lightning, Lalahon the fire breathing Goddess of harvest and the Goddess of Mt. Kanloan.
In one of the creation stories from the Tagalog’s there were three deities, Bathala, Aman Sinaya, and Amihan the God of the North East winds who took the form of a bird. In the story Bathala and Aman Sinaya were bitter enemies who constantly fought each other. Bathala would send his thunder and lightning down to Aman Sinaya while she sent her waves eventually creating the islands. Eventually sick of the feud Amihan flew back and forth between the two realms bringing the sky and sea closer to each other. Because of this both deities finally agreed to stop their feud and as a sign of peace Bathala planted a seed in the bottom of the Aman Sinaya’s ocean floors. From this seed it grew into a bamboo shoot and one day Amihan flew by it hearing voices. Curious he brought the bamboo over to the nearest island and pecked it open. Inside the first man and woman, Malakas and Maganda (Strong and Beautiful), came out. There is also another one very similar to the Tagalog between Kaptan and Magwayen for the Visayan’s.
For the ancient Filipino’s there was a belief in a Supreme Deity, some were male, some were female, however most of the time it was either genderless or a transexual deity. Regardless, there was a belief in a Supreme Deity with lesser deities who the people worshiped. For me the Divine is genderless. Worshiping the deities however comes second to the ancestors. Yes I respect and honor them but the ancestors are more important.
Ancestor worship is a big thing in my path. In Pre-Hispanic Philippines, especially in the Visaya’s where my mom’s side of the family comes from, worshiping the ancestors were for some even more important than the spirits and the deities. The ancestors were believed to play an important role in our lives and have the ability to interfere with aspects of our lives just like the spirits. Even today most Filipino’s respect the ancestors and the dead.
The ancestors were said to reside around us in nature and in wooden and stone figure’s called likha, tao-tao, bata-bata, or larawan. It was referred to as idol worship by the Spaniards because they saw the people worshiping and paying respects to these figurine idols. Today we still have some of these small statues in some parks, houses, and in the Cordilleras Mountain Region in Luzon, the Igorot tribes still worship these statues which they call Balul, or Rice Gods. We also still have them as keychains and these figures are still sold in local markets for homes.
In the Visaya’s the umalagad, (ancestor spirits), were personal guardians of a person or family, sometimes even taking form as animals. They were here to help us and were invoked for fertility in agriculture, harvest, healing, war, leaving the house, or safe journey’s when traveling either by land or sea.
For me I know none of my ancestors are here in the states as they didn’t die here so they definitely aren’t in the trees or mountains. However by the form of my ancestral shrine I honor them and pay my respects by giving my offerings of rice, chicken, incense, money, coconut and rice wine, and any of the other Filipino foods I choose to offer depending on the occasion. I do this every morning before I do anything else and before I leave my house to receive their blessings and know that they are watching over me and my family.
In my culture there is generally a belief in a person having two (or sometimes more depending on the ethnic group) souls one the physical, the other spiritual. The physical soul is the soul of the body that can never leave. It is the soul of where you are born and when you die that soul will return back to the earth, becoming one of the many nature spirits. The other soul, the spiritual soul, is the one that can leave the body and walk about. In the West it can be compared to something like astral projection and dreams. If the physical soul does manage to leave, the body dies and without it you are dead. When you die, while the physical soul stays on earth, the spiritual soul moves on to the land of the dead or reincarnates.
Life After Death:
In the Visaya’s there is belief that when someone dies their soul goes to a place which is akin to a place for the dead, called Sulad. When someone dies their soul gets taken in a boat by the Sea Goddess Magwayen who brings the souls to Sulad.
There is also a practice of second burial jars. The most famous burial jar is theManunggual Jar (right) dated from 890-710 B.C. that depicts a ferryman and a soul traveling to the afterlife. In the Philippines it was believed that the rivers and oceans were the gateways to the land of the dead. The way this burial is done is when a person dies the body is wrapped in cloth, mainly cotton, then put in a wooden coffin. It is then buried, usually under the house of the family where traditionally the homes were built on stilts. After about 2-4 years the coffin is opened up and the bones are cleaned, washed, blessed, and sometimes decorated before putting them in a jar/s. Once that’s done that jar is then placed usually in caves or buried again.
There is a common belief from the various ethnic groups of a Skyland, Earth, and the Underworld. This not only a Philippine belief but pretty much universal. There is also a belief in different dimensions, different layers of the world. In the Visaya’s there is a belief in 7 layers of the universe.
- Nothingness or Ranig-Ranig. The uninhabited base.
- Tubignon. The abode and kingdoms of sea spirits, a layer entirely made of water.
- Idalmunon. The abode and kingdoms of the earth spirits, a world in the bowels of the earth.
- Lupanon. This is the earth world shared by both humans and spirits, such as the anito and diwata.
- Kahanginan. The sky above the earth’s surface, inhabited by a flying half-human horse (bentohangin) and a gigantic wide winged bird (hubot).
- Ibabawnon. Inhabited by babaylan/human mediums that intercede for humans with the spirit world.
- Langitnon. The abode of the deities.
Other Random Bits of My Spirituality & Path:
- I follow the Babaylan tradition. The Babaylans, also known as Katalonan’s, Bailan’s, and Mumbaki as other terms from other ethnic groups, were Priestesses who had knowledge of healing, herbs, and communicating with the spirits, the deities, and the ancestors. They were given the most highest respect and were the one’s the Datu’s and Rajah’s (tribal leaders and chiefs) came to for advice on different things involving the barangay. (tribe, community) They were the Wise women (Men also assumed the role though it wasn’t as common, but those that did had to dress up as a woman, and were either straight, gay, or transexual.), the healers, the vessel who communicated with the Anito and Diwata’s, and the ones who performed rituals for different events. Now seeing as I am still young, have no community I can serve, I do not call myself a Babaylan. I do follow the tradition and would be considered an Alabay, an apprentice or someone who follows the traditions but isn’t a leader.
- My cultural tradition’s such as chanting, dancing, and tattooing are also a part of my path spiritually. Traditional dances were created to invoke the anito, for harvest festivals, and to tell a story as well as chanting. The tattooing culture that thrived in the Philippines prior to the Spaniards is also a part of my spiritual path. Tattooing or Batuk in the Visaya’s, in the Philippines was considered sacred and earned. Men earned their tattoo’s from success in tribal wars, headhunting, and other rites of passages. It showed that they were brave and warriors. Women received their tattoo’s not just for beauty but also as rites of passage as well. The Visayan’s were especially known for their tattoo’s as they were covered from head to toe and were called the “Pintado’s” or “The Painted One’s” by the Spaniards. The men tattooed there chests, backs, arms, legs, and faces, the more tattoo’s the more they were a warrior and brave, especially by the way of the traditional tattooing which is painful and long. The bravest and strongest of men took on the painstaking ritual and act of tattooing the face. For women tattoo’s were mostly found on the hands, arms, legs, and chest and neck area and were more finer and delicate than than the men’s bold and thick designs. For me even though I do not have any traditional tattoo’s at the moment I do plan to get them when I go back to the Philippines next year. The Visayan’s as well as most of the Filipino’s have lost our tattooing culture and only a few ethnic groups such as the Kalinga still preserve it though it is dying out due to the younger generation not being interested in it. I plan to go back and learn from the remaining elders who still practice and give out the traditional tattoo’s to keep the tradition alive. I plan to get tattooed with traditional symbols on my hands and arms for my dedication for my spiritual path and culture. (You can see some up in my picture above on my forehead). I have already actually gotten my first tattoo of a lingling-o symbol, a symbol for fertility, good luck, and connecting with the ancestors which you can see on the picture here.
- There are also something akin to totems in my culture and symbolism’s with different animals. Some examples are the crocodile and snake. Crocodile’s were revered and sacred and they still are today. They were given offering’s and were considered to be the ancestors. The word for crocodile is nuno which is also another term for grandparents, ancestors. They are also one of the most common motifs in tattoo’s with their scales and teeth. The snake was seen as messenger of the spirits and ancestors. In the Visaya’s there was also a belief that a person can have a snake as a twin, their umalagad, which was considered to be a good omen as the child would be protected by the ancestors and would become a great warrior. Today you can still see the heads of snakes and crocodiles in the hilts of swords and knives.
- One of the major offerings for the anito and diwata are chickens. Even today we still sacrifice a chicken for rituals and offerings. Many Neo-Pagans today frown upon animal sacrifice and reject that old practice for the past. Yes some practices today should be left in the past, I mean if headhunting which was a common practice in the Philippines, was still around that would be something wouldn’t it? However some things such as sacrificing a chicken or pig for the ancestors, spirits, and deities I don’t see a problem with and would do myself if I was back in the Philippines. Of course the animals are treated humanely and if one is sacrificed it’s a quick death by slicing it’s throat and letting the blood flow into the earth. It’s a sacred practice that has and is still performed today especially with indigenous groups to pay their respects and ask permission for anything. The animal is not wasted and is cooked to feed the community. Though I do not have chickens to raise where I currently live in the states, I do offer up pork blood and chicken blood and pour them onto my food offerings.
- I do believe in different creatures such as the wak-wak, tikbalang, kataw, sirena, tamawo, sigbin, kapre, and many other creatures, and these beliefs is still ingrained in most Filipino’s and many still do believe in them.
- My path is both spiritual and cultural. Not only am I trying to revive the old beliefs but also the tradition’s as well. Even though the tradition’s such as the dances and music are starting to pick up again through performances and dance groups, there is still a lack of love and recognition for our tradition’s and culture and I hope to one day to not only work to revive them but teach them as well.
And this ladies and gentlemen is my path, my spirituality, and beliefs. Or at least part. It would take forever to write down everything. I’m not going to go into the Gods and Goddesses, the symbols, and other specific parts of my path and Philippine Mythology and traditions because I think this is enough to explain my general beliefs.