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Babaylan is a Visayan term identifying an indigenous Filipino religious leader, who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer and a community "miracle-worker" (or a combination of any of those). The babaylan can be male, female, or male transvestites (known as asog, bayoc, or bayog), but most of the babaylan were female.
The babaylan in Filipino indigenous tradition is a person who is gifted to heal the spirit and the body; a woman who serves the community through her role as a folk therapist, wisdom-keeper and philosopher; a woman who provides stability to the community’s social structure; a woman who can access the spirit realm and other states of consciousness and traffic easily in and out of these worlds; a woman who has vast knowledge of healing therapies".— Leny Strobel
A babaylan is "a specialist in the fields of culture, religion, medicine and all kinds of theoretical knowledge about the phenomenon of nature."— Marianita "Girlie" C. Villariba, sociologist and anthropologist
In addition to this, a babaylan is someone who "intercedes for the community and individuals" and is also someone who "serves". Any study of the babaylan must take into consideration the suppression of the babaylan's practices since the onset of European and American colonialism in the Philippines.
There are two kinds of babaylan: the living babaylan and heavenly babaylan. The living babaylans are babaylans who are still living in the physical world, who serve people and help to control day to day negative happenings on earth. The heavenly babaylans are the babaylans who directly receive heaven's messages from God. The heavenly babaylans guide the living babaylans, who also receive messages from heaven but serve people directly on earth. Each babaylan has this so-called gabay. The gabay are heavenly babaylans who protect and serve the living babaylans. Each babaylan has a different designation in the world. People may be destined to become presidents, senators, doctors, teachers, or members of the armed forces, but the babaylans always these things' "center." There are five elements in the power of living babaylans: wind, soil, fire, water and earth (kalikasan). If a living babaylan is ordained and baptized in the place of the babaylans' five elements, he or she will be a powerful babaylan.
Prior to, during, and after the Philippine Revolution of 1896–1898, the babaylans of Dios Buhawi and Papa Isio of Negros Occidental participated in the struggle to throw off the Spanish yoke. Their primary agenda was religious freedom and agrarian reform; most followers of the babaylan tradition were dispossessed land owners thrown off their property by the Spanish hacienderos and in some cases by Spanish friars bent on acquiring land.
- Villariba, Marianita C. "Babaylan Women as Guide to a Life of Justice and Peace" (PDF). WOMEN IN ACTION No.2, 2006, page 55. isiswomen.org. Retrieved 28 November 2013.