Before I start, I will state that I do believe the ancient Philippines did not spend time focusing on (and judging) the sexuality of others. I also believe that homosexuality and transgender people (although I can only find instances of transwomen) were accepted throughout many areas. When it comes to gender identity, evidence shows that the ancient Philippines had much more liberal views than we see in modern society. Anthropological studies show that Philippine societies regarded their myths as containing psychological and archetypal truths.
As with many of my articles lately, I was inspired by an interesting question posed to me by a reader. He referred to the article “LGBT Culture in Ancient Philippine Beliefs” submitted by one of our contributors and asked for the source of the love story between Bulan (the boy moon deity) and Sidapa (male deity of death). I have been doing some research on this particular subject and decided to take this opportunity to share a little bit of what I am learning.
Philippine mythology has many examples of deities regionally manifesting as different genders and interpretations. This may be due to the fact that throughout the Indianized Kingdoms (including the Philippines) gods changed sex or manifested as the opposite sex in order to facilitate sexual congress within the various regional creation myths. I believe we may have locked ourselves into specific genders for these deities when the stories were documented during the 20th century. These gender variances can be seen in comparative studies between regions. For instance, in some Visayan creation myths, Maguayan (deity of the sea) is a man, while in others she is a woman. Sidapa is generally known as the masculine deity of death, yet there is a story documented by F Landa Jocano in his book “Outline Of Philippine Mythology” (Manila, Centro Escolar University Research and Development Center, 1969) where Sidapa is female. It is only within the Indianized areas of the Philippines where we find the moon deity as a male figure. In the case of the Visayas, a young androgynous boy.
“The creation myths of many traditions involve sexual, bisexual or androgynous motifs, with the world being created by genderless or hermaphrodite beings or through sexual congress between beings of the opposite or same apparent gender.” – Penczak “In the beginning-Creation Myths”, 2003.
The stories with gender variances are generally accepted by mainstream Philippine Mythology enthusiasts and modern scholars. Confusion arises when the stories of Bulan/ Libulan, that traditionally are considered to have no homoerotic subtext, are highlighted by those placing modern views on LGBT communities into ancient times – in either positive or negative context. This has led to Libulan being called “the patron god of homosexuality”, which may or may not be an accurate attribution. So let’s take a look at what we know.
In Bicol, Bulan (along with his sister Haliya) are the moon deities. Libulan is the moon deity in Visayan mythology and Bulan is the moonboy. It is speculated that Bulan is the child incarnation of Libulan – which would be in tune with the Indianized influence which we will address later.
The Modern Retelling of Sidapa and Bulan
The story varies throughout and between Cebu, Panay and Bicol, but Sidapa is generally considered to have an obsession with the beauty of the adolescent moon deity Bulan. One story talks about how Bathala rescued Bulan from Bakunawa. Another mentions Sidapa’s obsession. None of the traditional tales speak of marriage, love, or an intimate relationship. Elements from the traditional tales have been amalgamated into the modern re-telling of the two deities below. There is no source or traditional basis for the relationship mentioned.
Long ago the god of death resided alone on top his mountain. From his domain he saw the seven moons dancing. He admired the moons for their beauty and fell in love with them.
He realized that the other gods were also infatuated with the moons, such as Luyong Baybay (goddess of tides) who was singing to the moons.
To outperform the other gods, Sidapa asked the birds and mermaids to sing his endearments to the moons. He ordered the flowers to bloom and make sweet perfumes that would reach the heavens. Lastly he asked the fireflies to light a way so the moons could find their way to him…
One of the moons came down, it was the young boy Bulan. Sidapa showered the boy moon with gifts and songs .
One night, Bakunawa (the moon eating dragon who was also captivated by the beauty of the moons) rose from the sea. Sidapa saw this and quickly flew to the cosmos to snatch the boy Bulan before Bakunawa could devour him.
Sidapa saved Bulan from Bakunawa and it is said that they live together as lovers on top of Mt. Madjaas to this day.
The Indianized Influence
Without question, it is now known that many of the epics, legends, and folktales of the Philippine region were brought through trade and migration from the Indianized Areas of S.E. Asia – especially when examining regions like Bicol and the Visayas. This can been seen when comparing Bicol’s Ibalong Epic to the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharta. Further evidence can be found when examining the Visayan stories of Bakunawa trying to devour the enchanting moon deity. A similarly Hindu influenced story exists in Indonesia where the demon Kala Rau tries to devour Dewi Bulan (the moon goddess).
In the case of Sidapa and Bulan, we need to examine interpretations of similar Hindu deities to discover where this affair originated. The answer lay in a lesser known text from post-Vedic literature, which coincides with the spread of Hinduism to S.E. Asia. Two deities in particular caught my attention:
Soma – Male moon deity.
Agni – Male fire deity.
Agni, the god of fire, wealth and creative energy, has same-sex sexual encounters that involve accepting semen from other gods. Although married to the goddess Svaha, Agni is also shown as being part of a same-sex couple with Soma, the god of the moon. Agni takes a receptive role in this relationship, accepting semen from Soma with his mouth, paralleling Agni’s role in accepting sacrifices from Earth to Heaven. Orthodox Hinduism emphasizes that these are “mithuna”, ritual sexual encounters, and Agni and his mouth represent the feminine role.
With Hindu mythology, sexual interactions between deities serve a non-sexual, sacred purpose. In some cases, these may be same-sex interactions. Sidapa’s emotional infatuation with Bulan is made very clear in their story, but stops short of describing any physical interaction or desire.
Libulan: Patron Deity of Homosexuals?
Polytheistic religions reflected what each culture saw in itself. Deities also reflect a range of interests, temperaments, and sexual preferences. Many pantheons, especially those from Classical Greece and Rome, China, India, South America and Oceania, feature prominent gods and goddesses who had homosexual relationships or adventures. (Hindu deities are especially notable for the ease with which many of them change gender from time to time).
For the Aztecs, Xochipilli was the god of art, games, beauty, dance, flowers, and song. His name contains the Nahuatl words xochitl (“flower”) and pilli (either “prince” or “child”), and hence means “flower prince”. His wife was the human girl Mayahuel. Xochipilli was also the patron of both homosexuals and male prostitutes.
In Europe, classical Greek mythology – where it is easier to track down gods who had male lovers than those (very few) who did not – several gods and goddesses were also considered patrons of homosexual love. Most favoured only men, but Aphrodite was a special patron of lesbians.
Not all mythological systems include gods specifically designated as patrons or protectors of homosexual love. Nearly all, however, include at least some gods who have same sex interactions, and in many cultures the gods also have significant transgender associations, either in themselves, or in their human priests and priestesses
In the Visayan pantheon, each deity had their own role to play in maintaining peace and harmony across the land. We need to remember that the deities of the Visayas were not always held to a specific function. Lest we forget that Magayuan was once the deity of the sea, then later took the role of carrying the souls of the dead to the underworld. Yna Guinid was a war deity, yet after the Spanish arrived and the Visayans were in need of protection against Moro raids, her role adapted to include being the deity of poisons.
So is it safe to call Libulan the patron deity of homosexuals? Not in a historical context, but as I said earlier, Philippine societies regarded their myths as containing psychological and archetypal truths. If modern Philippine society needs Libulan as a symbol for the LGBT movement, then that is his purpose for today. As a study of anthropology, history and the evolving realm of Philippine mythology, I’m okay with that – as should we all be.
ALSO READ: LGBT Culture in Ancient Philippine Beliefs
Additional Source: Conner, Randy P.; Sparks, David Hatfield; Sparks, Mariya (1998). Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit