Who is Bathala?
In ancient mythology among the Tagalogs, there was a creator, a supreme god. He was known as Bathala Maykapal or Lumikha. According to F. Landa Jocano’s Outline of Philippine Mythology (1969), Bathala is the grand conserver of the universe – the caretaker of nature and the creatures of the earth.
“Hence the beautiful word “bahala” or “mabahala” meaning “to care.” From this evolved the Filipino attitude of “bahala na” or “Let Bathala take care of it” which gives a person tremendous courage in the face of danger.”
We can only speak about the worship of Bathala with varying degrees of certainty. Most of the foundations of Philippine Mythology are rooted in documentation by the Spanish. This creates a bit of a dilemma.
The same documentation that re-enforces mythological stories about gods and creation are one and the same with the documentation that is being used to discredit belief in folkloric creatures (I’ll speak more on this in a future article).
Using this documentation, we know that pre-Spanish Tagalogs on Luzon “worshipped” Bathala, the creator. We also know that, for a time, Bathala was incorporated into Christian teaching by the friars in order to assist with converting the population to Christianity.
“As for their sacrifices, each one of the natives, so far as I have seen, has in his house many idols, to whom they pray. They call God, Batala (Bathala), and the chief idol which they have is thus named; but others call him Diobata (Diwata) – at least among the Pintados (term used by Spanish to describe indigenous people with tattooed bodies in Cebu, Bohol, Samar and Leyte) they give him this name.
The natives of this island (Luzon) usually call him Batala, and even consider him God of all creation. Accordingly, after the religious came to this land and commenced to preach the faith of Jesus Christ, and to baptize, the natives have not known how to give any other name in their language to God our Lord, except that of Batala.”
The Story of Creation
In the beginning of time there were three powerful gods who lived in the universe. Bathala was the caretaker of the earth, Ulilang Kaluluwa (lit. Orphaned Spirit), a huge serpent who lived in the clouds, and Galang Kaluluwa (lit. Wandering spirit), the winged god who loves to travel. These three gods did not know each other.
Bathala often dreamt of creating mortals but the empty earth stops him from doing so. Ulilang Kaluluwa who was equally lonely as Bathala, liked to visit places and the earth was his favorite. One day the two gods met.
Ulilang Kaluluwa, seeing another god rivalling him, was not pleased. He challenged Bathala to a fight to decide who would be the ruler of the universe. After three days and three nights, Ulilang Kaluluwa was slain by Bathala.
Instead of giving him a proper burial, Bathala burned the snake’s remains. A few years later the third god, Galang Kaluluwa, wandered into Bathala’s home. He welcomed the winged god with much kindness and even invited him to live in his kingdom. They became true friends and were very happy for many years.
Galang Kaluluwa became very ill. Before he died he instructed Bathala to bury him on the spot where Ulilang Kaluluwa’s body was burned. Bathala did exactly as he was told. Out of the grave of the two dead gods grew a tall tree with a big round nut, which is the coconut tree. Bathala took the nut and husked it.
He noticed that the inner skin was hard. The nut itself reminded him of Galang Kaluluwa’s head. It had two eyes, a nose, and a round mouth. Its leaves looked so much like the wings of his dear winged friend. But the trunk was hard and ugly, like the body of his enemy, the snake Ulilang Kaluluwa.
Bathala realized that he was ready to create the creatures he wanted with him on earth. He created the vegetation, animals, and the first man and woman. Bathala built a house for them out of the trunk and leaves of the coconut’ trees.
For food, they drank the coconut juice and ate its delicious white meat. Its leaves, they discovered, were great for making mats, hats, and brooms. Its fiber could be used for rope and many other things.
- A different account of the world’s creation said Bathala was so gigantic that the sun shone brightly beside him as he hunched under the sky. One day, Bathala pierced the eye of the sun with a bolo, generating just enough heat to create and sustain life. With his might, the supreme being then pushed the colder portion of the sky just beyond the earth to where it is now.
- In the 1920’s, Roberto Laperal shared the following story with Henry Otley Beyer: “In former times the sky was very low and could be touched with the hand; when men were playing, they would strike their heads against it whenever they jumped upward. This made them impatient, and one day they began to throw stones at the sky. The great god Bathala was very angry and removed the sky to its present position.”
- An excerpt from the Boxer Codex (1590b, 367) about Bathala according to the Tagalogs: “They said that this god of theirs was in the air before there was heaven or earth or anything else, that he was ab eterno (from eternity) and not made or created by anybody from anything, and that he alone made and created all that we have mentioned simply by his own volition because he wanted to make something so beautiful as the heaven and earth, and that he made and created one man and one woman out of the earth, from whom have come and descended all the men and their generations that are in the world.”
Bathala’s Creation of the Islands and People
In the beginning when the Earth was still young, the gods Bathala, Aman Sinaya, and Amihan were the only beings that existed. Bathala was god of the Sky (Langit) and Aman Sinaya was goddess of the Sea (Linaw). The two had been fierce rivals for a long time. Every day, they would try to outdo each other; Bathala using his lighting bolts and thunder, and Aman Sinaya using her waves and typhoons.
One day, Aman Sinaya decided to send her Storm|tempests into the Sky to cause a wild commotion. In order to stop her, Bathala threw giant boulders that came from atop of the mountains. It created thousands of islands onto the surface of the Sea (which became to be the Philippine archipelago).
Amihan, the North Wind in the middle of the two realms, decided to stop the battle once and for all by taking the form of a bird. He then flew back and fourth between them. This made the Sky and the Sea closer than it was before. At the point where the two realms met, both gods agreed to end the fight and become friends.
As a sign of friendship, Bathala planted a seed underneath the ocean floor. It soon grew into a bamboo reed, sticking out of the edge of the Sea. Amihan had gazed upon it one day and heard voices, coming from inside the bamboo.
“Oh, North Wind! North Wind! Please let us out.”, the voices said. He pecked the reed once, then twice. When all of a sudden, the bamboo cracked and slit open. Inside were two human beings; one was a male and the other was a female.
Amihan named the man, Malakas (“strong”), and the woman, Maganda (“beautiful”). He then flew them onto one of the islands where they settled, built a house, and had millions of offsprings that populated the Earth.
Then, it finally came when the children were too numerous for Malakas and Maganda to control. One day, they were ordered to work in the fields, but instead, they did nothing. When the parents arrived home, they noticed that their instructions weren’t followed.
Asking for some guidance, they prayed to the great god, Bathala, and he came to them and said, “Let your anger be shown to everyone and it shall make them into what they are meant to be.” So out of their anger, they grabbed spoon ladles and began to give blows to everyone.
All the children started running away. Some hid under the bamboo tables and became slaves. A few of them went inside the burning cauldron and turned into the Aetas of the islands. Others climbed up the rooftop and became the datus of the villages.
While some climbed on top of the trees and were believed to have become the commoners. Those who fled to the mountains turned into hunters and the ones who ran to the seashore turned into fishermen.
Bathala and his adversary, Sitan
Bathala’s adversary is believed to be “Sitan”, guardian of Kasamaan and the keeper of all souls therein. His task was to lead man to sin and destruction. The relationship between Bathala and Sitan was first documented by Juan de Plasencia in 1589.
How much of this can be taken as certainty and how much is a Christian interpretation will always be up for debate, but the concept of “hell” certainly predates the Spanish arrival in the region. The Tagalogs “Kasamaan” may have more in common with Naraka – a place of temporary torment in Hinduism – than it does with the eternal damnation in Christianity.
“They said also that in the other life and mortality, there was a place of punishment, grief, and affliction, called casanaan (Kasamaan), which was “a place of anguish;” they also maintained that no one would go to heaven, where there dwelt only Bathala, “the maker of all things,” who governed from above.
There were also other pagans who confessed more clearly to a hell, which they called, as I have said, casanaan; they said that all the wicked went to that place, and there dwelt the demons, whom they called sitan.”
Anito: Communicating with Bathala
Anito is used to refer to spirits, deceased ancestors, nature-spirits nymphs and diwatas. Ancient Filipinos kept statues to represent these spirits, ask guidance and magical protection. Trees, rocks, ,bodies of water, and animals were believed to be animated by an anito.
In 1582, de Loarca gave us, in a certain manner, a clearer idea about Anitos. “They are the assistants, the ministers of Batala, who sends them on earth to help men. These helpers are called: Anitos. The nature of the Anito is such that he comes on earth, deals with men and speaks in his behalf to Batala.
”It is a fact that the early Filipinos counted their ancestors among the anitos. Ancestors were certainly regarded as higher beings yet as previously stated, only the servants of Bathala.