Filipino myths, legends, and folk beliefs are portals of communion with the spiritual, natural, and more-than-human realms. They draw from the Philippines’ profound pre-colonial cultural heritage and its present indigenous fabric, comprising a blend of native beliefs, superstitions, healing rituals, environmental context, and a myriad of influences from diverse cultures. If we think of myths as grand in scale and scope, often covering a wide geographical range and thousands of years (think creation stories, legends, tragedies), then folk beliefs and practices can be understood as the daily or local impact of these forces – the passage of a particular animal across one’s path, the presence of unique weather patterns, or even an ailment or injury are all gateways to interacting with these beliefs. Personal interpretations of such omens can vary widely, as these beliefs are transmitted across generations through the art of storytelling.
The Philippines is far from a monolith; it is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, home to more than 100 distinct ethno-linguistic groups. Each of these groups possesses unique cultural practices, languages, and ways of life, with pre-colonial roots in animism and ancestor-worship (anitos, diwatas). Through trade and travel, pre-colonial cultures were imbued with various belief systems and religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Over the course of several centuries, characterized by Spanish colonization and continued US imperialism, this tapestry of traditions has undergone significant transformation. These forces have at times molded these traditions into binary constructs like “good” and “evil” and supplanted the original beliefs themselves. Yet, many of the original meanings still persist through the strength of storytelling, connection with the natural and spiritual world, and contemporary indigenous practices.
For those in the diaspora, fostering a connection with our cultural folk beliefs offers a gateway to ancestral and indigenous practices, urging us to reacquaint ourselves with forgotten ways of existence. This process empowers us to pay homage to our connection with both the natural and spiritual domains. These endeavors not only draw us closer to one another (kapwa) and to our souls (kaluluwa), but also provide us with stories to exchange as we engage with the land we are settled.
Apostol, Virgil Mayor. Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions. North Atlantic Books, 2010.
Demetrio, Francisco R. Encyclopedia of Philippine Folk Beliefs and Customs. Vol. 1, Xavier Univ., 1991.
Demetrio, Francisco R., et al. The Soul Book: Introduction to Philippine Pagan Religion. Vol. 1, GCF Books, 1991.
Ramos, Maximo D. Demonological Legends and Their Cultural Bearings. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1990.