Señor de Sonrisas

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A collection of Santos Niños at the Indophile’s house, January 2016

The Feast of the Holy Child or Pista ng Santo Niño is one of the most popular festivals in the Philippines. The fiesta, which supposedly celebrates the arrival of Christianity in the archipelago, has become a showcase of syncretism of the Christ Child and other, much older spirits (but don’t tell this to the Pope). There’s a Farmer Niño, a Policeman Niño, lucky green-robed Niños for shops, and protective red-robed Niños for homes. (I’ve even seen a cross-dressing Niño! Don’t tell the Pope!)

Much like St Patrick, who could only convert a few Irish chiefs to his Christianity, the Santo Niño is a symbol of this false triumph of the Cross in the Philippines. It wasn’t until several years later, when the galleons returned, that the country was truly overrun by evangelists. What emerged in between those years, however, was a vibrant syncretism of Catholic art and pagan devotion, one that is still evident to this day.

Here, the faces of the Holy Child are as numerous as the islands that foster them. They remind us of a time when religion was more child-like: generous, inclusive, and intimate.

Tulad ng sa mga batà, nawá ay magíng palaging maliksí, matuwain, at mausisà ang iyóng diwà. (I have no translation for this blessing, sorry. But it’s a blessing!)

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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.

Eventful Octobers

It seems like Octobers are almost always eventful, and usually involving the Mothers.

The beginning of the month was especially blessed with the welcoming of a new member to our household pantheon, Nossa Senhora de Fátima:

A gift from a friend from far away makes Herself comfy in Her new home.

I’m not quite sure yet which godly power is behind the Lady of Fatima, but something tells me that she’s older than the biblical Mary. This stunning statue of the Lady comes from Galina who was kind enough to send it over as a gift. Here She is, bathing in bukhoor incense, a traditional gesture of hospitality in the Arab world.

Shortly after, our town fiesta happened, which is always a blessing of joy to our people, Catholic or otherwise:

Nana Pilar

It is always an honour for any man or woman to carry Her, our loving town patron of many years. She was exceedingly beautiful this year, our dearest Mother of wild dances.

[I will be posting a couple of videos later in the week.]

The Queen is finally home after an entire afternoon and evening on the streets. Truly, a Dancing Queen.

Here She is again, home after an entire afternoon and evening on the streets. Truly, a Dancing Queen.

Another festival honouring a divine mother followed right after as we celebrated the Maha Navratri in our home:

God is a woman, a fearsome mother. Jai Mata Di! Shubh #Durga #Navratri!

As the new moon of Ashvin rose, we welcomed Durga into our homes once again. Jai Maa!

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Of course, no Navratri is complete without a visit to the local mandir. She was especially beautiful this year in bright crimson.

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The other gods were just as beautiful in their new clothes.

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We are a relatively small temple, but the place is full of stout hearts. It’s always nice to be in a sea of devotees.

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Shiva’s coat was especially fab. (No living tigers were harmed in the making of the coat.)

Come late October, I revamped the house shrine:

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Our Agathos Daimon now sits comfortably between the Holy Child of Atocha (dubbed ‘Baby Hermes’) and Ganesha, the ‘Hermes of Hindustan’.

And, of course, never a month without the customary thanksgiving dinner:

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Of all the things we owe the Gods, this is but a small feast. This feast was dedicated not only for a month full of events, but also for our dear friend, Sannion.

Another eventful October, indeed, and by the looks of it, next year will be just as busy with the twin Great Mother festivals coming right after the other. Hail, the Spirits of October! Hail, the Two Mothers! Hail and hail again!

But Wait, There’s More!

At the risk of making this a photo journal (if it isn’t already), I’m sharing some photos from the last few feast-days we’ve had at our House (just so I can relieve myself, at least partially, from blogger’s guilt):

pronghorn86Happy #calends of July! May Janus open up the way to all things beneficent and auspicious! #beginnings

Offerings on the Calends of July

Celebrating #FathersDay with my bloodsister and our #dearlydeparted fathers (mine to the left and hers to the right).

Celebrating Father’s Day with my blood-sister and our dearly departed fathers (mine to the left and hers to the right)

pronghorn86Born in a time when the Church dominated the Empire, Julian, emperor and philosopher, sought to legalise the practice of religions other than Imperial Christianity, especially the then-forbidden paganisms of his ancestors. For this, he was called the

An offering of wine and honey for our beloved Emperor Julian on his 1,562nd death anniversary

A night of gratitude (and blessing) with the Old Ones in ancestral fashion. #pagan #polytheism #mosmaiorum

Gifts from my good friend, Murmur, from his nth trip to Little India in Singapore: Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Ganesh murti for the House of Two Trees

Remover of obstacles, pop-ups, and Trojans. Jai #Ganapathi!

Up close: Remover of obstacles

A feast of fruit, seeds, and bread on a rainy afternoon for the Thunderer, the Queen of Heaven, and the God of High Plumes. #dates #calabash #raisins #apples #pears #strudel #challah #Hadadu #Min #monsoonseason #toomanytags

Celebrating the return of the monsoon season with a feast of fruit, seeds, and bread for the Thunderer, the Queen of Heaven, and the God of High Plumes

pronghorn86Hail, Bull of the heavens and Bull of the earth! May both rice paddy and lettuce garden (wink, wink) be well-fed this #monsoon season. #polytheism #syncretism #fertility #doubleentendre

Up close: Hadad, Athirat, and Min

pronghorn86Two Sundays of intercultural feasting in honour of the gods of Naukratis and Alexandria. Belated happy #Naukrateia and have a safe #monsoon season ahead! #polytheism #syncretism

Two Sundays of intercultural feasting in honour of the gods of Naukratis and Alexandria

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Up close: Celebrating Naukrateia evening at home in honour of the Gods of Naukratis and Neos Alexandria

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You know what, better yet, follow me on my Instagram for the more-than-occasional devotional photos.

PS: Special thanks to PSVL for many of these beautiful statues!

Aba Ginoong Magdalena

It’s our town fiesta today, which means, for a predominantly Catholic barangay (the Filipino version of pueblo), some saint or Marian avatar will be paraded through the streets.

Fortunately, this is an enjoyable event, even if you’re not Catholic. The evangelicals hate it, of course, for reasons discussed here, but if you’re one of us heathens, you’re sure to enjoy it: our version of a Catholic procession is a 7-hour long street dance called karakol. You’re not a local if you’ve never been to one.

Now, my hometown’s patron is actually St Augustine of Canterbury, but the real star is St Mary Magdalene: the reason being she is believed to end the dry season by calling down the rain. If you’re not from here, it won’t make any sense — nowhere in the Gospels can one find a former prostitute turned intercessor for meteorological phenomena. But, it seems to make perfect sense to our mostly agricultural community. One wonders if our Magdalene was originally a precolonial cloud nymph or a monsoon goddess. If you look really close, she even seems to be wearing a bindi. (You can read more about it here.)

Anyway, to celebrate this day, I wanted to share with y’all this old proem (prayer-poem) I wrote many years ago to our not-so-canonical Magdalene a.k.a. She Who Brings the Rain. It’s in Tagalog, so be warned, but I do intend to create an English version someday.

Mayo a bente otso nanamán.
Simulâ na ng pagbuhos ng ulán.
Dalá ng lakambining nanganluran.
Magdalena ang kanyáng pangalan.

Abá at Junio na.
Nagbalík na ang Magdalena.

Maryá Magdalenang dalá ng dayuhan
Salamín ng diwatang nakálimútan.
Ngayó’y sa amin nang nanahan
Naibsán ang pagtangis sa nakaraán.

Sakáy ng alon saami’y nakaabót.
Kamí’y isukob sa Iyóng salakót.

Kulóg at kidlát ang kanyáng dalá
Ulán para sa mágsasaká.
Pagkaing tubò mulâ sa lupà
Siyáng biyayà ng Magdalena.

Halina at kamí’y basaín.
Dingín itóng aming dalangin.

Papuri’t galák sa lakambining Maryá
Sayáw Mo sa amin ay ligaya
Ulán Mong buhay sa amin ay pumaritó
At sa susong-lupang inalayan Mo.

Abá, abá! Papurihan si Maryá
Mapagpalang Santo at Diwatà!

And finally, the video I promised to upload 2 years ago:

Some pictures from yesterday’s karakol, too:

Seven hours of karakol dancing seems like a short, effortless task when you think about the beauty that is our Lady Who Brings the Rain.

Seven hours of karakol dancing seems like a short, effortless task when you think about the beauty that is our Lady Who Brings the Rain.

We used to just stop and kiss her robe. Now, we take saint-selfies, too. Sainties?

We used to just stop and kiss her robe. Now, we take saint-selfies, too. Sainties?

The amount of devotion that goes into carrying her is always a touching sight.

The amount of devotion that goes into carrying her is always a touching sight.

This is where she parties the hardest. Soon, the rains will return.

This is where she parties the hardest. Soon, the rains will return.

An ad from a government. Happy 117th!

An ad from our government celebrating the battle between my colonist ancestors and my colonised ancestors (which eventually led to the declaration of the first free Philippine Republic). Happy 117th!

I Went to Church and I Liked It

As you may have noticed in the past, I’ve never had any qualms visiting churches or attending Christian festivities. I know, these churches haven’t been exactly welcoming to pagans (or other versions of the unsaved “Other”) in the past two millennia, but they’ve also been responsible–albeit unknowingly–for preserving some of our ancestral traditions.

Many of these Christian festivities are a lot of fun, too! I visited our local Catholic church over Easter and I truly enjoyed the experience. I didn’t stay long to hear the priest’s sermon–why would I want to, anyway–but I stayed long enough to witness flocks of people, early in the morning, singing to the Risen Christ and his joyful mother. We call this tradition, Salúbong, literally meaning “the meeting”, and it is beautiful to witness.

The people come to meet their risen lord. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

The people come to meet their risen lord. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Dawn breaks and the Queen of Heaven comes to meet her son, back from the dead. Her mourning veil is lifted.

Dawn breaks and the Queen of Heaven, with her mourning veil lifted, comes to meet her son, back from Hades.

Taken from outside our 400-year old cathedral. The only time churches are full is when there are celebrations like this.

Taken from outside our 400-year old cathedral at daybreak on Easter Sunday. The only time churches are full is when there are celebrations like this.

Now, I may not be Christian (anymore), nor have I ever been a big fan of the Church’s hateful doctrines and policies, but I do care for some of their traditions. A lot of people, mostly Protestants, talk about stripping away traditional Christianity of its “pagan” rituals and ceremonies, and establishing a simple church based on radical love and compassion.

Whilst I do consider it a noble cause (especially around the love and compassion part), it isn’t very realistic. One, because most churches have never been crazy over that idea, rituals or no rituals; and two, because rituals are the reason people still come to church.

I’ve never really cared about what the bishops and pastors thought about god or morals, even as a young Christian. I don’t need a church to tell me what’s right from wrong or how to live my life. We’ve tried that for hundreds of years, and it hasn’t worked. All we’ve gotten from it are a bunch of repressed, self-righteous, holier-than-thou nutters who try to run our lives for us.

You know what we need? Rituals. Beautiful ceremonies rich in relevant symbolisms that speak to the soul of a society. That’s why I still come to church, even as a pagan. Maybe even more so as a pagan.

When a pagan meets the gods of his childhood (or his neighbour’s god, or a foreigner’s whole tribe of gods), he doesn’t shun them or turn them away. He welcomes them with open arms as one would do with an honoured guest or an old friend. And then, they have tea together. There’s a reason we call it polytheism, after all‬: it’s ‪‎inclusive.

But perhaps the Protestants are right: Orthodoxy and especially Catholicism, with all their saints, idols, and rituals, could very well be ‪‎pagan. Is that a bad thing? Of course, it isn’t.

Okay, fine, it’s bad if you’re a bible-thumping, evangelical literalist, but if you’re just a regular layperson who’s mainly concerned about your life as it is, those pagan hold-overs and heathen hand-me-downs are exactly what’s keeping your pre-Protestant Christianity from being a stale, boring old relic.

Of course, we shouldn’t stop calling out the Church’s on her outdated values, but I’m all for relishing the common people’s jubilant fiestas, gritty traditions, and awe-inspiring acts of devotion.

Fiesta

Well, that is, when Christians are in their more jovial, inclusive mood.

Fuck them when they’re being self-important, oppressive bastards.

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PS: Happy Ishtar-is-not-Easter Week!

Today Is the Sixth of February And the Sixth of Anthestêrion Too

This dual-calendar gentile couldn’t be happier. For the first time in a while, the first day of the secular month was also the first day of the lunar. On the Chinese New Year, no less!

Tikoy and chai meet grapes and wine as we celebrate the beginning of the 1st month in the Chinese calendar, the 2nd in the Roman calendar, and the 8th in the Athenian.

Tikoy and chai met grapes and wine as we celebrated the beginning of the 1st month in the Chinese calendar, the 2nd in the Roman calendar, and the 8th in the Athenian. Mestizo paganism, at its best!

Now, if only the rest of the year could be as uncomplicated as February 2014.