EPisode 3: A Different Type of Beginning
Hi! Welcome to Episode 3, an episode I’m super excited for. Today, we’re going to dive into the mythology of the Philippines. Well, we’re going to start with one version of it. Which is a bad way of seguing into a clarification of what you will actually be hearing in today’s episode.
So in the last episode, I laid out the situation we’re dealing with when investigating Filipino mythology and folklore. Namely, the fact that the country is a collection of islands whose people were disconnected enough that making a collection of their stories would be well…difficult. Or not as easy as it could have been.
So here’s the situation. In the Philippines, there are different ethnolinguistic groups that each have their own stories or different versions of the same story that can’t always be properly reconciled. Which leaves me, as the podcaster, with some artistic choices that definitely aren’t going to make everyone happy. But not only is this my podcast, it’s a documentation of my journey, so I’m going to do what feels right for me.
I want to start by looking at the origin myths, and I’m going to start with those of the Tagalogs. The Tagalog people are a major ethnolinguistic group on the island of Luzon, their cultural heartland includes the capital city of Manila. I’m not starting with them because they’ve happened to—in quotes here—win when they got the nation’s capital. I’m starting with them because that’s the group my family is a part of.
With that being said, what you are about to hear is a very, VERY, artistic retelling of one of the creation stories of the Tagalog people. So yeah, I took a lot of liberties with it. And in doing so I probably inserted some inaccuracies. And in this case, I think that’s okay. Because the mythologies of other cultures have had their own retellings, they’ve had their opportunity to dance with the creative (softer) or with people who like the idea of being considered creative (normal) but these stories haven’t had that chance.
I’m a firm believer that the best way to let art die is to neglect it. The same is true for stories. Engagement, however fanciful, makes it possible for a later version to exist, and perhaps the purist version you really want.
So now, (Music cuts) here’s the story….
(Music starts and gradually fades out)
Long before any creature we know took a breath, the universe contained only three beings. Three all-powerful beings lived in the universe, not made or created by anything but they simply existed as long as existence had. The first was Bathala. Bathala lived on the earth and found great peace there, nurturing and caring for the place he dwelt. He spent all his days laboring over that which he cared for, and usually, he was quite content. The second was Ulilang Kaluluwa. Ulilang, an impossibly large serpent orphaned and unattached in every way, found a resting place in the clouds over the earth, believing himself to be above all things while he rested up there. And finally, there was Galang Kaluluwa who wandered around aimlessly. But that did not mean that Galang Kaluluwa was discontent. On the contrary, he took great joy in being able to fly around on whims and wind. For him, there was no better feeling than that of his outstretch wings.
Though they were the only beings in all of existence, they did not know each other. They lived distinct lives in a shared domain, but that domain was so large that those three gods did not cross paths. And it left them very lonely.
You see there were days while Bathala tended to the earth, that he would find himself restless, unsoothed by his labor as he usually was. When this happened, he looked out at the expanse before him. He dreamt of creating beings who could dwell upon it. He dreamt of populating the world with mortals that would make him feel less alone and give his labor more purpose. He could gift the earth to them, he would think to himself. He could share his domain with them.
But alas, the earth was far too empty for such things. There were pieces he needed to realize this dream, but he did not know what they were. And if he did not know, then he could not make them. And his vision would come apart. No, he would think to himself, the earth might be his home, but it was far too barren for anything else or to sustain the life he wished to put upon it.
(Echoing drips fading into music which then fades out)
Now, Ulilang Kaluluwa was just as lonely, but the serpent did not seek solace in dreams of that which could be but was not possible. Instead, Ulilang would venture form his home in the clouds, stretching out the long muscles of his body and giving each scale a chance in the sun. For this reason, earth was his favorite place to visit.
Now there were times when both of these beings were on the Earth as they went about their daily lives but not once did they meet each other. Back then, the world was much larger, or so it felt that way with so much empty space. After all, it was life that brought the corners of the globe together.
However, it was inevitable that these two gods would cross, and indeed they did. Ulilang Kaluluwa was exploring what he believed to be his when he came across Bathala, this other being that was his equal in so many ways. And in that sight, the large serpent was angered. He seethed with unprompted hatred and fury.
“Who are you?” Ulilang hissed.
Bathala did not let the emotion unnerve him. He stood tall. “My name is Bathala. I am the being that cares for this earth. Who are you?”
Now, in this age, there were no ordinary beings or beings that we as people would consider ordinary. Power and magic were part and parcel with flesh. Consequently, there were only gods, all-powerful in their abilities.
Now perhaps Ulilang did not know this. Perhaps he did not know that there were no lesser beings anywhere, but such did not matter. For he knew what he was seeing. As he looked up and down the being before him, he knew that in every way, Bathala was very much his equal
(Louder) And Ulilang hated him for it.
The serpent’s hissed roared through the empty world, shaking the ground beneath them and the clouds overhead. Ulilang opened his mouth, revealing the large fangs lurking there within. They glistened in the sunlight. Bathala did not react. Bathala did not have any such fangs nor did he have the desire to show them. He had no desire to do much of anything. Ulilang raised up until his head blocked out the sun and a dark shadow fell over the land. He hissed again, and once again earth and sky shook.
Through it all, Bathala remained steadfast.
“What grievance do you have with me?” Bathala asked the serpent. “Why do you feel so compelled to act this way?”
“My grievance is that you are here,” the snake replied. “As long as you are here, I do not truly rule this realm. Even if you bow before me, I will never be the true master, for I will not be the most powerful being in the realm.”
Now it is worth remembering that the realm beneath them was tended to by Bathala, but even Bathala did not lay a claim so vehemently, so passionately, so violently, as Ulilang did. He did not draw his motivation from fear, pride, or need. Rather, he saw that the earth was good, so he sought its preservation. And certainly a limbless snake could not nurture the realm so diligently as Bathala has for so long.
Knowing this, Bathala stood tall. His resolve did not waiver. “What I tend to,” he said. His low voice sending out a rumble of its own. “What I care for is not yours to claim. After all, to what end would you have it? You can do nothing for this place but let it decay, let the ocean waters swallow up the land, let the land break into pieces, and let the wind fill with sand. You know nothing about the order this place depends upon and could not act should you learn. Again, I ask what purpose do you wish to have this kingdom?”
And indeed, there was no purpose at all. Ulilang wanted what he did not have simply so that he could have it. Such was his concern.
(Music starts and gradually fades)
Ulilang lunged at Bathala with his fangs extended, and with this, the battle was begun.
With both beings so matched in strength and power they quickly found themselves at a stalemate. One would grasp the other in a strong, firm vice that could have killed a lesser being. But with the two so matched, one could hold out just long enough, just enough for his foe’s confidence to create a mistake, a moment of weakness, and that would yield a chance for escape and reclaim the upper hand, and that chance would be seized, a break would be made, and the battle would continue. One would knock the other to the ground and pin him there until the earth shook and the entrapped found a way to escape. One would snare up the other in a clever trap only to be blinded by the sun’s rays and sent recoiling back., letting his foe escape.
Both were strong, equally so. Both were intelligent, equally so. Both were agile, equally so. Perhaps what set them apart was simply Ulilang’s willingness to cheat and to use underhanded tactics, but it was not that Bathala could not see these tricks. Small manipulations of the mind or world around them were things that Bathala knew could be done, and he knew how to do these things. However, he would never do them. But he would fortify himself against them. He would defend himself against these challenges, and because Bathala did just that, the standstill continued.
They remained this way for three days and three nights. The flights of the moon and sun above them did not deter them or discourage either of them in any way. Rather, their resolve strengthened with the passing of time. Now that they had offered so much to this endeavor—with so much on the line already—there was no need to give up now. There was no way to give up now. The fight went on.
After all, there would be no other way of resolving the matter. There was no other way to bring peace to their co-existence, no way to settle the dispute, no way to reconcile such a profound disagreement between two such powerful beings. Theirs views stood in such contrast to each other that to meet only meant to clash or for one to overtake the other. It was as simple as that. The fact was as uncompromising as the beings who found the physical battle on the ground and in the sea, across the realm Bathala had labored so hard over.
On the eve of the third day, as the two fought upon the highest mountain in existence, Ulilang’s resolve began to fade, being beaten back by exhaustion. His pointless desire did not strengthened him the way that Bathala’s selfless interests did. In the end, it was this that set the two gods apart. One had a fire burning in his core, a true reason for going on while the other only had himself to draw from. In an attempt to wrap his long body around Bathala’s neck, the long muscles of Ulilang’s being slipped from Bathala’s shoulder simply because Ulilang lacked the energy to keep it up. The long muscle fell down the length of Bathala’s arm, into the hand that then seized it. With his new point of leverage, Bathala pulled the serpent from his body and threw him to the ground.
And with no other choice, Bathala did what had to be done. No reconciliation could be hoped for. No peace could be brokered. Only an end could bring about the end. So with his foe on the ground and knowledge that he had no other choice, Bathala crushed the head of the serpent beneath his heel, reducing it to dust.
Silence fell over the realm. The strike was quick and true. And with that, Ulilang was dead. His life extinguished in an instant.
And in that same instant, Bathala was all alone again. Somehow the feeling was more pronounced as he stood upon the barren earth, looking across it and seeing nothing but the dreams of all he could not have. Ulilang’s presence only reminded Bathala of this hypothetical, of this hope that could not be realized.
Angered, Bathala did not bury Ulilang’s body. There seemed to be no need and no cause for those formalities because there was no respect there. And there was no need for respect. So instead, Bathala burned Ulilang’s body, borrowing the heat from the sky above and concentrating it on a single scale. In time, that scale caught fire, smoldering at first before giving way to a small flame. In time the fire took hold, and the serpent’s entire body was engulfed by the blaze until only the ash remained.
But Bathala did not stay to witness that. He did not concern himself with the remains any longer than he needed to. Instead, he descended from the mountain, returning to the ground below and his life before he had ever seen Ulilang. He returned to his labor, toiling over his empty kingdom for another three years.
(music starts and fades out again)
It was after these three years that Galang Kaluluwa wandered into Bathala’s presence. It had the first time these two gods had encountered each other. Galang’s long wings had taken him all over, but Bathala’s work had lead him just as far and wide. Now the two gods were finally meeting. Galang Kaluluwa flew around, circling a bit before coming to rest on the ground a small ways away from Bathala. He came to rest on a high mound of dirt. When he landed, Galang perched, staring up towards the other god with large, almost blank eyes.
With the memory of Ulilang still flesh in his mind, Bathala kept his guard up and kept back. His eyes scanned the other being before him critically. Now there was apprehension, to be sure, and it felt justified when memories of the past flickered in his mind.
Through it out, Galang sat there. His head tilted to the side.
“Hello,” Galang said. Before Bathala could speak, Galang added, “I have spent far too long flying, you know? I would like to stay here with you.”
Bathala was surprised by the remark, the masked request as it were. He was unsure what to make of it at first. But there was nothing obviously malicious about the being before him. Though he was unfamiliar, he was certainly friendly.
Thus charmed, Bathala accepted Galang. He welcomed the winged deity into his realm with open arms and gave him full reign over the kingdom except for the ledge on the mountain where Ulilang had been burned. That condition, Galang accepted. In fact, the kingdom on the whole did not interest Galang so much. He was simply happy to have a new companion. His friend’s presence was enough.
In a short time, the two of them became close friends. The two stayed together for many years. But Galang’s body was old and worn down from all the time he had spent flying about. The act of flying was far more tiring than Bathala could realize. Eons of times wandering the realm of existence had worn down his muscles and left him with little energy left, with little of his being left. And Galang knew this. He had known this for quite some time that he was burning through his lifelines far too quickly simply because he wanted to fly through the universe. But those were days in which he did not care and could not bring himself to care. And while his attitude had changed, the past was forever set in the most permanent of stones.
Though it was difficult to accept, Galang managed it. One night beneath the full moon, Galang looked up towards it. He reminded himself that he would not be able to gaze upon it much longer. On that night, Bathala slept a small ways over. After a hard day toiling in the ocean, taking out the large rocks that had fallen in and raised the water level far too high. The land would disappear without the effort, but the work was exhausting, leaving him desperate for rest. Galang could not help him, not with his wings constantly catching the currents and sweeping him away. In fact, it happened quite frequently that Galang found himself unable to help his friend with his labor.
A familiar sadness set into Galang’s core. And in the past when such a thing arose, Galang would just fly to the moon and back or fly to any distance place. But now the price of his adventure would be time: time he could not spare, and time he no longer wished to squander. Galang laid his head back down and lulled himself off to sleep wondering just how much time he had left with his most dear friend.
Years continued to tick by, but not once did Bathala notice that his friend’s body was slowly breaking down, almost decaying before his very eyes. He was blinded by the long list of things he needed to get down, and Galang did not tell him such truths. But somewhere along the line as they travelled across the world, Galang found peace and resignation. He had known true happiness in the companion of his dear friend and realized that he had nothing more he wanted. With that, he accepted his fate and did not tell Bathala of his death.
But once he accepted the truth, Galang found himself staring towards the mountain ledge that Ulilang had died upon. Centuries had gone by, but Bathala still refused to go up there, and though he did not say it aloud anymore, he did not want Galang to go up there as well. And Galang respected his friend enough to comply, but all the same, he would stare up at that mountain and wonder what that beautiful view might look like. After all, it was from that point—Galang imagined—that one could see the whole universe stretched out before them.
One day, Bathala was pounding down soil while the midday sun shined over his head. Sweat pooled across his brow and dripped onto the ground below. Galang sat a short distance away, as he always did. His legs were not strong enough to work, and as his wings flapped about, they would simply blow around the dirt, undoing whatever progress he had made. So instead, Galang slept, savoring the sunshine. Or that’s how things normally passed anyway. Bathala thought it was an ordinary day and that his friend was savoring the warmth of the sun on his body. Galang often slept on days like this. His snores would cut through the otherwise overwhelming silence. The low, rhythmic roar would bring Bathala great comfort.
And then it stopped, and Bathala was seized with panic. He turned quickly and stared into his friend’s open eyes. The weakness was apparent in the dark orbs, darker than they had ever been before.
He knew at once that Galang was dying. But to know this was not to accept it.
At first, stricken by his fear and panic, Bathala froze for a moment before he threw himself towards his friend’s side. He knelt beside Galang and cradled his head in his hands.
“There is no need to hear,” Galang assured Bathala. “For I have known for quite some time that my end was coming. And I am at peace. So there is nothing you can do for me. There is nothing you need to do for me. I, myself, need nothing.”
Sadness washed over Bathala. “I do not agree,” he said. “I do not believe there is nothing I can do. Certainly I can help you with something.”
He said these words, but in his core, Bathala knew he was helpless. He knew his friends end was just moments away. Any chance he had at bending the universe to save his friend were long gone. He was left wondering why Galang had not told him sooner. In fact, there were so many questions on his lips born from his desire to rewrite the moment and his friend’s fate. But now was not the time for that. To ask would be to waste the last few moments with his friend.
Galang turned to the forbidden mountain ledge again.
“My friend,” Galang said. “Please bury me up there. Upon that ledge. Up upon the one place you wished me not to go. For I have honored your wishes all this time. Please honor mine when my end comes.”
The idea of going up there pained him. It was a place Bathala had hoped to never see again. The memory still stung, even after so long. But it was the wish of his dearest and only friend. Bathala could not deny him.
Just before Galang’s last breath, Bathala vowed to fulfill his friend’s request. He vowed loudly. So loudly that his kingdom shook from his words. And with that, his vow was sealed. And with that, the world went silent again. (Music stops abruptly) Galang was gone.
Bathala carried Galang’s body up the mountain and buried him on the same spot Ulilang’s body had been burned. No other spot could hold Galang’s body. The ground was either too soft to cradle him or too hard to welcome him. Bathala simply had no choice. Amongst the ashes of his foe, Bathala buried his dearest friend.
And now he was completely along again. Knowing this, knowing what it felt like to be happy, and knowing that he would never have that happiness again. Bathala found it hard to descend the mountain again. To descend the mountain meant reentering a completely barren world. Bathala did not want that.
(Low music, rumbling, starts again)
Though so much time had gone by, Bathala still wanted to populate the world with other beings. He wanted to fill the air with winged creatures to take over the clouds that had once held his foe. He wanted to populate the waters with mysterious beasts of all sizes and shapes. He wanted not fill the soil with soft and beautiful vegetation, and in that vegetation, he wanted to make other creatures as lively and playful as his dearest friend.
But Bathala still did not know where he could begin. For if he did not do it properly, creation would die away. Just as his friend had.
So at first, Bathala did not descend from the mountain. He sat on the ledge, looking out on the emptiness before him. His back remained towards the past as he struggled to flush it from his mind. But the sadness lingered.
The sun passed overhead seven times. Meanwhile, the world he was neglecting began to crumble. Without his labor, it could not be. It would not be. It could not hold together on its own, not without Bathala there to hold it all together. But suddenly, Bathala did not wish to do so any longer.
He loved his kingdom, but he did not love dwelling there alone. He could not bear to be alone.
On the seventh day, he heard a rumble in the distance. In the distance, a mountain was breaking open. The earth was tearing. And through the wound, the planet would bleed. If untreated, if not contained, the blood would swallow up the kingdom and leave nothing behind.
Bathala sighed. He did not want to be alone in his kingdom, but he also did not want his kingdom to crumble to dust. Not yet, anyway. If it were what he wished, destruction could come later. It was something he could chose but something that could not be undone. For now, he had to preserve his kingdom. He had to continue on. Just for now.
Weakly, Bathala turned to stand. And that was when Bathala saw what the mixed grave of the two deities had created. From the ground, a tall tree had sprouted with three large orbs perched precariously on the top. This was the coconut tree. Bathala plucked one of the large orbs and held it in his hand. He removed the rough outer coating that irritated his hand. The inner skin was hard with marks resembling Galang’s face. Its spots lined up with Galang’s eyes, nose, and mouth. Bathala looked at the tree itself. At the large leaves that reminded him of his friend’s wings and the hard and ugly bark that reminded him of his foe’s body.
Bathala’s breath caught. This was what he had been waiting for. With this, Bathala was ready to create the world. With this, he could begin.
(Music Starts, louder and more upbeat)
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