Almost Feel Like You’ve Been Here Before

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Discworld.

The volcano erupted. Apparently, it does that on occasion still, and…the city’s still standing, the cane fields unrazed, nobody evacuated, there wasn’t even an earthquake. It was more like an ash burp. I was still sorry not to have seen it, because there didn’t seem to be any other way to know that it had happened, except by word of mouth of new friends I made in this city…who might have, on second thought, been joking.

One good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: hot springs. They were a half hour’s drive past the edge of the city, through the definitely-horizontal sugar cane fields, then past rice paddies terraced to keep up with the incline of the mountain—if we can say that a volcano is just a mountain with extra geothermal activity—and through the semi-domesticated jungle that the volcano dressed up in. The venue was like a park, with several families strolling down the cobblestone paths, sometimes in swimsuits. Bamboo fences divided and hid the hot spring pools (access to which pools varied in price depending on the temperature or mineral concentration of the water.) It was like sitting in a mossy stone bath tub of warm broth, under the light and chill mountain rain. I toweled off and came out feeling deeply juvenated, if smelling a shade fartlike.

One tall bamboo fence, topped by a vast netted tent, turned out to be a butterfly sanctuary and flower garden. The rest of the area were mostly more cobblestone paths and cold boulder-rivers, some plots of grassy turf and other plots of semi-domesticated jungle, a hiking trail upwards to adventure, and a hiking trail downwards to an eatery.

We had grilled garlic scallops in the half shell for lunch. I can’t get seafood this fresh at mountains of the same altitude up north, maybe due to less competent urban planning, or maybe due to the capital being on a bigger island with far more distance between the mountains and beaches, or maybe due to the belligerent introversion of the mountains themselves. I also had the fried chicken, and while this town has a signature chicken recipe that isn’t fried, there’s something about the chickens here that taste more like chicken no matter what the recipe. I wonder if it’s something in the feed.

Another good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: previous explosions can make some of the most fertile ground for farming, and that residual fertility can last for generations.

*

To Corporeal Cecilia, the volcano is personified but not anthropomorphized. He (the volcano, not Corporeal Cecilia) just looms there and grumps. My source for the personification-anthropomorphization was J. A. Macculloch’s The Religion of the Ancient Celts (“In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and […] this led later to more complete personification”) although Cecilia, who is currently taking anthropology classes, knows this as an unfashionable anthropological theory wielded to justify colonialism. (Ahem, “more complete” personification?)

The volcano does have a story, as Cecilia told me. There was a seven-headed dragon (that’s the volcano, zoomorphized…or should that be cryptozoomorphized?) and some legendary heroic figure that dueled the dragon, and the townsfolk were so happy this hero won that they named the volcano Laon after the hero. Which could get confusing, because the dragon was the volcano?

*

My proto-source for personification and anthropomorphism was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. There’s a faithful film adaptation of Hogfather somewhere out there that probably best shows Discworld theology, the Hogfather being the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus. Sir Pratchett peppers a fair few books with Anthropomorphic Personification, by those words, with Capitalization.

What gets less brightly highlighted, though, is Discworld’s sort of Animism, probably because it’s never called that, let alone with Capitalization. Discworld has a natural phenomenon known as the Narrative Imperative. This prevents heroes from dying off before the villains, and also allows the medieval fantasy battle party to get very meta about everything. I think that could be one example. Another could be the idea introduced in the Tiffany Aching quintet, about how witches awaken to their abilities depending on the geology of their home. Granny Weatherwax’s power grew from the granite mountains of Lancre (or, according to a fellow witch in-world, from having a mild inborn predisposition to witch-ing which may or may not be genetic…and then working bloody hard at it.) Tiffany’s power grew from the chalk hills, which age-peer witches give her flack for, and one old witch who meant well but couldn’t help being flabbergasted. Older and wiser witches know the bones of the chalk hills are flint, which is more acceptably rocklike, but most of the big magic that Tiffany does calls to the oceanic origins of her land and name.

My concept of sea witches grew out of that sort of animism, how the coral bones call to the fetch, and the salts turn to fluid crystals and liquid rock. Beaches are edges, too—liminal spaces between sea and earth, and even whitecaps on the high seas a liminality of sea and sky.

What about volcanic witches? Far less explosive and destructive than stereotyped, I gathered, at least around this volcano. How does one capital-w Work with an animistic grump dressed like some plant goddess of mountain-jungles and fields (who does good, but really doesn’t know or care or try to do it, or take thanks for it because he’s that much of a grump)? Or an adversarial dragon named after the hero who slew him?

I can still feel the warmth of the scalding, sulphuric waters. That’s all that grounds me on this subject, really, and walking around in Volcano Country, and eating stuff grown in Volcano Country, and catching conversations and stories in and of Volcano Country, and breathing the air. What do I make of this all, with folklore and pop culture and passé anthropological jargon, and why? (This is neither rhetorical nor curious. I’m just settling into an approach, or honing a perception.)

A Capital Idea!

The following entry and links may contain triggering material.

The other day, I caught an amusing status update that described capital-p Pagan and Polytheism movements making too much noise about the next thing threatening it/these that…really doesn’t “threaten” at all. The ensuing discussion described picking on l’il-p pop culture paganism as two years out of vogue (hurrah!) but pitting pagan-inspired esotericism against by-the-reconstructionist-approved-book practices never goes out of style (un-hurrah.)

Now it’s capital-p Politics. Identity politics, and cultural dynamics, I think that’s dicey to say religion keeps itself in some hermetically sealed jar and never has any influence on that, or has never been influenced by that. Then again, my corporeal roommate is taking anthropology classes, and information is contagious.

It is commonplace in the academic study of religion to observe that the word “religion” is manifestly conditioned by the history of its use and that it is deeply problematic, epistemologically and politically, to generalize across the very wide range of human cultural goings-on that are now included in this capacious term.

That sentence is capacious.

To speak of religion is to elide and conceal much that is critical to understanding the deeply embedded ways of being often denoted by the short-hand term “religion(s).” Rather than begin by asking what religion is as an autonomous object in the world, or as a distinctive human phenomenon, and therefore how best to define it know it when we see it

Alynah’s Ears, can we please just know it when we see it? I don’t care anymore what philosophical distinction structures the Rather you have—

the better to explain it and its relations with other objects—it is more cautious to start the question: What has religion been for anthropology?

Okay. That’s pretty cool. What was I blogging about again? Not anthropology. Politics? Oh, right. Capital-p Politics, the laws and military and international relations…getting in the way of religion? Aristotle taught me that gods can only be arsed to take notice of the highborn. I don’t believe the lesson, but that doesn’t make the opposite true, that religion is apolitical.

I take anthropology to be a particular tradition of enquiry, a long conversation

With such capacious sentences, it would be a long conversation. I’m guilty of this, though, so I shouldn’t snark. Where’s this even from?

—”A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion” by Janice Boddy, Michael Lambek, and Treebeard the Ent

*

What makes religion apolitical to me personally is that, while my belief system might become categorically religious, I…haven’t navigated the political climate of where I live as well as that (not well enough for a consistent metaphor, anyway.) My corporeal friend of a friend, let’s name her Saeyong, told me over dinner about her worries for her home country because some politician over there seemed very likely to win on the platform of removing everyone’s online privacy…and monitoring offline spaces, as a public service. Dinner ended with her shaking my shoulders and exclaiming, “You have to vote! Or the worst will happen!”

But the only platforms I could glean from each candidate was, ‘No, your father was a womanizer!’ And I watched the debates. There didn’t seem to be any actual arguing. If someone comes up and says that sustainable poverty alleviation could only happen if legislation that affects businesses quit being so easily intimidated by vested interests, and the general answer is that poverty alleviation is always a noble goal that will involve balancing vested interests consistently…I still won’t know who to vote for.

“Binay bought our votes,” droned my corporeal friend Anjie. “He said it himself that even if he loses, he’ll win.”

“Are you sure he didn’t mean that even if nobody likes him, he’ll still be a winner in his heart?” I asked.

Anjie was very sure.

As it went, Anjie was wrong and Saeyong was right. We inaugurated this guy. Shaping up the police force to military standards! Encouraging vigilante justice among civilians! Dead bodies have turned up, mummified in masking tape with some paper note saying not to feel sorry for them, because they were drug pushers…which is hardly Procedure.

Alleged purse snatchers have been given the same treatment.

Purse snatchers. Alleged purse snatchers. Murdered, or “executed” but either way death is involved…for purse snatching. Not only is that not Procedure, but I’m just not sensing how exactly that dismantles the systemic economic injustices that turns purse-snatching into an attractive career in the first place. I’m not even saying that purse snatchers are a boon to society or unsung heroes or some bullshit: there’s a time in my life where I lived out of one bag, one unlucky encounter and yeah I would probably have wanted that thief dead. But I believe there’s a lot in between that might involve some actual justice maybe.

Anyway, who’s next up for masking tape mummification? Prostitutes? Jaywalkers? Litterbugs? Truant orphaned street children? Growing up in middle class luxury, I was always told those kids were pawns of organized crime syndicates. It stands to reason that now is the golden age of this nation, for vigilantes can sentence the kids to death for skipping class and breaking child labor laws.

In cheerier news, the United Nations asked China very nicely to cut it out with setting up military outposts and destroying corals to create artificial islands in areas that aren’t theirs, that is…the Philippines. (I’ve overheard some rumors about unfortunate Vietnamese fishing boats in the same area whose crews might not have made it out alive, but overhearing rumors is hardly proper citation.)

According to China, though, the Philippines is in China.

*

Scratch all that.

What makes religion apolitical to me personally is that I haven’t got a hashtagging prayer.

Jung On Active Imagination

When it comes to Jungian psychology, I tend to just like the ideas because they applied well, and they felt like they fit with…whatever I was going through, or dealing with, that I’d get all Jungian about. I’d take it as a given that Jung was a child of the times, being a Swiss dude who worked between the 1910s to 1960s. I considered Active Imagination an inevitable outcome of his research into dream symbolism and the relation thereof to the mental state of his patients. I also picked up somewhere that Freudian psychology and Jungian psychology branched off when their respective founders disagreed; and just a cursory look at Freudian psychology revealed some reductive, harmful ideas disguised as intellectual rigor. Jungian psychology still has its problems, but started off with a pluralistic enough view of the human condition to…remain relevant.

So, I thought of it coldly, in terms of “irreconcilable philosophical difference.” It made sense that they would split.

Joan Chodorow’s compilation and commentary of Jung’s writings on the Active Imagination method of therapy gave the context I lacked. By the read of it, the ‘breakup’ with Freud had outright traumatized Jung. He found himself subject to fatigue and terrors, and unable to write. So, now technically without peers in his field, he turned to the theories he developed about his own mind. There had to be some way that he could heal the psychological damage from within.

Several years later, Jung could be caught walking in the garden, having lively conversations with an invisible man named like a Pokémon. That’s what it sometimes looks like when this therapy is working well. Jung’s first essay on this topic was entitled “The Transcendental Function”, begun in 1916 and finally published in 1958. Now that’s a bad case of writer’s block.

A fantasy is more or less your own invention, and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. But active imagination, as the term denotes, means that the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic – that is, of course, if your conscious reason does not interfere. You begin by concentrating on a starting point (…) when you concentrate on a mental picture, it begins to stir, the image becomes enriched by details, it moves and develops. Each time, naturally, you mistrust it and have the idea that you have just made it up, that it is merely your own invention. But you have to overcome that doubt, because it is not true.

We can really produce precious little by our conscious mind. All the time we are dependent upon the things that literally fall into our consciousness; therefore in German we call them Einfälle. For instance, if my unconscious should prefer not to give me ideas, I could not proceed with my lecture, because I could not invent the next step.

You all know the experience when you want to mention a name or a word which you know quite well, and it simply does not present itself; but some time later it drops into your memory. We depend entirely upon the benevolent cooperation of our unconscious. If it does not cooperate, we are completely lost. Therefore I am convinced that we cannot do much in the way of conscious invention; we over-estimate the power of intention and the will. And so when we concentrate on an inner picture and when we are careful not to interrupt the natural flow of events, our unconscious will produce a series of images which will make a complete story.

I have tried that method with many patients and for many years, and possess a large collection of such ‘opera.’

Joan Chodorow comments:

In the spontaneous dramatic play of childhood, upsetting life situations are enacted symbolically, but this time the child is in control.

(…)

The major danger of the method [of active imagination] involves being overwhelmed by the powerful effects, impulses and images of the unconscious. It should be attempted only by psychologically mature individuals who are capable of withstanding a powerful confrontation with the unconscious. A well developed ego standpoint is needed so that conscious and unconscious may encounter each other as equals.

Those are some conflicting messages, whether to set out on active imaginings with a mature and controlling attitude, or more immersive playful symbolism. Jung’s writings of his own meditative journeys in The Red Book were almost never purely descriptive. Everything had to mean something in this system of symbols and archetypes. This was, Jung maintained early on in Chodorow’s compilation, the difference between art therapy (enactments of this active imagination) and artistry (which produced the same things, not exactly the same things, but still through the mind). Artists who were Jung’s contemporaries might have what I call a sidereal intention, but didn’t have the skills to psychoanalyze themselves—according to Jung. Considering that Jung was codifying those very skills, though, that was an uncharacteristically dickweedish thing to say.

Close Scapes

On the 15th, I dreamed that I walked through the courtyard of my grade school campus. Sometimes it would continue into some garden spa that, of course, wasn’t part of the campus in waking life. My therapist had arrived, and then this giant cumulonimbus cloud tried to descend to meet us—meet my therapist, really, having mistaken my therapist to be some high-ranking member of this cloud’s holy order. Unless that wasn’t a mistake…hrmm… Anyway, what I remember next was walking on the sidewalk on the main avenue that (in waking life, too) linked all the university campuses, and meeting who I intuited to be the spirit of the road, or associated with the road or something. I remembered ey introducing emself as Guidon. (Which I wrote down, with much less difficulty than I usually have writing in dreams, so I didn’t glom onto the fact that this was a dream.) As we walked together, I remember feeling mildly amused and informed by the sheer amount of intellectual posturing that Guidon was doing.

When I woke up, I ran the name through a search engine, and eventually wondered if I might have been prodded or might be called by Gwyddion.

Then I thought to divulge this dream to my corporeal friend and roommate Cecilia, who gets more vocally irritated at the undergraduates who populate the now-gentrified Universityville. I described Guidon as that, because ey looked young and dressed in the fashionably unfashionable way of the Kids These Days, and seemed to have an awful lot to say about theoretical (theo-rhetorical?) matters. Eventually, Cecilia and I got back to grumbling about how, Back In Our Day, it was condiment pasta and farmer’s wet markets crowding the empty lots, not all these fancy schmancy restaurants in newly-constructed malls with giant air-conditioned grocery stores in the basement.

Then:

“The newsletter for Ateneo de Manila University is called Guidon,” Cecilia informed me. “Spelled that way, too: G-U-I-D-O-N.”

I hadn’t know that. I must have just picked it up and forgotten it, let it steep in my subconscious until it comes out in a dream like this. Still, we had a good laugh about how the personification of the Avenue wasn’t just one of those brilliantly irritatingly twee undergrads, but an Atenean (with all the associated stereotypes born of university rivalries).

Seriously, though, I’ve considered just leaving a clove cigarette and libation of Red Bull somewhere in the corner of the Avenue, to appease this minor dream-god of Young People Going Places, may ey forgive us nearly-elderly fogies our negative expressions of nostalgia.

In waking life, I did get around to seeing my therapist again. My sessions first started nine years ago, not continuously of course, and I have angst about how much of a lifetime a person can lose to the blearghy bleargh blah life plus neurotransmitter whatever… While waiting, I did finally get my hands on a copy of Jung on Active Imagination by Joan Chodorow, and it contextualized the Red Book enough that I realized I had been going about this all wrong. (From a Jungian psychological perspective, anyway. Maybe kind of.)

Cecilia and her family also invited me to stay with them in the Visayas for the summer. I’d heard so much about the place that I was excited to actually get to walk around in it, so that’s where I’m typing this from now. More later hopefully. Probably.

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.
  • Eight Things About (My) Descant Faelatry

    descant noun 1. a melody that is sung or played above the basic melody of a piece of music 2. a comment, remark, or criticism on a particular subject (archaic)

    I’d state that my early life had a dearth of vocabulary and structured understanding or practices pertaining to what I’d now call liminality, but maybe it’s more that nobody else could figure out where I stand in life for me. While I got around to digesting the mythology, theology, cosmology, metaphysical paradigms, ritual practices or customs, and specialized terms of a variety of established modes of discourse both religious and secular (that I consider beliefs, defining belief as the systematic implementation of ideas)…a belief in fairies became my belief.

    I go by Thomas Keightley’s word history. In The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People, Keightley noted that the word “fae” (or fay, or fey) in referring to folkloric beings of the Occident, really only existed in English—and had perhaps displaced while becoming synonymous with “elf”—and French, where the word might have come from the Fates. (France being there, and Rome being right there, it works.)

    Interacting with fae and questing through Faery came later, at which point maybe the terms don’t fit but I’ve already gotten attached to wording the something.

    I call my faith Faelatry. It might not fit anymore, but the word stuck. So, I thought to list of the similarities and differences perhaps to some other ways of Faelatry:

    1.) I believe in a corporeal world with corporeal/physical matter, indeed I default to it. In accordance with some kinds of fairy lore maybe, I also believe in otherworlds. Otherworlds or Faerylands have been an immensely helpful concept in parsing my personal experiences with the not-strictly-corporeal. When it takes a descant divergence or elaboration is that I’ve since mapped those Faerylands as the sidereal, ethereal (or otherreal), incorporeal, and surreal. Respectively, these would be the world made of agreements (cultural or social), the world of personal experience that often isn’t shared (I guess I could describe them as partial hallucinations overlaid on the corporeal, except unlike most hallucinations they make sense and become consistent), the world experienced during out-of-body experiences (yes, that’s far-fetched, as in yes “far-fetched” is literally what I call the method to do it, this is where I wrote how I do it), and the surreal (which are fuller hallucinations that make sense and become consistent, such as with dreams, especially numinous dreams).

    2.) In some traditions, the first rule of Fae club is you do not talk about Fae club. But I talk about it, write about it, express it as freely as I feel suitable, and even hope it’s even understood. I can’t talk about everything, due to the constraints of time, energy, and language. Oftentimes, a concept just doesn’t match any word in mind, and that’s when I can’t talk or write about it. Other times, the sort of experience I have might be classified as liminal, but it doesn’t make enough sense to be worth mentioning, and/or it isn’t consistent enough to have had any impact on my life, and I can’t personally justify maybe anyone else out there finding value in it. I also refer to fairies by the f-word that is verboten in some traditions, and I would probably even say thank you to them had I better manners (thanking the fae also verboten.)

    3.) Every liminal entity I meet is a fairy to me unless they insist otherwise, or unless I’d be talking with someone who I think would insist otherwise before we can actually have a constructive conversation. My own ethics strive for equal empowerment and mutually-respected boundaries: I understand that not everyone is a Faelatrist, and there would even be different traditions of Faelatry—Keightley noted Scandinavian fae being repelled by the sound of bells ringing, whereas some English fae would be attracted and delighted by the sound, for just one instance. In communities and interactions with those of differing terms and understanding, I’ll make as much effort to be in harmony. To navigate and ease the challenges of coexistence make the definition of ethics to me. But, I’m just Weird as an individual (and the way I use the word Weird is weird, and I won’t elaborate on that right now.) So: Deceased shades or ghosts of human beings are fae to me. Vampires are fae to me. Therianthropic or otherwise transhumanist facets are fae to me. Demons are fae to me. Angels are fae to me. Gods are fae to me. New Age extraterrestrial alien spirits from the Pleiades or Andromeda are fae to me. Pop culture characters who act like autonomous people with agency in the Faerylands I mentioned above…are fae to me.

    4.) How literal is my belief? William Bascom made the distinction between myths (which are very literal in belief, cited as authority for how the world is or how customs should be), folktales (which are told for entertainment and not much more than that), and legends (which run the gamut of belief, but, unlike the previous two, refer to earthly rather than cosmic truths). I consider it immensely important that someone makes that sort of distinction but I…don’t, generally. Sometimes I express belief in a way that’s metaphorical, other times I express impossible and unreasonable beliefs that’s can’t be justified but are just too real. All things considered, I function physically and societally somewhat fairly, thank you. Most importantly, literary interpretation isn’t what I’d necessarily consider disbelief. It’s still a systematic implementation of ideas.

    5.) I do have a belief in a sense of selfhood that can become cohesive, or fragmented. The corporeal Fetch, or the physical body, includes itself in this belief on the cohesive side. When the fetch, or self, extends or enacts in the Faerylands, I do believe that it can get very strange, and that’s what I’m still exploring. The experience of holding the contradicting personal truths of several personal fetches in the meantime could influence #4 above. It also influences an idea I have, of Simultaneous Reincarnation, which is that on some level everyone is a simultaneous reincarnation of everybody else. Access to altered or decentralized consciousnesses generates empathy in some work with Glamour, and such phenomena as meditative regressions to a past life. I believe that the Fetch can fragment into shards, and that there do exist some fae whose whole consciousness resembles a shard of human consciousness, and that there would (by the same rule) exist some fae whose consciousness resembles the collective or even total understanding of several human consciousnesses—but I’m not certain I’ve met any.

    6.) Glamour, I believe is related to the word for the rules of a language to which speakers and writers conform, and refers to the rules of action and consequences in the Faerylands. This theoretically includes Glamour in the corporeal world and the sidereal world. See #1 above: I know sidereal means something else in most dictionaries; that’s not usually what I mean when I use it. Nyah.

    7.) When I’m not repurposing existing words to represent a meaning there wasn’t previously a word for, I make up new ones. The concept of Wildeval is the one I consider most pertinent at the time of this writing, named for Oscar Wilde, who contrasted the market price of everything to a sentimentalist’s absurd sense of value. (In one of his stageplays, Lady Windermere’s Fan.) It’s that Wildeval embodied by ritual offerings I make to the fae, traditionally “toradh”.

    8.) Related to Glamour and Wildeval are the poetics (representative meaning attribution) of the body, of symbols, of objects, of locations, and of time. While the wheel of the year or the temperate seasons aren’t particularly significant to my own personal belief, I’d like to get this out on May Day. Also, I just really like eights so I’ll end this list here.

    Modes of Discourse

    So, I recently read a marvelously concise summary of the academic categories put to stories. The first point being that context is the determiner of these categories, not content. My personification of Context has no determination, though. Context lounges on the sofa singing, “que sera sera” while accompanying eirself on a plastic ukelele, which Context has never studied. Seriously, though, I can understand this, context, being the unspoken guidelines and sensitivities of a group of people towards these stories.

    Myths are believed in: we can infer this from how a body of stories (categorized as myths) can be cited as an authoritative explanation for how things are or how behavior should be. Folktales, on the other hand, are purely entertainment, perhaps I could say that some firewall is more of a given between reality and fiction.

    Before I read this, my approach to stories was of a categorization between tales and lore. The tales, the way I use the word, were any ideas, philosophies, experiences or representations thereof that a recorder-writer-person makes explicit in a medium of recorded history or fiction. The lore would be the sense of self, sense of world, relationship, and perceptions inferred and adopted from the tales, and refers to the given circumstances from which the tales would be generated, and lore becomes a sort of tale if I even try to explain what lore is (so, when it gets fuzzy then these terms are interchangeable.)

    And, personally, I think I’ll keep it that way. Because I do believe that even the myths survive by sustaining some veneer of coolness and entertainment, and that even the folktales and pop culture stories intended for entertainment in the first place become really popular when there’s some deeper resonance.

    What I did consider interesting was the category of a legend, basically running the gamut of attitudes between “well yeah obviously course this is completely made up” to “this might have actually been a thing so keep it in mind” and having one other main distinction: that is, of referring to the earthly rather than the cosmic. Legends have more verisimilitude. Two stories for example:

    Story One: Little Red Riding Hood skips through the woods and encounters a talking wolf, which whom she engages in conversation without any pre-establishment of her animal communication superpowers. Myself as a young reader would have some intuition that this story refers to mythic rather than literal truth, or that it’s a folktale. All the humans in this story can speak Wolf. Whatever.

    Story Two: Some random villager takes a twilight walk through a familiar meadow, only to find a cave in a hill in that meadow. This familiar meadow had no such hill or cave yesterday. There’s a party in the cave. The random villager’s sweetheart is serving on the wait staff of this party. The random wandering villager is well aware that this sweetheart died of tuberculosis two years ago. What the—just what is going on? What is this??? WHAT. IS. THIS?????

    Story Two is, academically, a legend. In my personal categories, I would have sorted Story One among the Tales and Story Two among the Lore before, but now they’re both Tales to me. I appreciate how the flabbergastedness echoes through the generations of telling and retelling of the second one. The firewall of this being fiction is thin, here, and to me it feels like it could be too real.

    That’s inevitable, comfortable—and perilous.

    I find a contemporary gamut of legend in celebrity gossip and Real Person Fanfiction (RPF). The democratization of any corporeal living person’s image into fictionalization just sat so wrong with me. I personally shouldn’t write about someone else’s life unless I know the canon, if it were an incident belonging in my own diaries, or a result of exhaustive research that I should hope hadn’t become stalking or harassment by the end. What I personally shouldn’t do, though, would itself never stop gossip columnists. I’m inclined to consider the entitlement to another’s existence and life as the same between the sloppy journalists of celebrity gossip magazines or tabloids, and those who write RPF. One important difference is that RPF makes no claims or call to social action for something that plainly isn’t true, and if that absorbs the collective sense of entitlement into a body of harmless fanworks, then I’ve got to not only tolerate that RPF exists but argue for people’s right to write it. Besides, I have no problem with the fictionalization of historical figures, even though, by all this logic, I should. (Respectable news reports are a whole other thing entirely.)

    So, I continue to make a distinction between the facts of the Corporeal, the contested perceptions of the Sidereal (my word for a layer of cultural value, so I might write “my corporeal friend Cecilia” or “my corporeal friend Anjie” but the value of friendship is psychological and cultural and therefore sidereal), and the forays and quests into the Ethereal, Incorporeal and Surreal. These have earned their categories by their very different natures in my experience, for the most part, but the firewalls between them can become too thin. So, I’m still mulling over ifwhen a distinction is or isn’t made, versus ifwhen a distinction should and shouldn’t be made.