[Ether Err] Tea Time with Lilibell

The following entry may contain triggering material.

"Sampaguita in Birdcage" photo by Faemon

“Sampaguita in Birdcage” photo by Faemon

It’s been raining, and then flooding. The proprietess of the haunted mansion allowed my corporeal friend Cecilia and myself to move from the basement to right below the attic. In the afternoon, Cecilia invited me to the cafe where she was catching up on the papers she was supposed to be writing instead of the asthma diagnosis and recovery that she’d actually been doing. Because I didn’t want to wade through through the ankle-deep swamp that our old room had become to bring another rucksack full of paperback books up three flights of stairs (and because I thought that maybe my adorably effervescent presence would defuse some of that stress,) I accepted. It did excuse me from the swamp trek that afternoon, but Cecilia gruffed that she was going to have to ignore me and then continued typing on her laptop. Occasionally, she would eke out a single bubbly peal of laughter, and I would think it was my adorable powers working effervescently, but Cecilia assured me that it had been deranged laughter. Then she would drink more coffee. As I recall, she’d been on her fifth-and-a-half cup when I arrived. We discovered a third alternative spelling of Taklamakan. I may have laughed in a similar way, because I’d proofread the paper of a mutual friend from Cecilia’s class, and gotten stuck on keeping that one desert’s name consistent.

I scribbled some developments on Ogdoad, a form of wishcraft symbolism based on chess. Zugzwang could be my word for a meditative state of mind, of stillness and emptiness, by which which intuitions could develop. The protection spell for Castling kingside (or shortside) would be target-specific nullification, like a shield; Castling queenside (or longside) would be more like keeping everything out except that which would be invited. When it came to the manifestation of a creative force, expressed by Queening the Pawn, there could be some advantages to underpromotion such as Knighting a Pawn. It all depended on what I called the Weird of the board, the rules that I shared with whoever and whatever the Ogdoad pieces would affect, and this sharing would not be so much agreed-upon but subject-to (with luck and perspicacity, maybe, noticed); that was what the Weird would be. Some spaces would be more chaotic or less well-understood, more Wild, and if the rules changed or there were no rules, there Ogdoad would have a different meaning or become meaningless. I still didn’t understand en passant Pawn capture, but there must have been something there to do with approximations of liminal transferring of information…

These were a lot of rules to re-learn. To set those up as mirrors to liminal experiences would be important, to keep the meaning, but might begin to contrive the liminal experiences to suit the rules instead.

Untitled by Guillermo Tolentino

Untitled by Guillermo Tolentino (detail) photo by Faemon

An image appeared in my mind (or in what I call the Surreal) of a young girl, fine hair as white as lightning, and a lunar glow to the rest of her body softening the outline of an already softly-shaped figure. This I recognized as my headcanon of Lilibell, first formed during a read of Lilibell of Two Hearts, and she sat at a table across from what looked like C-3PO from Star Wars if redesigned by Steve Jobs in the early 2000s: a slender humanoid form cast in seamless yellow gold, with no musculature, no hair, no unnecessary protrusions in the way of nipples or genitals or ears, and maybe there were facial features but they gave me a headache to squint through all the golden surface reflections to make those out. My headcanon Aletheias tended to look like that. What appeared to be a strobe light shone on the table between them, the shadows of the room around them concealing an audience like an amphitheater.

When I brought my mind back to the cafe, the glow at the edge of the Surreal table remained in what I call the Otherreal—a glow at the edge of the corporeal cafe table that probably no one else could sense.

My thought processes had leapt to a story-shaped conclusion:

Lilibell had been something of a champion in something like a ritual-sport-game-thingummy that was somewhat like chess. Aletheia 002 had been built and programmed to calculate all the possible moves in this game, and to play each move to the best advantage. The Clarene had apparently taken some pride in raising them both to this point. Lili played A002 to a stalemate seven times in a row, and on the eighth, A002 won. As this particular string of games hadn’t been particularly fun, Lili decided to not play for an ever again.

The game grew in popularity among the star spirits who had settled in the West, and the King began to grow suspicious. This had, emphatically, absolutely nothing to do with the King’s not-unwarranted prejudice against star spirits. The King had simply grown to realize how domineering and divisive the nature of the game was at all, creating ranks and hostilities between players. Its very structure generated a desire to win out over others. This game could not be good for society. And By Complete Coincidence, the minority of society that built a subculture around the game happened to be…in proportional majority…stars.

Lilibell, in a show of support for them, took once more to the competition area even as Centries reinforced the closing of the same. This may have involved some amount of violence and noise. Lilibell made a convincing case to the gods to the contrary, and the game once more became playable by anyone who wanted to play.

Eventually everyone should be utterly flabbergasted by all the fuss.

I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and wrote a letter to this presence, I thought of as Lilibell. What I took to be the ensuing conversation didn’t bring about anything particularly revelatory. Mostly, I remember the mood shifting in her glow. To me at that moment she carried such a charming, easy company. She could technically be snarky and rude, I was sure, inasmuch as that could jolt someone out of their comfort zone. Still, I couldn’t word it that way when twining wreathes of uncontainable compassion and goodwill rippled between us like the beating of mighty wings. If ever she suggested I change anything about myself, I’d do it, because she was the fulcrum between honesty and compassion, the spoke of that wheel. That sort of glamour can easily be used for evil, I thought, which was much less cynical than my usual thoughts. A front such as that always conceals some sort of evil, for one. Nobody’s really like that inside and out, unless their world is too small to know better, in which case there’s the bigger world for that sheer ignorance of damage to further damage. (For another.)

But I can believe in some aspects of the stories about her. I can believe Lilibell had made compromises, faced consequences, suffered fear of abandonment and betrayal. I was particularly inspired to write her internal struggles with evil. (As in, evil so pure that it can’t exist and yet it still manages to evil in its own evil absence. Even its privative remains evil. That’s how evil the evil evils.)

I can still believe those aspects, and Lilibell in the cafe didn’t come off as disagreeable on that point. Yet it remained difficult for me to believe that anyone could go through, or even brush up against any of that, and not sustain some stain that will never become wisdom, something irreparably broken in the beat of a wing or a heart.

How did you do it? I wondered. Whether it is fronting because we’d only just met for Otherreal, or one of numerous aspects (neither the Dierne’s joy or fear are necessarily less authentic for being different traits within one god), or the defining feature of Lilibell’s true self—it would be helpful to know. As I mentioned, though, the conversation was nothing revelatory. I couldn’t understand the response, or couldn’t translate. Maybe she really can’t give me a how-to, or won’t as she doesn’t and shouldn’t have to. She gave me a thought to the possibility. I feel like that’s a lot.

Poetry, Queen Myrtha, and Giselle

Giselle, Giselle

you’ve not stepped well

enough to excuse

those you would rescue



so comes the swarm

more harm for harm



by pain, by wrath

by maiden Mathilde

by loss, rebirth

by mother Myrtha



Justice wrought and polished keen

by talons, fangs, and Faery Queen

I haven’t written in verse in a long while. And I don’t consider the above a very good poem, whether that’s for devotionals or spellcasting. Last week I felt another bout of rage at everything from early memories of family dysfunction to capitalism. When I scribbled the poem, the rage dissipated. I’ve read some contradictory things about how to manage anger: that it worsens with repression, or that it’s performative so learning how to express anger then incites it. It’s probably going to be too contextual, whether interrupting someone’s process for the sake of a complacent and serene environment or calling something out as aggressive, oppressive, and influential to a toxic degree.

A few changes: Princess Bathilde becomes Mathilde, Giselle’s beleaguered mother Bertha becomes Myrtha. The cast comes off to me as soft around the edges, with the named characters serving as nodes of distinction. So, my headcanon that I’m applying made Queen Myrtha out as some form of Giselle’s grieving mother. The princess hunter Bathilde (that is, Bathilde is both a princess and a hunter, not a hunter of princesses) takes on some aspects of Matilda from Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name, and Matilda from The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds.

Canon Queen Myrtha herself (the Faery Queen) diverged into my headcanon by getting on board with causes other than the fall of the patriarchy. This, I discovered in one of those Quests during writing with touchbacks to other Quest levels that I think there should be a word for.

*

When the horde had vanished over the horizon, Giselle appeared in misty forested Erstvale to remind me that there’s more to life than curses. I’d always had very little patience for her platitudes. Something specific she said was interesting, which was really a contradiction of the personal being political. “You’re a cause to the Queen, not a person,” Giselle said. “They don’t care about your perspective or what you want to make happen. They only think they do.”

So if Queen Myrtha’s movement comes back to maul me, Giselle can laugh and say she told me so?

“Of course not,” she said, “You can try to cut me off as a weakness, but forgiving is just what I am.”

But the first thing was to wait and see if anything even actually happens, other than Guisers coming into the surreal who had previously been conceptual or wispily/flatly otherreal…although that’s been interesting, too.

Meeting the Paraspirituals

The following content and links may contain triggering material.

…radio silence since the year started, then all of a sudden, take a number and have a seat there’s such an awful lot of you!

This entry was supposed to be about how I woke up one morning and found a Faery Gold Arrowhead of Radiant Shame in the otherreal hanging over my bed in the corporeal, from a necklace that I tried to wear after but it made my chest feel clouded over because the faery gold arrowhead of radiant shame was the pendant. It radiated shame. When I figured its effects would be more difficult to keep track of unless it was on me, I knitted the laces into a glove that fit into my left hand. That way, I would always know where it was, but it wouldn’t put the whammy on me.

And then this entry was supposed to be about Marigold suddenly appearing in the grassy knoll I call Erstvale with an archery bow (Marigold had an archery bow, not the grassy knoll,) and showing me how to send a shard of the shard flying from the glove, and we argued. And I had my own interpretation of what all that was about, which was supposed to be humane and craftily written and poignant about the symbolism or something. Marigold suggested that I visualize my abusers in the field with us, and start shooting at them for practice. When I suggested scarecrows, instead, because I actually don’t like to think about my abusers or interact even with mock-ups of them, Marigold responded with a sternly-worded reminder that those scarecrows didn’t do anything to me. Frackking Fairylands.

Instead, I’m ramblogging about after the lesson, which lasted about a week in corporeal time and maybe four hours or so in Faery. I wandered from Erstvale into some random room with a clean, friendly-looking concierge desk and papers stacked on it. Two people sat behind the desk, who I knew well but never met before. One, let’s call him Vanilla, is one of the fathers of my fairy mother Vanda. He comes off as basically a very beige and distilled sort of…if the Prince Charming most twee had aged out and retired from adventuring without ever fully losing the twee. The other one was Marigold’s daughter, let’s call her Marjoram. She comes off more like the Goth girl who hates the world and always has a pen knife up her sleeve, but from what I gleaned of her story before I met her, she really aspires to be sheltered. Continue reading

On the Pledge, Turn, and Prestige

These are what I call the phases of wishcraft. I would write ‘stages’ of wishcraft, but I’m not a stage magician, although these terms come from a stage magician in a movie. (The Prestige, 2006.)

The Pledge refers to the statements of intentions or motives. What makes it a wish is the simplicity and authenticity. A stage magician would direct the audience to find that there is nothing under the performer’s sleeves, and while that’s more of a distraction to the ulteriors, a pledge in wishcraft is more genuine about what the caster doesn’t have and does have, and ultimately is a statement of attending to the potential. The caveats and precautions come into play in this stage for that reason.

The Turn refers to how it’s done. There are too many levels and ways to get a thing done that hasn’t even been specified in this entry (the thing), but basically the pledge is set into motion at this part.

The Prestige refers to the acceptance of the wish into truth. The perception of this result runs the gamut between intuitive and evidential, but I have this vague idea that thinking of the doing of the thing should either have this from the get-go. Or that meeting this standard will eventually come up.

p4Zxw8-wl

I’m sad for two reasons I can write about. The first is very simple but takes me a lot of words, the second is massive but I only have a few insufficient words for it. The cause of both sadnesses are the same: I watched this lecture about baylan, which I describe as a liminalist practice indigenous to the Manobo people of Surigao del Norte, in the Philippines.

I live a few islands northwise. Having been born thereabouts, too, I have Philippine citizenship. I have laminated sheets of paper that say so. I have paper-pieces folded up into a miniature book that somewhat corroborates with the sheets. I have cards with numbers on them, that have to do with taxes or something. I forgot to register to vote, and would probably have decided that it was too much trouble if I had remembered, but if some paper or card came out of it then that might serve as some consolation for pretending that I live in a democracy. And I have a baptismal certificate from long before I could decide on Catholicism. (The baptismal ritual was a precaution against my transferring to an unpleasant otherworldly afterlife upon something like a cot death, although it has since served as a kind of social currency—ugh and eww, but true— and mainly gave me an initiate’s access to certain mysteries, customs, and a community that has grown toxic to me.)

That’s all culture, too, inasmuch as I’m classified as “of a people”: the modern, the colonized, the Christianized, the city-slickers. The availability of meaningful cards and papers wouldn’t even necessarily exclude or disrupt a community from which baylan could emerge. (Okay, maybe that last piece of paper comes with some unwritten fine print.)

But, like the lecturer, I wasn’t socialized in indigenous liminalist practices, but grew up in a “heavily colonized lowland area where rituals hardly took place.”

Professor Damiana Eugenio, who compiled this volume on Philippine myths (and other similar ones for legends, epics, folk tales, and proverbs) wrote in the introduction to the Myths:

Among the Christianized peoples of the lowlands, however, the myths have survived as “mythological stories,” rather than as pure myths or, to borrow Stith Thompson’s terminology, as “mythological legends” (…) Both kinds are included in the present collection—the “purer” myths from our mountain peoples and the mythological stories and legends from lowland Christianized Philippines.

So I had this awkward moment where I looked around for the sullied post-colonial trash, then realized I’m it.

One of the biggest challenges in my early life was a lack of understanding of the liminality that I lived, and it just comes off as this disembodied shame that living experts were almost right next door, and I never even heard of them until adulthood. Now that I have just slightly more access to that information, though? I only feel an emptiness between myself and a thing, not some spark of fulfillment, or inspiration, or belonging. Maybe it never would have been my calling, or the name for it. (Maybe even if I’d had access, these prospective spiritual mentors would just go, “This one’s not spiritual, just crazy.”) I feel more like it’s too late.

But my own whinging is actually just a really small, easily processable part of it.

European fairy lore still feels more resonant, even with my descants, even with nobody else using the same words and concepts to do the same things, and even with the constant possibility that a good enough argument would compel me to concede semantically (which would actually be a lot): I was as much a changeling as I was a babaylan, that is, not at all, because people whose opinions and feelings I care about say that I have no right. “It would be easy enough to locate the abiyan in a pantheon not their own, and in so doing, distort baylan experience.” Yeah, I got that. I still think this applies: Some tales go that fairies left all the in-between places of our world and theirs, at least wherever we could get to. And I can interpret that metaphorically. I believe that liminal reception is natural in children, just because they’re children, or just because I was such a child on and off; and most of us lose that (I’m tempted to call it pamino “listening”) when we reach adulthood, and the storybook explanation for why fairies don’t exist could be a way to grieve that. On a broader scale, it could be a metaphor for the industrial revolution and consequent environmental exploitation and pollution, and we keep this story going as a way of apprehending the cost of our accomplishments as a society.

As a mirror to the decline of baylan, it’s less metaphorical: I’m witnessing a tradition die.

Fewer people call the abiyan, so fewer abiyan answer those fewer calls. There’s a widening chasm between the elders who remember the way of things, and younger people with the potential to actualize. There’s simply no room for babaylan in a patriarchy, or supplementing medical sciences, or caught between Abrahamic empires, or in communities who would rather leave the embarrassing, insane, and possibly demon-worshipping singer to be eaten by crocodiles. Even the spirits describe themselves as lowly and diminished.

So, I feel sad.

*

It’s been mostly that, this weekend. Marigold’s back, and has something to do with the Elf Shot of Condemnation and Doom. I’ll remember to ask her why she’s white, this time. I realized that the Ogdoad wasn’t going to work the way I expected it to, so I started doing another thing with it. I pondered the structures suggested by the practice of baylan: the possibility that my “abiyan” and the “abiyan” of others had interacted without our knowledge or belief and intervened in relationship quality suddenly became much less abstract, although I’d come to suppose that something like it might maybe have come into play on some level. What I learned suggested to me poetics of songs and voices, possible functions, possible mechanics, that I hadn’t previously considered. Knowing more about the baylan let me become a lot more comfortable with the idea of possession, which had been an intense source of anxiety to me as a child. Finally, while what I’d call the big-w Work has been trying to discern a method out of the mystery…what am I meant to do with it? Who is it supposed to help? The baylan hone the hows of helping as a given: that doesn’t deserve to die out (especially not by crocodile—I’m not getting over that soon.)

But mostly I’ve been sad. Maybe more widespread knowledge, and a wiser relationship with interested parties, would help develop more contemporary forms of babaylan. (Or sad seekers like me can keep our mitts off and let it die with as much dignity as a pre-colonial tradition can manage.)

*

Next weekend (or so, if I’ve stopped crying by then): Don’t know about my mitts, but my mittens get on something, and something gets on my mittens. Well, one mitten. Because that’s what I do on the quests that I don’t blog about: knitting. Knittin’ a mitten. Actually, this is a glove.

And Marigold was more fun back when she was fictional. I got her face wrong in this portrait, but the expression is approximate. Something’s gone awry when Marigold and Foxglove agree enough to collaborate on something.

Or maybe this:

An Ethnomusicology of the Baylan

The following content felt very important to me personally and it also made me so very sad.

I sat in on one of Cecilia’s classes in linguistic anthropology. The professor made it clear that such an intangible thing as language was still no mere point of philosophical debate. People agree to words for that which we embody and enact. Platonic philosophers can get bent.

Of course, in that class, the word would lead. A cursory glance through Life Hacks tells me that on the contrary, embodiments and enactments should lead, because the word or name for a thing limits our thinking.

Then I read Deepak Chopra’s The Way of the Wizard, and what I neglected to address in my review of it was when Chopra casually stated that Alchemy came from India. My first book about Alchemy was MacCoun’s who tried to combine Vajrayana and maybe chakras, and I didn’t get the feeling that these traditions combined well, at least not on the page. Maybe some embodied enactments in Hermeticist Alchemy came off to Chopra as very similar to some Indian mystical traditions? At this point I’d go by the word history as an indicator for who consolidated the ideas described by the words, and where.

The word “Alchemy” contains the Arabic article al- combined with the name for Egypt, the land of black soil, Khemia (or possibly the Greek khymatos, “to pour, especially to pour juice or sap”.) The discipline might be slightly less chemic now, for the most part, let alone chemical.

I also sat in a couple of Cecilia’s Religious Systems classes, and flinched several times at Durkheim’s use of totemism and too many other important writers’ respectably academic use of shamanism. When I asked one of Cecilia’s classmates about Mudang because she came from Korea, and Cecilia didn’t know what a Mudang was, and I didn’t know either which was why I asked, but I forgot how to pronounce Babaylan which I guessed was sorta maybe close to something kinda like—

I resorted to the S-word already.

There’s a lot more of that sort of thing coming up, though I really felt that that the following lecture by Grace Nono to the Harvard School of Divinity’s Women’s Studies in Religion Programme about Philippine shamanism is…important.

The general term for practitioner in this indigenous Philippine practice is babaylan, a word that’s probably from the Hiligaynon language (but I’m not certain: you can’t skip a pebble here without annoying representatives of like 5 different ethnolinguistic groups that occupy that distance, but of course I’m exaggerating) which is the mother tongue of my corporeal roommate Cecilia. My language would have been Tagalog, which is completely different—not a dialect, a completely different language—and I grew up in Jakarta anyway and instead learned Bahasa (which is the word for “language” in Bahasa Indonesia) in addition to my mother’s language, which was Bahasa Inggris.

Grace Nono talks about baylan, a possible linguistic cognate of babaylan. After taking to the podium, her initial introduction is in a spoken Philippine language. I understood every noun of it, but either the conjugation or the accent is unfamiliar to me. Or maybe I didn’t understand every noun, I only think I do because the syllables sound familiar by complete coincidence. Maybe the introductory speech actually was in Tagalog, but too technical and/or spoken too fluently for me to understand. In any case, this speaker having a mother from Mindanao and a father from Luzon is a significant regional distinction.

Filipino was supposed to be the national language, kind of like how Bahasa Indonesia is different from Javanese or Balinese, but last I checked, Filipino was mostly Tagalog anyway. Cecilia’s better at complaining about that than I am. To protest this imperialism of the capital, I refused to learn this domineering language. Also because Tagalog is slightly less agglutinative than Entish and difficult to learn. I speak English instead, which isn’t at all imperialistic or privileged. (The English language is totally imperialistic, everyone. And so is Esperanto, kind of.) Seriously, though, Cecilia and I speak to each other in English, except for the words that English doesn’t have for some things. My family took a trip to the northernmost island of Batanes once, and the people there didn’t even speak the language of the capital, they spoke the language of Batanes and they spoke English. I’ve heard people from the region of Cebu speak Cebuano and English. We’ve got to start somewhere.

The lecture above contextualizes the baylan on the border of Visayas and Mindanao. The baylan that is Nono’s specific case study, and more broadly babaylan, practice a way of life and spirituality in decline. This decline is evidently due to the introduction of both Christianity and Islam, Western medical science, environmental devastation, the political tensions between modern capitalist development and the pushback movement of militant communism, and that some baylan are even captured and fed to crocodiles. Wait, what? What. WHAT. Apparently all the aforementioned circumstances didn’t make life difficult enough. Still hung up on the Burning Times? The Crocodile Times are still happening! (I watched National Geographic documentaries. Death by crocodile is messy and painful.)

Baylan continue to exist and practice, at least fitting in the communities that don’t feed them to crocodiles. Nono asserted that the “disruption” caused by a baylan‘s continued existence, to commercial development, to recognized world religions, to violently antitheist communism, is not necessarily active resistance. I can guess that there would be some digging in of the heels when getting dragged towards the crocodile is involved, but seriously, some people just be how they be.

I’m just going to put dots on the rest of the lecture’s parts.

  • (7 mins) Nono addresses the universalization of the term shaman, a consequence of globalizing European modernity, according to Thomas Carl Oliberts(?) The term babaylan similarly gained prominence not by the choice of the babaylan themselves, but because of nationalists, feminists, decolonization scholars, and social movements since the 1980s. The term refers to the ritualist, oralist healers in the Visayas. The same function or role is performed across the Philippine islands.
  • Nono describes the main informant, whose name I think is spelled Ondine Potensiano. The event described takes place in/near Surigao del Norte, among the people known as Agusan Manobo.
  • Important concepts include the entities known as abiyan (I hope it’s spelled that way) and the practice of yagung, or the embodied voice. The embodied voice becomes enacted in the gudgud ritual songs, or the tudlum (possibly tud’um) songs.
  • (11 minutes) Ondine suffered a long bout of an undiagnosed illness. As a granddaughter of a baylan, this deceased relative descended upon her as an abiyan at which point Ontine began to heal herself, and conduct healing ceremonies, childbirthing, and so on.
  • Of interest to an ethnomusicologist, is how this yagung is generated, how it is listened to by ritual participants, what the yagung tells us about baylan and abiyan, and how this relates to dominant understandings of voice.
  • Dominant understandings of the voice (in the West, the voice has an individual material source, Roman rhetoritician Quintilla says that every being has a voice of their own, Mladen Dolar wrote that we can “unfailingly identify a person by the voice…the voice is like a fingerprint, instantly recognizable and identifiable”)
  • (15 mins) Connors notes: Late classical and medieval concept of the body was not an object so much as a dynamism, vulnerable to invasion by other forces and agencies; “insides” and “outsides” produced each other reciprocally, and this was steadily eroded in the 17th and 18th centuries by the notion of the body as an object in a coherent and fixed field, an individual unity by itself.
  • Such a concept of the body, and by extension the voice, was introduced via colonialism to indigenous people in different parts of the world, which modern society now compelled to rid their own bodies and voices of coming and goings of ancestors, deities, and spirits.
  • “…the relational voice that arises from plural and overlapping materialities continues to be heard as we speak in ways that does not annul the individual agent, but maintain a critical participation in composite acts of voicing.”
  • It would be easy enough to locate the baylan‘s spirit helpers, the abiyan, in a pantheon not their own, and in so doing, distort baylan experience. Vicente Rafael writes: “…in reorganizing the structure of native beliefs…(standard missionary practices situate/document) spirits in a type of spiritual order that positions this hierarchy as part of a set of reflections of a distant pre-Christian past.” Other misunderstandings include how missionaries equated offerings as a sign of respect to these spirits with idolatry, conflating the nature of these offerings with that of Christian offerings.
  • In comparison with Haitian spirits, by McCarthy Brown: “The Vodou spirits are not always models of the well-lived life; rather, they mirror the full range of possibilities inherent in the particular slice of life over which they preside. Failure to understand this leads observers to portray these spirits as demonic (…) Virtue is less an inherent character trait than a dynamic state of being that demands ongoing attention and care. Virtue is achieved by maintaining responsible relationships, characterized by appropriate gifts tangible and intangible.” When such relationships are disrespected or disrupted, illness can result that can be healed with the intervention of the baylan.
  • (20 mins) Description of the Panumanan ritual, involving prayers to the Creator for protection, and a string of beads and bells dedicated to the spirits, and a transfer of human song to spirit song from the same voice. The spirit was an established one in the myth of the people, followed by Ondine’s deceased grandmother’s spirit. The first message to come through: “For us to sing in a house not our home makes us feel ashamed.” When asked after the future of humans, considering hardships and uncertainties, the spirit replied in song that, “No one accepts the law of Ginoo/Magbabaya anymore, that’s why you shouldn’t be surprised at the difficulties people are experiencing.” A spirit of midwifery and healing added, “Even our medium commits many mistakes!” The informant later clarified that these included drinking too much, skipping ritual offerings, not owning a gong that was necessary to the ritual, and having children who misunderstood or despised tradition. Returning to the topic of human concerns: “We have become weak, lowly and diminished in our ability to help and to keep assurances regarding the future.” Finally, a specific patient was brought to the baylan, and the recommended remedy was for the patient to apologize to the patient’s own father (whose own abiyan convinced a storm spirit to curse the patient) and offer a chicken as sacrifice so that the patient’s leg would no longer feel pain.
  • (32 mins) Nono’s disclaimer: “I knew I wasn’t necessarily sharing in my fellow ritual participants’ habitus—” (Becker’s term for overlapping structures of understanding) “—of listening…for though I was born and raised in the same province, and I had ritual healers also among my maternal relations in Mindanao, I was not socialized in baylan rituals and their sounds, having grown up in a heavily colonized lowland area where rituals hardly took place. I was outside this community of listeners.
  • Description of the mechanics of the trance among those who conduct the rituals, and the “summoning songs” that act like a telephone—those go both ways between baylan and abiyan. During possession, a baylan can both give voice to an abiyan and hear the abiyan in conversation with those beyond the body who those in the corporeal realm could not hear. This implies multiple levels of listening.
  • (43 mins) Description of the bodies of the abiyan: invisible and intangible except to those who also have a meditator or special hearing, light enough to travel with the wind and penetrate walls and human body parts, an abiyan‘s original form takes a gender and an age that help determine the quality of voice but these forms and voices can change, location in the cosmology (such as a deceased elder would inhabit Maybuyan, the city of the dead, and travel to the world of the living, or a nature spirit would dwell in the mountains and also travel to take possession of a baylan), categorized as ancestors, land spirits, and those with wider jurisdictions such as storms, all employed under a Creator.
  • (47 mins) Obstacles to abiyan activity, rivals of people’s devotion, and Western medicine, have chased away the abiyan. The continued applicability of shamanistic healing, and the culturally acceptable medicines.
  • (52 mins) “At this point, I would like to ask a question. Is yagung-s or voices’ permeability and plurality applicable only to baylan? What about people like ourselves, who may not even believe in spirits, let alone think of ourselves as entered by these spirits?” Martin Dowdry: The voice is constructed in part through our memetic, dialectic, dialogic, and polyphonic relationships with the voices that surround us from birth, voice is not the essence of a unitary self, but an instrument through which our personalities and our many overlapping selves are projected out into the world.
  • (53 mins) Nono sings a tudlum, a ritual song without possession, distinguished from the gudgud, which is a song guided by the abiyan.
  • (55 mins) Closing statement on reclaiming ancestral voices.
  • (56 mins) Q & A portion, from a scholar in Chinese shamanism. What is the social or legal status of baylan? What could be the psychological or social factors that make someone want to be a shaman, or shamanic healer, in spite of those obstacles? Answer. The Philippine government gives legal status to albularyo and hilot practitioners, but ritualists—Babaylan, broadly—not so well-consiered. (Baylan continue to be fined for practicing midwifery and the one giving birth also penalized with a fine, noted later.) As for the traits of a potential baylan, nobody wants to be one, not only because of the stigma, but because the life of a baylan is a commitment to instability and poverty. It takes a kind, gentle, and generous soul. It takes a conscientiousness to the spirit world and adherence to the rituals, and a talent for speech and singing.
  • Inaudible question by Ann Braude, who introduced Nono at the beginning of the video.
  • (62 mins) Q & A portion, from a scholar in Peruvian shamanism, noting the commonalities in colonial history between Philippine shamanism, Chinese shamanism, and Peruvian shamanism. A minister of health tried to outlaw Ayuhuasca, and did so successfully for two weeks until people revolted. Urbanites in Latin America and further north increased the commercial demand for Ayuhuasca, and the consequent subculture of charlatanism. A friend of this scholar, a French doctor apprenticed among local shamans, had these spiritual guides direct him to treat drug addiction, and augmented this shamanic practice with a medical degree and transpersonal/Jungian psychotherapy. Sometimes, a spirit is involved in the havoc, and states that “Modernity willfully closes its eyes to this reality (of spirits.)” A colleague of this questioner, the Dean of Mt. Julio College or Smith College, has a book of channelled messages from a Tibetan Bodhisattva, Teachings from Manjushri, authorship encouraged by the Bodhisattva. Answer. There is a growing fascination among the intellectual elite who want to know more about the babaylan, previously inaccessible as history textbooks claim the babaylan have completely disappeared. Nono’s work involves uniting well-meaning intellectuals with those who can more patiently teach an unfamiliar embodied practice beyond intellectual discourse. (Mention of the legal persecution of midwives come up at this point.)
  • (70 mins) Q & A portion. How does someone receive recognition, or otherwise qualify? Is a teacher-student relationship required? To what extent is this formalized or is it informal? Answer The first way is through lineage, as in an apprenticeship. When Ondine’s grandmother passed away, the spirit of this grandmother continued this informant’s training. Otherwise, a potential babaylan have strange dreams and fall ill as a way of spirit initiation. Ritual acceptance of this initiation can involve animal sacrifice, that’s the extent of the formality. If the practice is effective, then more people begin to refer others to a babaylan. The practice is not generally to be advertised.
  • (71 mins) Q & A portion. About the fossilized or idealized notion of the babaylan, and the competition between the traditional spirits with other religious spirits and forms of modernity. Have there been any changes in the conception of the spirit world that reflect changes in the contemporary world? For example, voice recording, do those also get reflected in the spirit world or concepts thereof? Answer. The different spirits of different babaylan would have different reactions to recordings. Some allow only still photography. Others would be eager for the recording of these practices with cutting-edge technology. Sometimes there are disagreements between the babaylan and the abiyan. (However, no mention of the concept of the spirit world changing to reflect or as this adapts to the presence of technology.)
  • (74 mins) Q & A. What is the journey of these multiple voices at work? If the spirit voice is not just the reproduction of existing language, then what is the implication of the spirit voice, in terms of a reconstitution of the language and maybe the creation of a different language? These babaylan, what is the relational field? What is the nature of community between them? Answer. The second question’s answer comes first, because the first question is complicated. There is no centralized governing power amog babaylan. Each community will have a family that has the lineage. Babaylan don’t necessarily know each other, they call different ancestors, they call different spirits, and adhere to different histories. There can be common threads between practices, but also differences of course. Only with recent intervention are some of these babaylan beginning to meet, and for the most part, these babaylan were happy to meet with each other, introducing spirits to each other. As for reconstitution of language? Clarification is needed. Q & A (78 mins) Any language is understood theoretically in terms of social practice. The babaylan believe in a world of language, but when you hear the voice of the spirit, then it is not just the reproduction of an existing social language. What can be the implications of that with rethinking language? Would new forms of poetry and literary work come from this? Answer. It’s the other way around. The language of the Manobo come from spirits. The spirits do not reproduce the language of humans, the humans reproduce the language of spirits. The human language does change due to history and upon encountering another ethnolinguistic group, but then it seems the language of spirits keep an archaic quality. That’s why interpreters who are elders are needed, because younger people don’t understand what the spirits are saying. It’s not just the languages’ referential meanings that are important in this practice, however, but the sound itself. It’s important, if you become a babaylan, you have to learn how to not just speak the words, but to sing them in a way the spirits can recognize. To the spirits, talking is sung, in the same way that walking is dance.