Praying and Crossing Beyond

This week I got sad news that our friend Thor Vestergaard died in Greece last July 29. Thor was a very bright Danish youth leader with whom we learned many things about politics in Denmark. I still remember him preparing for our classes in democracy and how eager he was to impart what he was passionate about. Ayen ,our daughter, said that he was very helpful and that politics was his grand passion. I decided to review all our photos and texted friends to pay a tribute to Thor. When I look back at all our shared experiences, I realized that Thor and all the Danish friends were born in the 80’s, that Ed and I are three generations ahead and yet we learned so much from them! This means that lifelong and lifewide learning is the accelerated mode of learning. Whenever I think of Thor, I see him as,friend,as mentor, as companion in the education for life.

We surely will miss Thor. But then again, when I look back at the celestial crossings that people found themselves going to, I pray that Thor will find a richer place for learning and that his crossing beyond will be full of light and love.

Let me then share an excerpt in what I feel is relevant in understanding death and crossings. It is part of my interview by Fe Mangahas on helping people know the babaylan and her role in helping people cross beyond.

Excerpts from Centennial Crossings, Interview with Fe Mangahas

Question: How did you discover your babaylan mission and fulfill it?
Answer: Let me start with an experience when I was six years old. My mother, Flotilda, was taken ill and rushed to the hospital late in the night. I was worried she would die. Then I saw a woman floating into our room, and she told me to pray. She said that my mother would need my prayers. Everyone was already sleeping, so I prayed with her. When I finished praying, the woman disappeared. After a week, my mother came home. She had an appendectomy. There was a portrait of a woman in my mother’s bedroom and I told her I saw the woman in the portrait. My mother said it was my grandmother who passed away in 1943.

Q: You did not know that was your grandmother?

I was young then and I never asked my mother who was the woman on the portrait until that evening she came. I did not even know I was named after my maternal grandmother, Beatriz, until I was in grade six. I was always called “Girlie”.
Q: Did that vision help you see people who passed away?
A: It was my first initiation. My formation, though not yet conscious, was continued by another lola, Lola Maria, who lived in Liliw, Laguna. I would accompany my lola on her prayer calls. She was a devout Catholic and prayer was her gift. I tagged along because of the snacks offered in the homes and watched the women conduct rites for the newly-born, for the sick, and the dying. I observed the lifework of religious women like my lola, then my mother. Later I learned how my mother conducted the rites of “ pagpaHesus.” (calling on Jesus). I became fascinated with the work that connected her life to various networks, from the normal to the supra normal and from this present life to a life beyond, a metalife.

Q: What does pagpaHesus mean?

A : It is preparing the dying to cross over to God by praying. My mother would start by calling on Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Then she would ask the dying person to say the following prayer:

“I love you Jesus, I love you Mar,y and I love you Joseph. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, save souls. Jesus, Mary, Joseph forgive me. Jesus, Mary, Joseph assist me every moment of my life, especially now.” Then when the dying person sees the person/persons who are fetching her/him, my mother would then call out their names to bring the dying person to the next life.

She taught me to pray the rosary if the dying person is still conscious but if the person is no longer conscious, I should say the lines until the person crosses over. I was amazed at how calm the dying person departs after the pagpaHesus.

Q : How did your mother learn pagpapaHesus?

My mother Flotilda learned it from her mother Beatriz who learned it from my great grandmother Cayetana. She started when she was sixteen years old and conducted pagpaHesus when my Lola Beatriz was dying.
Q : Did you learn the word “pagtatawid” from your mother or grandmother ?
At first I learned the use of the word “pagtatawid”, which is literally means crossing from grassroots women in Bay, Laguna who described the role of parents and elders in guiding the young to make the journey from birth to womb, from infancy to adulthood, from life to death. Pagtatawid has three stages : guiding a baby, as a parent, to become a human being, “maging tao”; guiding a person to be a good person , “maging mabuting tao” and assisting the person to complete one’s journey on this life to the next life, paglalakbay tungo sa kabilang buhay.
Q: Do you practice pagtatawid ?
A: Yes, but it took all of 50 years to learn, understand and do it ! I will describe recent experiences in pagtatawid with faith, hope and love.
My formation categories are informed by the roles of pre-colonial settlements, when the Philippines was not yet a state. These are the roles of Babaylan, Datu, Panday at Kawal-Bayani.[1] As my experiences deepened, I realized that the babaylan had to develop the attitudes and skills of a datu, panday and kawal-bayani especially when they had to practice pag-uugnay and pagtatawid.
Learning from my grandmother Maria and mother Flotilda how to prepare family and kin during birthing to dying was a key to my discovery of pagtatawid. Then I became a feminist in the early 70s with three of my classmates in Ateneo graduate school tutoring me on what it meant to be a woman, sensuous and erotic. I read all kinds of literature on philosophy, religion, sociology, history and observed rural and urban families. I took a special course on paranormal psychology and trained under Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ, in Ateneo. He showed me how exorcism was done.
Q: Did your feminism help in becoming a babaylan?
For three decades from the early 70’s to the 90’s, I worked on my feminism. I believed in developing the wholeness of women, the pagkatao (being human) at pagkababae (being woman ) and liberating women from oppressive power relations, the pagpapalaya. But the feminist discourse was largely informed by radical and liberal Western ideas and it took me time to discover the indigenous, nonpatriarchal paradigm of Filipinos – kapwa-tao, the concepts of loob at labas na tao. The feminist debates I got involved with did not initially articulate spirituality. I was part of the nationalist movement and the discourse was mainly Marxist, Maoist, and secular. I could not articulate the sacred coherently because I did not belong to a community who could affirm and validate my spirituality, a community with an epistemological authority. It was only when I conducted regular women’s education in the early 80’s that I realized the time was ripe for women to be openly spiritual. I found friends like Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Sr. Lydia Lascano and Sr. Rosario Battung who shared mystical experiences . When I turned 50 years old in 2000, there was enough epistemological evidence to pursue “babaylanship.” Women in my solidarity circles were already conversant with babaylan work.
When Ed and I lived in Europe in the late 80s ,I started my journals so that I could distill the lessons.
I observed women and men who were migrant datu, panday, kawal and babaylan across races and ethnicities. I explored the approach of reading people as living books. I developed active meditation. I practised shibashi, chi qong and much recently, tetada kalimasada – eastern disciplines of cultivating inner energy.

Q: Can you elaborate ?

A: The practice of pag-uugnay/ pagtatawid (connecting and crossing) is a sacred task.
Pagtatawid starts with pag-uugnay because the babaylan must first be conscious of the Divine Presence. It demands mindfulness and considerable energy. It is like studying geography, learning navigation, and organizing enough resources to get to where another life is and returning safely. If one were to sail beyond this world, you need a sacred seaworthy boat, become a one-person crew with a mastery of the currents, a good sense of direction, passion and faith to complete the trip. It is the babaylan who does the connecting where she dances her way into a divine web and when the Divine Artist-Creator gives her a sacred line, she prepares and assists the person to reach the crossing.

I was trained as a psychologist and learned to frame my insights based on Sikolohiyang Pilipino (SP)[2 started by Virgilio Enriquez to help understand the Filipino psyche and humanity.

But after fifty years, I realize that being loving and discerning help in communicating with those who live beyond and that unconditional love is the energy that keeps people connected. Praying is a powerful energy and that people can continue to send their love to those who have crossed.

[1] Zeus A.Salazar, Ang Babaylan sa Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas, Bagong Kasaysayan,Blg.4,Unibersidad ng Pilipinas,1999.

[2] Virgilio G.Enriquez, From Colonial to Liberation Psychology,The Philippine Experience, DeLaSalle University Press, Manila1994.

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