"In the olden days, people knew how to read the heavens, though they did not have names to call what they saw. Their minds were serene, and they had wisdom that came from the will of God. People were respectful, kind, understanding, and loving to their fellow beings. Today, people have reached very high levels of education, yet their minds are easily provoked; they are often angry. When you give them advice, they respond negatively. But it is also not right for us to just leave them that way." --- ESTELITA “INDAY TITANG” DIOLA, CEBUANO-VISAYAN SINUOG HEAD RITUALIST, CEBU, CENTRAL PHILIPPINES
When I was preparing for my mandala journey back in 2008, my original intention was to begin with my home country. But I never thought it would begin with the Babaylan, the Filipino shaman or priestess. Tracing back the steps, it makes sense to begin the pilgrimage with her for for s/he is the bearer of the country's spiritual and cultural heritage - a rich source and wellspring of the earth story of my land and people.
This journey specific to the Babaylan began in 2011 when one of my mentors Fr. Albert Alejo, a Jesuit priest, peace worker, and advocate of the plight of indigenous peoples invited me to help launch the Babaylan book of Leny Strobel in Manila. I found the invitation too overwhelming for me as I was still a neophyte in the context of traditional Filipino wisdom and practice. I still have a pending thesis to work and maybe some additional units to take on if I still wanted to finish my minor in Cultural Heritage to add to my bachelor's degree in Social Sciences at the Ateneo de Manila University, I passed this invitation on to my friend and GINHAWA housemate Mini Gavino who apparently received an invitation from the author or her networks to put the launch together. She was after all well versed in this arena having been part of the prestigious Kontra- Gapi indigenous music and dance group and an avid researcher and advocate of the ancient Filipino script Baybayin.
Since then, I have been helping out in the gatherings as an artist by illustrating the logo of the project and creating a mandala ritual space; and as a singer by singing in some of the lecture - ritual sessions.
When I moved to Palawan, I have been invited several times by friends to visit Janet Dolera, a local Babaylan but hesitated until I found a sign that I would go at the right time. Early in 2013, I found myself under a sacred tree with Janet who has been helping out bring the stories of the Palawan Babaylans so that their wisdom and practices continue. She was one of those down to earth wisdom bearers you can directly converse with like a really good friend and mentor. It was a beautiful afternoon filled with so much clarity. The sun was shining and my heart was clear. She said that her spirit guides were asking her to relay to me story of how in the prehistoric Palawan myths during a time of crisis, the survival of humans depended on the harvest assisted by the God of Rice given out by the Creator/Bathala out of compassion. From what was shared by her guides, the story of ancestral bloodlines in relationship with nature spirits sharing with us the source of life primarily as food is something that needs to be remembered. As we started forgetting, veils have covered our eyes so we have forgotten to see and recognise them.
Why her message was important affirmed a beautiful experience with my Father in Manila last month. He showed me about his latest work for the FAO on Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems which builds on local knowledge and experience of indigenous agricultural systems reflecting the evolution of humankind, the diversity of its knowledge, and its profound relationship with nature.
Because during this time, my friend Karie Garnier, a Canadian humanitarian and artist was coming to Palawan to give a talk on Water Cure Therapy and the wisdom of his Cherokee mentor of 15 years, Rolling Thunder, the idea of holding two wisdom circles – both of the same indigenous souls from East and West came about. Also, by tradition of the interfaith dialogue practices I have been part of for three years, its best to open a gathering with the local spiritual practice so the spirits of the land where the meeting takes place help open up the sacred circle.
Thus, Earth Wisdom Circle was born inspired by my conversation with Janet and the message of her spirit guides and the Diwatas. Having her open the gathering held at Maia Earth Village in February 2013 for me was a blessing for the journey's beginnings.
The Palawan flood and food story and the story of the relationship of humans and the nature spirits that Janet shared to the circle lifted the energy of the space. Birds started swarming in a large number in circles behind us affirming the importance of the message of recognition and remembrance of our oneness story with the earth. She said that the God/Godess of this time of the Earth is Bathala na Tubignon (God/Godess of Water) to whom she is of sacred service for. Earth time in this period is the time of Water. Interestingly Karie, not having known this was the nature of Janet’s sacred work, shared about the healing powers of his Water Cure Therapy.
Currently, I am working with Janet in helping put together Tayuksidi Collective, an initiative founded on the intention of creating spaces to hold the wisdom and practice of the Babaylans and the 7 major tribes of Palawan (Palaw-An, Tagbanua, Batak, Taaw't-Bato, Molbog, Kagayanen, and Keney through story circles and community rituals. One of its primary intentions is to create a network of School of Living Traditions that will host learning spaces and documentation of their practices.
Mandala Earth story is working with the continuation of the earth wisdom circles as KA-LIKHAsan which means Co-Creator, the essence of the word Kalikasan (Environment/Nature) in support for community rituals for festivities and gatherings. Another support is to help develop the creative fundraiser activities to set up a Kelang Banwa, the traditional civic center of the Palaw-an Tribe.