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: