Images of Women: Babaylan the proto-scientist: A total theater-A A +A
Yagubyob sa Bulkan
Sunday, August 25, 2013
IN THE realm of the Babaylan, everything is a sacred ritual. A deep reverence for nature is the basic intrinsic knowledge and practice that is a life-giving heritage of the indigenous people.
In my journey in search of my true identity, I came face-to-face with the sacred when I first met the Babaylan in the mountains, chanting, dancing, in trance. In this altered state of consciousness accordingly, one meets the other higher beings, communes with the spirits, receives the wisdom and purifies the mind and body. I allowed myself to experience in a trance dance a total freedom which always ends with a powerful catharsis of emotions which flows like an old mountain river, cleansing and purifying all hard corners.
In a healing ritual I experienced with the indigenous community, the male Baylans are at times possessed by female spirits which then makes the dance very graceful and flowing.
In the Babaylan book edited by Leny Strobel, elements and implications of the Babaylan’s dance is reflected as Babaylan’s consciousness as Agnes Miclat-Cacayan explained the “implications for evolving a Filipino (feminist (spirituality) paradigm that is holistic and authentic.
The Babaylan seems to invite us to first understand that in her dance, body and spirit is one. Consider the original Babaylan and the realms she navigated, internalized and interfaced in her dance: She presided over all the rituals of her people, from planting to harvest, from birth, dis-ease, to death, from weddings, hunts, wars to victory.
Aside from being a priest, she was an empowered healer, midwife, herbalist, a trusted confidante, a reputed and wise counselor/adviser, a mediator (between humans), a medium or bridge (between human and the spirit world), a historian, a visionary/clairvoyant, and environmentalist and cosmologist.” The list of attributes never ends from a grounded community leader, poet, chanter and dramatic artist; but the most controversial role as revealed by Fr. Francisco Demetrio in Salazar’s narrative is the Babaylan being a “proto-scientist” or “the ability to read the secrets of men’s hearts.”
Sacred feminine in trance performance
Babaylan, which refers to the woman goddess, priestess and healer, is isolated in written Philippine history. In original political structure in the Philippines called barangay, three prominent figures were identified by historians such as the chieftain, the blacksmith and the babaylan who is usually a woman (sometimes a man) who is the healer, keeper of knowledge and culture. The fourth one was added later as the bagani or warrior.
This is to show that in many different indigenous communities, the women healers are powerful figures and play an important part in daily existence and who were also respected for their ritualistic form in trance dance as a sacred prayer or communications with the spirit world.
Babaylans are real women, doing ordinary household chores, but their special gift makes them play a special role in their communities. In the documentary film Baraka, my heart sank at how these vanishing cultures have been replaced by modernization. The roots of our culture are soon to be endangered and extinct. The stories of the women in the film are so powerful that words are not even necessary. The embodiment of their culture in their physical form speaks the essence of real theater as real experience of life.
Wild women dancer archetype
In her book Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarisa Estes, wrote about the Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh, where she defined women's sense of freedom in these words… "When women are relegated on moods, mannerisms and contours that conform to a single ideal of beauty and behavior, they are captured in both body and soul, and are no longer free." (229) If we only concern ourselves with the woman's size and shape, then it becomes a single minded point of view. Women are made of different body sizes capable of using this body in any form of expression.
Dance as a form is often attributed to athletic body form and calculated movements with rhythmic coordination. In this context however, Estes gives us a new perspective of looking at the body as powerful vehicle of expression. In her own words she wrote "In the instinctive psyche, the body is considered a sensor, an informational network, a messenger with myriad communication systems -- cardiovascular, respiratory, skeletal, autonomic, as well as emotive and intuitive. In the imaginal world, the body is powerful vehicle, a spirit who lives with us, a prayer of life in its own right.”
In other studies, the body is also known to have six senses. Estes wrote "…the body is a living record of life given, life taken, life hoped for, life healed. It is valued for its articulate ability to register immediate reaction, to feel profoundly, to sense ahead." Since this topic is about physicalizing in eloquence all kinds of images, I think it is important to note what Estes has discovered in her discourse which she states in beautiful words "The body is a multilingual being. It speaks through its colors and its temperature. It speaks through dance." Like a sponge, the body remembers all the details. To deprive the body all these emotions and experiences, destroys the spirit and wounds the natural joy of the wild nature of the body. A woman who has an instinctive nature, values the body and spirit. We have to understand deeply the other aspects that nurture all spectacles of beauty, function and form.
Estes in her body of work, shares with other woman how to heal bodies, wounded and slain emotionally and physically in the past through “Body Talk.” They sing mourning songs and dances for the bodies when the world ignored it as "instrument of knowing." In many cultures such as the "Mariposa" or butterfly woman in Mexico, her heavy old body commands respect as she hops and echoes as she plays the part of the wild woman personified. The butterfly woman translates the blessings in her movement through the wisdom of her body. She is old for she can embrace all people, she is allowed to touch everyone when they are sick, her body is the repository of all wisdom.
The inner dancer
Let me borrow the words of Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way where she defined the first basic principle of spiritual electricity that is; "creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.” Hence, if we follow this order, our body will start to dance the inner dance. The energy is the Invisible Dancer moving and flowing like water, expanding like the earth, floating like the wind, infinite as the universe. To dance is our birth right, we need to connect to that infinite Source then love energy can flow that makes this body alive.
Life is a great movement from beginning till the end, and another cycle spirals to infinity to reach the stars. The body is our vehicle to happiness and love.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 25, 2013.