Familiar Concepts, New Contexts


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            Hello everyone. Kumusta ka! Welcome to today’s episode. And we’re going back to mythology this week. Specifically Tagalog mythology. And yeah, it’s been a while. So I might have to put in some catch up material just to even the playing field. I mean from a listener stats perspective, you going back to those old episodes would be great, but those were also episodes I made while I was still learning how to podcast. So from a personal pride perspective…. I’m not going to finish that sentence.

            But anyway, before there was Catholicism in the Philippines… I know, hard to really imagine considering how Catholic the Philippines is now, but here we are. There was a time before Catholicism, and in that time—to simplify things—the various ethnolinguistic groups or communities had their own religious beliefs with some similarities. Usually, there were strong aspects of animism. Animism being a belief that all things have a spiritual essence. And polytheism: the belief in multiple gods.

            For the Tagalog people, if you look at it in the right light, it gets to be a little more complicated. In a way that was kind of convenient for the missionaries coming in. The Tagalog people had one supreme deity who ruled above all others, in such a way that monotheism wasn’t as hard of an argument to make. His name was Bathala, and after vanquishing his potential competitors, he created the world we know. Now he faces against Sitan—and yes you heard me right on that one—who represented all that contrasted Bathala’s good. And I should also add that Bathala was a being known for his mercy and kindness to contrite hearts but could really punish a sinner if need be.

            The renowned scholar Felipe Jocano did attribute at least Sitan to ideas being brought into Sitan. Maybe we don’t always realize or it would be more convenient if we didn’t, but ideas got around pretty easily even back then.

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            And maybe that’s where today’s topic comes in. Maybe this is another concept that got imported. That being demigods—or being that are half god and half man. A concept you might be familiar with because of Greek mythology and Zeus’s inability to not pursue literally any human woman he saw. That’s, like, the entirety of Greek mythology boiled down. When in doubt, assume Zeus had an affair.

            In so far, as today’s demigods came to be, maybe only assume only the word was brought in from the outside. I mean, the topic is somewhat vague enough to easily argue for parallel creation. A god and a mortal could come together, technically, and in the same way that a child might look like both of their parents, this particular child could be endowed with both divine and mortal qualities. Simple enough. If you overlook mechanics.

            But in this case, Bathala’s three daughters weren’t born out of some ill-advised affair. They were born in wedlock and did not cause cataclysmic disasters or wars when they were born. Crucial difference. Bathala had a mortal wife, unnamed and unknown to us, partially because of the timeline, I imagine. I mean, she has to have lived before the world finished its complete formation, but the world came to be, but her daughters don’t make anything; they have roles assigned to them by their father. So in terms of a timeline, Bathala made the world, his daughter are born, his wife dies shortly thereafter, and Bathala gives his three children dominion over these different aspect of creation. All of this has happen before the real meat of the mythology gets going. Or recorded.

            In terms of this wife’s significance, it really only seems to be that of the mother of three deities, demi-goddesses, you could call them. Or that’s what has survived the ages. And you could find a poetic musing in that, but this isn’t the episode for it.

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           All of Bathala’s daughters was known for their great beauty. But Mayari was supposedly the most beautiful of them all. And the most charming. She is the deity of the moon, but she also serves as the Goddess of Combat, War, Revolution, and Weaponry. Also beauty and strength, but you could make the argument that all Filipino women are those incarnate. Just saying. Her sister Tala was the goddess of the stars, and she somewhat stands opposite of Hana who according to Jocano was the goddess of the morning. But I almost wonder if he doesn’t mean sun or sunrise. Sun would make the most sense in this context.

            I mean it did to me. But when you get down deeper into the weeds, it’s not so simple.

            For this part, I had to venture into the Aswang Project, an online repository of Filipino myths, legends, and folklore. Also, an awkward website to look up in the presence of your Filipino parent, considering an aswang is a shape-shifting evil entity. But that’s a fun myth, so they might come around. Might.

            Anyway, I’ll link to the actual page I used in the show notes. Also, it will be an easy way for you to fall down whatever rabbit hole you may want to fall into. When it comes to Filipino mythology, that is.

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            But the point is, it was on this page that I found some sort of map to where Hana fits in Bathala’s court. She can’t really be the goddess of the sun. The sun is assigned to Apolaki. But pre-Hispanic rituals do honor her in the first prayer or ritual of the day, after Bathala and Apolaki. So really, she might have just been the goddess over that time of day or some other aspect of experiencing the morning. If you broaden your scope to considering the other times people would honor her, it makes more sense to think of her as the goddess of beginning. And I’m talking about a birth, coming of age, the beginning of the various planting seasons, and the start of a new year. Her emblem is even the rooster just to drill the point in. You know, the bird that marks the beginning of the new day with its call.

            You could easily think of her as the goddess of newness and newness resists a good explanation.

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            Tala presents her own complications. For the sake of this episode (and whatever canon this podcast could be said to have) I’ve presented her as Bathala’s daughter, but surprise, it’s more complicated than that. Different myths shift her origins around. In some circles, she’s Bathala’s daughter. Or Mayari’s daughter and by virtue of that Bathala’s granddaughter. In fact, if you really want to make it confusing, not only is Tala the goddess of the evening star, in some regions she’s also the goddess of the morning star. As if that situation wasn’t already kind of hard to parse out.

            It’s important to remember that the Philippines is a collection of islands and even within each of those islands, there’s geography to contend with. Communities can be together and also still somewhat divided. Therefore, in each of these communities, mythologies can develop somewhat independent of each other even within a common ethnolinguistic group. It will never get to the point that these tales are unrecognizable. But it will get to the point that to an outsider hundreds of years after the fact it will be hard to piece everything together.

            That being said, focusing on Tala’s role in governing the stars makes sense, not just because it makes understanding her sister easier. It’s a reoccurring theme throughout the various versions of her tale. It’s not erasure, in a sense. But still, for simplicity’s sake, if you don’t want to dig anymore into this, you can think of Tala as the guardian of the stars. And in using the term, “guardian” I’m actually borrowing from one story in particular.

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           In this tale, you have the sun god Arao and the moon goddess Buan. They both start off with large families of stars in their care. Buan’s were seemingly weaker than Arao’s. Or at least, she thought so. So as if to equalize the field or for some other reason, they both agreed to destroy their stars. An agreement Arao followed through on, devouring his stars maybe even fusing them together into the sun if you were inclined to think as much, but regardless, Buan’s resolve wavered.

           Maybe she thought the stars were too delicate or beautiful to be destroyed. Maybe there was some other reason. But regardless, she hid hers in the clouds, where they would occasionally peak out. And that’s how she got caught. When Arao realized she didn’t hold true to her end of the deal, his anger compelled him to destroy them and her, leading to the eternal pursuit of the sun for the moon that we now know to just be earth’s rotation.

           Tala is the one who tells Buan when Arao is too far away to pursue them and that it is safe to let the stars shine out. And at dawn, at Tala’s urging Buan will hide them again.

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            Another version of Tala’s tale has her participating in the creation of constellations. That she used these bright orbs to guide if not outright ferry men to safety. But that was until the Spanish came, and they reportedly offered edits or alterations to this myth to paint these orbs as more dangerous and demonic. Although, I couldn’t find anything to suggest that this interpretation got enough traction to survive across time. So there’s that.

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            Oh and I didn’t forget about Mayari. She does have another story of her own, but I will save one that for next time. We’ll make a grand time of it. We’ll have one of our old-fashioned mythology retellings. In the meantime, be sure to check out our website miscellanymedia.online for information on our other shows and Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on upcoming ones. A little birdie there might be an announcement very soon.

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