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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Part 1: The Gods of Philippine Mythology

Throughout all of history, humanity has found ways to explain the world around them - be it through the mystical rituals of the Hindus, the precise experiments of the Greeks, the sober analysis of Oswald Avery, or the drug-addled fever dreams of Sigmund Freud. One age-old method utilised by many to this day is mythology, the study of fabled lands, arcane gods, and other things of the same calibre.

Philippine Mythology
Image: Center For Paranormal Studies
 There is an infinitude of myths to go over, but of particular interest to one today is the Philippine mythos, or more specifically, its pantheon of deities. It is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of the populace knows the names of Odin, Thor, Mercury, Zeus and other generic European gods, but does anyone know about the rivalries of Bathala and Ulilang Kaluluwa? 

How about the complex hierarchies of the anito and diwata? For most, the answer to above question would be a solid “no” - and so one has embarked on a treacherous journey laden with tedious Wikipedia articles, obscure references and other such dangers of the academe, to bring the reader this brief primer on the deities of the pre-colonial Tagalog culture, by far the most prevalent indigenous group in the Philippine archipelago.

Philippine Tribes Map
Image: Horatio87179500
It would be wise to start with the culture of the Tagalogs, in order to discern where many of the themes from these myths about their gods come from. The Tagalogs were an animistic people, meaning they believed that everything in nature has an innate purpose or soul. These nature spirits, or diwata (from Sanskrit “devata” - deity) were considered gods in their own right, much like the kami of the Japanese Shinto faith. Another term for these spirits is “anito”, although this specific word had more meanings, as it also applies to deities, higher spirits (sent by Bathala to guard humanity) and ancestral spirits. The Tagalogs also believed in something akin to heaven and hell - kasanaan and maca, respectively.

Along with this, they also had a trinity, much like today’s Christians - although theirs’ wasn’t fixed. The first iteration of the Trinity was formed between Bathala, Supreme God of All-Creation, Ulilang Kaluluwa (“Orphaned Spirit”), a gigantic serpent dwelling in Kaluwalhatian (another word for “heaven”; abode of the gods), and Galang Kaluluwa (“Wandering Spirit”), a winged god who was fond of travelling. The First Trinity was not to last, though, as Ulilang Kaluluwa, blinded by his fear of being usurped, challenged Bathala to a fight in order to see who would rule over the Universe.

Philippine Mythology
Image: Opera News
After three days and three nights, Bathala came out victorious, ultimately slaying the serpent. Galang Kaluluwa, who eventually became quite a close friend of Bathala, later died of an illness, and was buried alongside Ulilang Kaluluwa. From their graves sprung forth the first coconut tree. Upon inspection, Bathala reminisced about his fallen friend - the coconut reminded him of the Wandering Spirit’s head, the leaves, of his wings, and the firm trunk, of his foe.

The tree would serve as a valuable resource for the first humans, with the nut serving as food and drink, the wood and leaves as building material, and the fibres as clothes, baskets, and other necessities. The subject of the first humans leads us to the Second Trinity, this one being between Bathala, Aman Sinaya, the patron goddess of fishermen and the oceans, and Amihan (literally “breeze” or “north-east wind), god of the monsoon. 

Philippine Mythology
Image: Aswang Project
As with the First Trinity, Bathala had a rival in the form of Aman Sinaya, who regularly sent typhoons up to High Heaven. Bathala would also retaliate with lightning bolts. In a particularly nasty exchange, Bathala threw boulders down at Aman Sinaya’s domain, thus creating the world’s multitude of islands. Amihan, being the more rational of the bunch, turned himself into a bird and helped mediate the conflict.

The former rivals then agreed to pause hostilities and, as a sign of their new friendship, Bathala planted a seed on the ocean floor, from which the bamboo reed that bore Malakas (“strong”) and Maganda (“beautiful”) sprung. Armed with this knowledge, the reader may now go on to the almost-complete catalogue of Tagalog deities.

To be Continued...


About the Author:

An amateur historian with an interest in East Asian and European histories, and a knack for cartography.

Twitter: @Horatio87179500

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