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Religion, gender, and postcoloniality: The case of 'Ciudad Mistica de Dios'

Author: Ofelia O. Villero
Ciudad Mistica is a religious sect located in Mount Banahaw, a "sacred mountain" in Central Luzon, Philippines, which draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Lenten season. The sect is in turn admired and vilified by different sectors of Philippine society for its deliberate lifting of women as sources and holders of sacred and spiritual power. It does it through a tradition of all-women leadership and ritualists, based on its belief that its female founder was a savior sent by God to complete Jesus Christ's failed mission on earth. Feminists view the sect as direct descendants of the babaylan, practitioners of Animism before the arrival of Spanish colonialism in the sixteenth century. Others, particularly its contemporary religious and political rivals, see it as peddling a false idea of Filipino nativeness and sainthood. This dissertation looks at the role that gender plays in the formation and transformation of Mistica's religious identity and in the complex negotiations and contestations generated by that identity in the context of Mount Banahaw and the political and economic realities of postcolonial Philippines.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction 1 Chapter One: Gendering Mount Banahaw 34 Chapter Two: Gendering Ciudad Mistica Part One - The Founder 78 Part Two - The Keepers of the Faith 137 Part Three - The Faithful 168 Chapter Three: Gendering Popular Religion and Politics Part One - The "Age of Woman" 194 Part Two - Contestation and Exclusion 222 IV

INTRODUCTION In the short story "Summer Solstice,"1 Filipino National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin tells the story of Dona Lupeng, a young, upper-class wife in mid-eighteenth century Manila who finds herself drawn to Tadtarin, a religious rite exclusively for women, particularly those from the lower classes. Tadtarin is held at the same time as St. John the Baptist's day, creating a clash not only of religions and cultures - between the Spanish-imposed Catholic rite and the earthy, indigenous ceremony of resurrection - but also of gender, between wife and husband. Confident of the superiority of his religion and manhood, represented by a "fine, blond, heroic St. John; very male, very arrogant,"2 the husband Don Paeng reluctantly allows his wife to participate in the Tadtarin but later changes his mind, and in trying to retrieve Dona Lupeng, plunges into a heaving, screaming crowd of women who beats him up for being present in an all-women orgy. After experiencing the heady freedom and lustiness of the Tadtarin festivities, Dona Lupeng discovers a new sense of power, confronts her husband with it and demands that he acknowledge his defeat by kissing her feet. The short story ends with Dona Lupeng's return to the ecstatic, repressed roots of her womanhood. Although written in the 1950s before the advent of feminist and postcolonial studies, "Summer Solstice" captures the fascination for indigenous, pre-colonial culture by elite-educated Filipino women. Farther removed from the experience and knowledge of a prominent pre-colonial role for women than Joaquin who may have personally 1 Nick Joaquin, "The Summer Solstice," in Prose and Poems (Makati, Metro Manila: Bookmark, Inc., 1991), 139. 2 Joaquin, 155. 1

witnessed a Tadtarin, the current crop of Filipino women have sought to link their present with the past, hoping to find connections and inspiration. Many have found in the pre-colonial female shamans, known as catalonan in the Tagalog region and babaylan in the Visayas, models of colonial resistance and spiritual power. Graduate students, academicians, and feminists have identified the shamans' modern-day counterparts as the priestesses among sects3 who practice a hybrid of Catholicism and Animism in the Mount Banahaw region of southern Luzon. This dissertation is a study of one of these sects, La Iglesia Suprema del Ciudad Mistica de Dios (The Supreme Church of the Mystical City of God). The kernel of this dissertation was planted years ago in the Philippines, when I was a young woman fresh out of college with a degree in journalism. As a junior journalist, I was assigned to write about the espiritistas (spirit mediums), autochthonous religious groups based in Mount Banahaw. The espiritistas, as I understood then, performed rites of spirit possession and ecstasy for healing and other religious purposes. I spent an afternoon with one of these groups whose headquarters was in Laguna, one of the provinces lying along Mount Banahaw's perimeter. I witnessed the group's main rites, held at its templo (temple), an upstairs room in one of the members' houses. When I entered the templo, people were already solemnly seated in benches scattered around the room. The women were praying softly while the men had their heads bowed. A young woman, dressed in a white blouse with loose-fitting sleeves and 3 Robert Stark and William Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 24-26. I follow Stark and Bainbridge's definition of "sect," which is a religious movement with prior ties to another religious organization. Many founders of religious organizations in Banahaw were former Catholics. 2

billowing skirt with red, yellow, and blue stripes resembling the colors of the Philippine flag, sat on a chair next to the altar on which the pictures of Jesus Christ and Philippine national hero Jose Rizal were displayed. The altar was lit up with candles. The young woman was the priestess, and she led the group in praying ten repetitions of the rosary, followed by the singing of some hymns, and ending with prayers asking for blessings on the bayan, the Filipino people. After the ceremony, everyone sat down quietly but expectantly, looking intently at the priestess. She, in turn, had closed her eyes. Without any warning she started speaking in a different voice, older and deeper. A spirit had apparently possessed her. She exhorted those present to be kind to one another, not to quarrel about petty things. She mentioned specific incidents that happened to the names she called out. A murmur spread across the room. Others made the sign of the cross. She said they had to purify and strengthen their kalooban ("inner self) in order to change the direction of their lives. Most of all, the community had to be united. They should never forget to ask God for forgiveness and help in all things. Then she became very quiet and fell from her chair to the floor. The women beside her helped her to sit up, fanning her as they stroked her arms and face. Someone announced that those who have specific ailments and wanted to consult with the priestess should stay behind. Most of the people started to move downstairs, and I followed them. Preparations for the second ritual, dancing over live coals, were being done downstairs while the ceremony was going on upstairs. The dancers, who were also members of the group, were praying quietly in one side of the room. No one was allowed to speak to them. I was told that different people danced at different times, citing 3

personal or religious reasons for participating in the painful ritual. When the coals were judged hot enough, the dancers lined up and took off their slippers. One by one they methodically stepped onto the glowing coals, which were spread in a rectangle, about seven feet long, on the ground. They shuffled their feet and waved their arms, similar to the motions of native Philippine dances, until they reached the other end. The onlookers clapped and shouted encouraging words to the dancers. Some of the dancers flinched at the beginning but continued dancing. At the other end, they put on their slippers and acted like nothing happened. I asked to see if the soles of their feet were burned. They were not. They explained that when one's heart is pure and ready for the sacrifice, the spirits make sure that the feet do not get burned. My Catholic background and education, as well as my total embrace of modernity and rationality, did not prepare me for my first encounter with the sect and the priestess. I was simply wonderstruck by what I saw, and like Dona Lupeng, responded instinctively. I was mesmerized, completely intrigued, and also resentful that my teachers never once mentioned the existence of these religious practitioners. I convinced myself that the priestess was the living counterpoint to the hegemonic presence of a Catholic all- male religious hierarchy and the missing link to the Filipino women's shrouded past. In my fascination and surprise, I never for one moment thought about how the sect and the priestess perceived themselves. What did they believe in? How did they manage to survive decades of marginalization? What was their relationship to the rest of Filipino society? I would attempt to answer the questions decades later, when I re-visited the subject of Mount Banahaw's religious sects and their priestesses, with this dissertation on the La Iglesia Suprema del Ciudad Mistica de Dios (hereinafter "Mistica"), a religious 4

group whose highest authority, called suprema, is a woman and whose main ritualists are all women. Mistica's headquarters is located in the village of Santa Lucia, in the municipality of Dolores, Quezon province, just above the foothills of Mount Banahaw. The current Suprema is Isabel Suarez. This time, instead of reacting from my gut, I approached Mistica from the perspective of postcolonial and gender studies. I chose the lens of postcolonialism because I wanted to situate Mistica in the present, after taking into account its roots in Philippine pre-colonial culture and the legacy of 350 years of Spanish colonialism, followed by fifty years of American imperialist rule, and then Japanese occupation during World War II. It is my aim to highlight not only the impact of Mistica's subordinate history under foreign domination, but also to analyze its postcoloniality vis-a-vis the religious, political, and economic situations in which it finds itself. It is not enough that I pick out the elements that it has in common with pre-colonial civilization and colonial culture, but to explain how Mistica has re-configured and utilized those elements to become what it is today. This dissertation strives to uncover Mistica's actual lived experiences to dispel its image as a pre-colonial artifact and model of colonial resistance stemming from its identity as a Banahaw sect, and to differentiate between Mistica's self- identification and depictions by local and international observers. One of postcolonial studies' theoretical underpinnings, Homi Bhaba's concept of hybridity, is relevant in explaining Mistica as more than an amalgamation of different cultural and religious components, or as Filipinos see themselves, masters at mimicry. In 5

"Signs Taken for Wonders,"4 Bhaba opens with a story of Indian catechist Messeh's conversation with the leader of 500 Hindus who have just discovered the "English book" amid a grove of trees in Delhi. The people think that the appearance of the book is miraculous, but Messeh knowing better, tries to explain what the Bible is really all about. He tells them that it is the book of the European sahibs, but they respond with the simple statement that God gave the book to the Hindus, and how could the book be European when Europeans eat animal flesh, a profane act as far as the Hindus are concerned. The pattern is then set, Messeh's every attempt at either correction or conversion encounters the responses of the natives that allow for wonderment but resist the full symbolic power of the English book. Bhabha points out that even though the scene suggests the triumph of English authority, it is not complete because of the ambivalent nature of the exchange between text and context. The image produced is neither original, because the book's discovery is only an act of repetition, nor is it identical, because of the difference that defines it. Bhabha then goes on to suggest that colonial discourse, like the in-between text that emerged from the conversation between the Hindu natives and Messeh, refers not to a pure or unsullied difference between the colonizer and the colonized but to a hybrid that unsettles domination. For Bhabha, hybridity is able to interpellate colonial authority by besieging it with questions, phantoms and fixations from that other scene - the "dark, unruly spaces of the earth"5 occupied by the natives. Similarly, I see Mistica's religious hybridity not as pure mimicry nor outright colonial imposition, but a puncturing of 4 Homi K. Bhabha, "Signs taken for wonders: questions of ambivalence and authority under a Tree outside Delhi, May 1817," in Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 102. 5 Ibid., 107. 6

colonial and postcolonial authority, in order to make room for native imagination, reality, and being. Because postcolonialism inquires into relations of domination and subordination, I take a close look at Mistica's social and economic positionality within Philippine society. Mistica's membership consists largely of subalterns, that sector of society who come from the lowest strata of the rural gentry to the upper middle-level peasantry. Gayatri Spivak extends the subaltern category to include not only the urban subproletariat but "subsistence farmers, unorganized peasant labor, the tribals, and the communities of zero workers on the street or in the countryside" who are "outside the international division of labor."6 Mistica's subaltern membership falls squarely into Spivak's expansive classification. Within this grouping, Spivak pays special attention to women because in the "context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, [but] the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow."7 Thus, the issue of gender intersects with Mistica's subaltern positionality. How it deals with this intersection in relation to its religious beliefs, local competition for material resources, and local and national politics make up a large part of this dissertation. My use of gender as the other analytical lens for the study of Mistica is premised on Anne McClintock's conceptualization that gender is not just a "superficial patina" of empire building but was, in fact, central to it.8 The marginalization of the catalonan/babaylan was 6 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?", in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 288. 7 Ibid. 8 Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 7. 7

necessary not just for the conversion of the native population to Catholicism and the initial success of colonization in the archipelago, but also for the establishment of patriarchal modes that would sustain the Spanish empire through the centuries. While gender differences were marked among the indigenes,9 the process of colonization, conversion, and patriarchy meant that colonized women experienced imperial rule differently from men, and their situations within indigenous society were restructured as they encountered imperial men and women. Their struggles cannot be collapsed under the heading of imperial domination alone, and the addition of gender as a category changes the picture drastically. It is important to note that the term "gender" is not a substitute for the word "women." Joan Scott employs gender as an analytical category, first to look at how social and institutional relationships shape and are shaped by perceived differences between the sexes, and second, at how power is signified through gender.10 The first part takes into consideration how the perceived fixed binary opposition between the sexes is used by institutions, like the Christian Church, to articulate interpretations that limit or contain human possibilities, how binary gender representations impact politics, education, religion, etc., and how the construction of gender affects subjective identity. The second part probes into the relationship between gender and power, because as Scott observes, gender has become a primary field by means of which power is articulated, "for concepts of power, though they may build on gender, are not always literally about gender."11 For example, marriage rites instituted by the Spanish friars in New Mexico were not about the relationship between man and woman, but about the power of the clergy over 9 See section on catalonan/babaylan in this Introduction. 10 Joan W. Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 42. 11 Ibid., 45. 8

the conquered pueblos. In the case of Mistica, the sexual innuendoes leveled against its Suprema are not about gender alone, but about the struggle over land ownership and political power on Mount Banahaw. From the beginning of this dissertation, I have fought the temptation to take the simpler route of equating Mistica with women's agency and colonial resistance. I have attempted to follow Abu-Lughod's advice to scholars writing about women's subordination. She states: It seems to me that because they are ultimately more concerned with finding resistors and explaining resistance than with examining power, they do not explore as fully as they might the implications of the forms of resistance they locate. In some of my own earlier work, as in that of others, there is perhaps a tendency to romanticize resistance, to read all forms of resistance as signs of the ineffectiveness of systems of power and the resilience and creativity of the human spirit in its refusal to be dominated. By reading resistance in this way, we collapse distinctions between forms of resistance and foreclose certain questions about the workings of power.13 Abu-Lughod advocates instead that scholars move toward methodological strategies for the study of power in specific situations: "We would continue to look for and consider nontrivial all sorts of resistance, but instead of taking these as signs of human freedom we will use them strategically to tell us more about forms of power and how people are caught up in them."14 By using the methodologies of gender and postcolonialism in my study of Mistica, I am able to elaborate on the relationship between sexual differences and religious identity, and the role that gender plays in religious hybridity and the formation of localized religion. It also allows me to look at the interplay of religion and politics, Ramon A. Gutierrez, When Jesus Came the Corn Mothers Went Away (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). 13 Lila Abu-Lughod, "The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power through Bedouin Women" American Ethnologist 17, no. 1(1990): 41-42. 14 Ibid., 42. 9

and its impact on the accumulation and distribution of power. Attention to gender within Mistica and between Mistica and outsiders gives a fuller picture of the dynamics of power and the making of complex religious and subaltern subjectivities whose faith is instrumental in their resistance to marginalization, the creation of hope for the future, and the strength to navigate their everyday experiences. While I base my analysis of Mistica on my own ethnographic work, which took place intermittently from 2006 to 2008,1 also relied on Guillermo Pesigan's book, Dulang-Buhay ng Bundok Banahaw: Karanasan ng Ciudad Mistica (Diary of Mount Banahaw: The Experience of Ciudad Mistica), which is a detailed account of the sect's history, rites, and rituals.15 Despite the book's excellence and accuracy, which the sister of Mistica's Suprema acknowledges,16 Pesigan was, persona non grata in Mistica after his book's publication in 1992 until his death in 2005. Suprema accused him of "commercializing" (pangangalakal) Mistica. Perhaps because of this incident, Mistica's membership was at first wary of interacting with me, but their caution was quickly replaced with warmth and friendship. Notwithstanding, from the beginning of my own ethnographic work, Suprema has been hospitable and open, allowing me to speak to any member, go anywhere in their headquarters, and observe all their practices, Guillermo M. Pesigan, Dulang-Buhay ng Bundok Banahaw: Karanasan ng Ciudad Mistica (Diary of Mount Banahaw: The Experience of Ciudad Mistica) (Quezon City: Bahay Saliksikan ng Pilipinolohiyang Simulain, 1992). 16 As a response to my request for an interview, Suprema's younger sister and member of Mistica's leadership, Gloria Samiano, told me that I should just read Pesigan's work, instead of doing my own ethnography. "You know, his work is 96 percent correct." I asked her what is wrong with the remaining four percent, and she replied, "Some of the things he wrote were just a bit off. Not really wrong, but not right either." 171 have no information about the cause of the misunderstanding between Pesigan and Suprema, and no informant has spoken to shed light on the circumstances leading to the estrangement. 10

including membership meetings. However, there were two rules that I had to observe: no picture taking of any painting in its chapel and no copying of the contents of its prayer book. The reason for the rules, as I gathered from my discussions with Suprema and other members, is that a rival sect has been copying Mistica 's rituals by using photographs and writings of academic researchers who were given permission to take photos and access the prayer book. The rival sect is allegedly claiming that it originated the copied materials. Except for interviews with Mistica officials, such as Suprema Isabel Suarez and her sister Gloria Samiano or Ate Glo, and representatives of the Lontok family, all other interviews and conversations were conducted in confidentiality. The actual names of these interviewees and informants have been withheld for their own safety and security. As a pioneering book on the history of religious sects in Mount Banahaw and their significance in the Philippine Revolution of 1896, Reynaldo Ileto's Pasyon and Revolution provides entry to the mindset of the Tagalog subaltern.18 By taking seriously the religious beliefs and practices of the peasantry, Ileto manages to draw out this sector's interpretation of their participation in the Revolution. His work continues to be relevant as a paradigm for an analysis of subaltern thinking, as long as readers keep in mind that it is devoid of any gender perspective. Consolacion Alaras's successful attempt to inject gender into the field mapped out by Ileto is entitled, Pamathalaan,19 a book on her experiences with several sects whose Reynaldo Clemefia Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910 (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979). 19 Consolacion R. Alaras, Pamathalaan: Ang Pagbubukas sa Tipan ng Mahal na Ina (Indigenous discourse: the emergence of the realm of the beloved mother) (Quezon City: Bahay Saliksikan ng Kasaysayan, 1988). 11

core religious belief centers around the anticipated coming of the "Beloved Mother" or Mahal na Ina. Alaras classifies Mistica as belonging to this group, but she gives it very little space in her book. Although Alaras does not offer a gender analysis of the sects, she does give a thorough description and an explanation for their belief in a mother deity. Lacking a theory of religious and cultural syncretization and knowledge of Animism and its practitioners - the female shamans - Ileto and Alaras invariably fall back on the familiar and dominant religion, Catholicism, as the single, overarching principle that would explain the Tagalog subalterns' traditions, conventions, and behavioral patterns. For instance, Ileto admits that the form of the pasyon, which is the Tagalog account of the passion of Jesus Christ, can be traced to native epic traditions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and that its contents are not "alien" to the Filipino mind on closer examination, yet he insists that the Tagalog peasantry based their actions on its "own brand of folk Christianity."20 There appears to be two kinds of Christianities - the normal, standard Christianity - and the folk, a variant of the first, and by implication, an imitation, and as such, inferior. Could it be that the natives practiced not a copycat Christianity, but an entirely different religion - one that preserves the Tagalog cosmology and worldview inflected with Christian elements? A hybrid, true, but still consistent with and expressive of the native soul, and to label it Christian obscures much of its origin, impulses, and meanings, particularly with regards to gender. Ileto's success at uncovering Tagalog understandings comes from his admission that the peasantry does have a tradition and a mind of its own, but stops short and goes back to his own elite, Catholic roots and labels the tradition Christianity of the folk variety. 20 Ileto, 12. 12

The same pattern emerges with Alaras. The sects' "Beloved Mother" becomes a variation of the Blessed Virgin, the encompassing female saint. Thus, for her and Ileto, symbols of nationhood and womanhood are tied to the Christian Mary, so that the different symbolic "mothers" associated with the sects and with the nationalist uprisings are mere permutations of the one and true Blessed Virgin. Although Smita Lahiri's doctoral dissertation 21 and her chapter on Suprema22 present a secular and highly political view of Mount Banahaw and Mistica, her works nevertheless mirror the same theme as that of Ileto and Alaras. Much of the criticism that Lahiri levels against Mistica comes from her judgment that Suprema did not live up to her self-promoted image of female sainthood, and therefore, her public reputation as model of Filipinoness and indigenous womanhood is duplicitous and a front for her political and personal ambitions. Although unstated, the Blessed Virgin Mary, standard for female sainthood, is once again invoked, and as a result, all other forms of womanhood fail in comparison. From such a tainted beginning, Mistica could not climb back to respectability and be given the benefit of the doubt in a volatile and charged dispute over land, however much it appears to be about religion, gender, and environmentalism. In the present, when many controversies involve issues of power and resources, an analysis of the connections between religion, gender and power in the postcolonial era, which this dissertation is all about, becomes timely and relevant. 21 Smita Lahiri, "Materializing the Spiritual: Christianity, Community, and History in a Philippine Landscape" (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 2002). 22 Smita Lahiri, "The Priestess and the Politician: Enunciating Filipino Cultural Nationalism through Mt. Banahaw," in Spirited Politics: Religion and Public Life in Contemporary Southeast Asia, ed. Andrew C. Willford and Kenneth M. George (Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 2005). 13

Aside from the works of Ileto, Alaras, and Lahiri, which were my dialogue partners throughout the writing of this dissertation, I have based my analysis on my reading of Philippine legends, myths, and folktales. Following the recommendation of Resil Mojares, in his book Waiting for Mariang Makiling, I mined folklore as "genuine documents of our [Filipino] intellectual and emotional life and, at another level, the grosser realities in which life is grounded."23 The legends of Mariang Makiling and Bernardo Carpio, in particular, have been helpful in discerning how Banahaw sects perceive the connection between gender and religion. This dissertation is divided into three chapters, with a common focus on gender. Chapter one, "Gendering Mount Banahaw," traces the gender dynamics underlying the traditional discourse about Mount Banahaw as a sacred mountain. Chapter two, "Gendering Mistica," concentrates on the foundational aspects of Mistica's beliefs and practices, and the people who adhere to them. It pays particular attention to the teachings of Mistica's founder, Maria Bernarda Balitaan, and elaborates on gender differences rooted in indigenous culture and religion. Chapter three, "Gendering Popular Religion and Politics," consists of two parts: Part I delves into the content of the spiritual roles accorded to women in Mistica; and Part II explores the function of gender and religion in the controversy over land and political power between Mistica and the scions of a prominent religious figure in Mount Banahaw. This chapter emphasizes the complexities arising from the interplay of gender, religion, and power in a postcolonial setting. Resil B. Mojares, "Waiting for Mariang Makiling," in Waiting for Mariang Makiling: Essays in Philippine Cultural History (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002), 15. 14

To facilitate readers' understanding of the chapters, I have included in the Introduction brief sections on the catalonan/babaylan and on the geographical space occupied by Mistica, starting with Mount Banahaw and ending with its compound in Santa Lucia. Catalonan/Babaylan The practitioners of Animism in the archipelago before the arrival of Spanish colonialism in the sixteenth century were commonly female, called catalonan in the Tagalog region of Luzon, babaylan in the central islands of the Visayas, and baylan in Mindanao. The male Animist practitioners, much smaller in number, were transvestites called asog in Visayan or bayog in Tagalog. However, it is the term babaylan that has gained popularity primarily due to its adoption by academic scholars and Filipino feminists.24 Its current usage has also been expanded to mean not just the pre-colonial Animist practitioners but indigenous or tribal women in general.25 For my purposes, I The more numerous accounts of pre-colonial Visayan language and culture may justify the choice of babaylan by academic scholars. The Spanish were in the Visayas fifty years earlier than in Luzon and recorded more data. As to the women's preference for the term, Carolyn Brewer points out that feminists try to link the Tagalog word for woman, babae, with babaylan, implying a connection between woman and the babaylan's priestly function: "For these women, sensitized to the way Roman Catholicism has consigned them, by their biology, to the silent side of the altar as far as formal teaching, authority and administration are concerned, babaylan represents a subversive power-full and inextricable entanglement of woman with religious leadership." See Carolyn Brewer, Holy Confrontation: Religion, Gender, and Sexuality in the Philippines, 1521-1685 (Manila: C. Brewer and Institute of Women's Studies, St. Scholastica's College, 2001), 157. 25 See, for instance, the publications of the Center for Women's Resources in the Philippines that begin with the following title, Babaylan: A Look at the World of 15

Full document contains 264 pages
Abstract: Ciudad Mistica is a religious sect located in Mount Banahaw, a "sacred mountain" in Central Luzon, Philippines, which draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Lenten season. The sect is in turn admired and vilified by different sectors of Philippine society for its deliberate lifting of women as sources and holders of sacred and spiritual power. It does it through a tradition of all-women leadership and ritualists, based on its belief that its female founder was a savior sent by God to complete Jesus Christ's failed mission on earth. Feminists view the sect as direct descendants of the babaylan, practitioners of Animism before the arrival of Spanish colonialism in the sixteenth century. Others, particularly its contemporary religious and political rivals, see it as peddling a false idea of Filipino nativeness and sainthood. This dissertation looks at the role that gender plays in the formation and transformation of Mistica's religious identity and in the complex negotiations and contestations generated by that identity in the context of Mount Banahaw and the political and economic realities of postcolonial Philippines.