Ave Maria, Magna Mater

If I were a bible-thumping, conspiracy-mongering Protestant, I’d have every reason to think that our local Marian traditions are nothing but veiled heathen attempts to endorse the idolatrous worship of Magna Mater. And who could blame me?

  • Riotous music involving cymbals and drums? Check.
  • Ecstatic street dancing until you drop? Check.
  • Effeminate dancers leading the parade? Check.
  • Divine motherly figure as object of worship? Absolutely.
  • Ritual castration? Well, none yet, but who knows?

Fortunately, I am not and have never have been a Protestant of that sort, so I couldn’t care less if our townsfolk truly worshipped the Phrygian Great Mother. In fact, I think that would be super.

As you know, I was raised in a deeply-but-loosely Catholic town — I say ‘deeply’ because we’re suckers for tradition and ‘loosely’ because nobody cares if you have buddhas in your home, too — and it has been this open, syncretic Catholicism that eventually led me to the older, less clandestine paganism of my ancestors. Indeed, the pagan persists.

Nobody knows why karakol (the processional dance in the videos below) is particular to our province or why it is the way that it is. Is it indigenous? Is it colonial? Both? Outside academics, nobody really cares. Heck, I’ve seen Protestants sway their hips to it more than once. Mary: 1. Biblical fundamentalism: 0.

So anyway, as promised previously, I present this year’s karakol for our pillar-perched patrona —

Here, the Lady leaves Her dwelling to dance in a sea of devotion waiting outside.

Not forgetting, the Lady’s ecstatic train of worshippers. Their hips don’t lie.

I think the main highlight of this year’s karakol is that, for the first time in for ever, the women-folk were invited to carry the Lady on their backs: let no man say that the daughters of our city are unable to carry their city’s mother.

Also, this year was the longest I’ve been to. We started noon and ended at 9! No corner of the city is left un-blessed by the Lady’s dancing, even if it takes the whole day.

The tradition of karakol is a well-loved one and I only pray that it survives and flourishes in the next hundred years.


To the Great Mother of Wild Dances

Sorry for the delay, it’s been a very busy October so far. (Well, actually, it hasn’t been un-busy for me since Wep Ronpet!) But, yes, we did dance to two great mother goddesses the past week (well, technically, one goddess and one saint, but you get what I mean).

Whether you see these two ladies as different forms of one ‘Goddess of ten thousand names’ or two distinct personalities (one divine and the other human, or both divine!) isn’t important. The non-Catholics who couldn’t help but dance to the Señora’s brass band didn’t seem to mind their religion’s prohibitions against deifying the mother of Christ nor did the Sikhs at the Hindu temple hesitate to join their polytheistic brethren in celebration despite their staunch monotheism. I suppose all is fair in fiestas and pujas. After all, who can resist the rattle and the drum, and swaying hips in praise of the ‘Great Mother’, Durga or Mary be her name?

¡Viva Señora del Pilar! Jai Durga Mata!

PS: As these things are better seen than read, I uploaded a few clips over at my YouTube channel. Although watching them doesn’t compare to actually being there, I hope you can still enjoy what I could afford to capture!

¡Viva! Jai!

Dancing for the Great Mother

Two very exciting things happening today and tomorrow:

The annual karakol (ritual street dance) for my city‘s Patron, la Nuestra Señora del Pilar …


Our Lady of the Pillar, Protector of Imus
Source: cfcfflcavite.webs.com/dioceseofimus

Source: flickr.com/photos/44877083@N05/

Our Lady of the Pillar, Lady of Zaragoza, Zamboanga, and Imus
Source: flickr.com/photos/44877083@N05/

… And the eighth night of the Maha Navratri where the Great Goddess is celebrated as Shri Durga Devi, Slayer of Mahishasura.


She with the strength of a thousand lions


Slayer of Mahishasura

Hail to these two great goddesses! Hail Great Mother! Ave Magna Mater! Jai Mata Di!

How I Met Your Mātā

Sing this day of Durga,
Om Jai Mahadevi!

Sing this day of Cybele,
Ave Magna Mater!

Sing this day of Rhea,
Khaire Mêtêr Theôn!

Sing to the Great Mother,
Goddess of ten thousand names!

Sing ever to the Great Mother,
Mother to gods and men!


Dear cousins in Hinduism,

My name is Aldrin, and congratulations, we just sang together up there.

By the way, I’m pagan (click it, if you’re not familiar) and I’ve come to you today in a spirit of brotherhood and community, and perhaps also gratitude. Well, actually, gratitude is the primary reason why I’m writing this letter.

Now, as there are countless beautiful things that modern pagans have to thank Hinduism for, I’m not going to explore all the facets of the diamond here. I wanted to thank Hinduism specifically today because of your divine mother, Durga.

I know she’s everybody’s mum on a cosmic level, but culturally, you are her children and I’m but a nephew. That said, who says you can’t love your auntie like your own mum, eh? So, thank you, cousins, for keeping her worship alive and vibrant throughout the centuries and making it possible for foreigners like me to experience the blessedness that comes from calling Durga “Ma”.

I guess, I wanted to write this letter because I never really thought about how I ‘met’ her until yesterday, when a Hindu asked me how I came to know the Mahadevi. Quite a good question, actually, since it’s not every day that you meet a non-Hindu who claims to be a devotee of Durga. (I was temporarily possessed by the spirit of inarticulateness at that time, so I am writing about it to make up.)

Interestingly, I was introduced to Hinduism early on in high school, when I would pray to Vishnu and Shiva to protect me from nightmares (perhaps, one reason why I could already be part-Hindu as we speak), but not to Durga Mata. Not yet. She came in rather late in my early twenties when I was reading on our own great mother goddesses in Hellenismos (that’s roughly “Hinduism for Greeks” FYI), particularly Rhea-Cybele who was referred to as Mêtêr Theôn (Mother of the Gods) and Magna Mater (Great Mother) by my pre-Christian ancestors.


The Phrygian Great Mother, Cybele, seated on a lion, a symbol of power

magna mater cybele

Rhea-Cybele, Mother of the Gods, enthroned and drawn by lions


The Divine Mother of Hindustan

It wasn’t that hard to connect Rhea-Cybele with Durga. They’re both primal forces, divine progenitors, and are both associated with power, lions, mountains, and the best ecstatic music there is on either side of Alexander‘s empire. They’re not exactly alike, of course, but you get the picture.

From that moment on, I’ve only been in sheer awe at her beauty. I remember the first time I watched this video and just melted into ecstasy. “Holy shit”, I remember myself saying with pure devotion. BECAUSE SHE IS TOTALLY AWESOME OH WOW LIKE TOTALLY FREAK ME OUT I MEAN RIGHT ON DURGA SURE IS NUMBER ONE!

Here, watch this:

(I love that aarti to death, I swear.)

It wasn’t long after I met her that I came to know and love other deities such as Ganesha and Hanuman, too (who, to my delight, both resemble a great deal with my beloved Hermês). Call it self-affirming syncretism and I won’t argue. I mean, I am an unapologetic multicultural mongrel.

As finite beings who have to be born into a certain time or culture, it’s only natural for us to know and name the divine powers that move and preserve the cosmos in our own languages. But whether we speak their names in Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit, or whether it’s Navratri or Megalesia that we’re celebrating, it all boils down to our personal, honest-to-rta relationship with each other: human to beast, human to god, and human to human.

That and because I would rather sing of what we have in common than how we differ. (Luckily, it isn’t in our nature as pagans and Hindus to exclude each other as many Christians and Muslims do.)

So, thank you again, dear cousins. I wish for the continuity of our life-affirming, celebratory traditions for ten thousand more years. Hail the waters of the Indus! Hail the encircling lands of the Mediterranean!

May the Great Mother keep you safe.

From Alexandria with love,

Your Hellenistic cousin

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