[03] Christ as Shaman and Sacrifice

Most mimetic rituals (i.e., indigenous drama) in the pre-colonial Philippines, particularly the shamanic (healing) ritual, include the offering of a sacrifice. This sacrifice, which usually consists of a living animal, is offered either to please benevolent spirits or to fight evil spirits. In order to communicate to the spirit, a special medium – a shaman (priestess or priest) – is called.[1] While calling on the spirit, the shaman suddenly goes into a trance and appears possessed by the spirit. At the height of this experience, the shaman takes a knife and kills the animal sacrifice. In these mimetic rituals, the shaman represents the figure of power, while the sacrifice represents the petitioner. The killing of the sacrifice allays the wrath of the spirit, thus obtaining the favor being hoped for.[2]

To better understand what goes on in the rituals practiced by the indigenous, we need to know the worldview within which they operate. Worldview refers to the way we perceive the world, that framework of beliefs with which we interpret our world and interact with it. Let us then take a quick look at the main features of the worldview behind the rituals and the Traditional Religion practiced by the indigenous.[3]

First of all, the indigenous see the world as a network of relationships. The visible and invisible realities interact constantly, and a harmonious relationship between the spirits (invisible) and the living (visible) must be maintained always. Religion permeates all aspects of life, and rituals are part of the life cycle. The individual person is but a part of a greater whole, a wide natural-social universe inhabited by spirits. Moreover, the indigenous believe in a distant Supreme Being who can only be approached through intermediaries. Benevolent spirits and the spirits of deceased relatives act as intermediaries between God and the living; they affect the daily life of the community. Good fortune and good health are generally attributed to them. Misfortune and illness, however, are attributed to malevolent spirits of the underworld. The spirits of the dead are generally concerned about the well-being and continuance of their families on earth, yet they may also cause misfortune if they are neglected by the living.[4]

The shaman is the person who has the power to travel to the worlds of the spirits and commune with them. Entering into a trance (an altered state of consciousness), the shaman journeys to these other worlds and mediates between the spirits and the living, seeking guidance and help from the spirits on behalf of the living afflicted by a disease. Any kind of illness and even misfortune is attributed to a disruption in the harmonious relationship between the spirits and the living. The indigenous believe that illness may be caused by a deceased relative, a witch or the spirits. The shaman performs the healing ritual – a dramatic performance – and offers a sacrifice to allay the wrath of the angered spirit, appease the neglected deceased or counteract the malevolent spirit in view of reestablishing harmony between the spirits and the living. The reestablished harmonious relationship brings about healing.[5]

Today, healers still exist and healing rituals continue to be practiced among contemporary adherents of Traditional Religion and even among Folk Christians in the Philippines. Where does the power of healing come from? How does one become a healer, a shaman? Healing rituals can only be performed by those duly called upon by the spirits or by God himself through a dream, an actual encounter with the spirits, or through recovery from a deadly disease.[6] These healers have their spirit-guides to help them. Nonetheless, in order to possess the power of healing, the shaman must constantly renew, purify and strengthen their loob (inner self) through ascetic rituals, prayers and self-discipline. For loob is the locus where power is concentrated and whence it emanates. A strong loob is characterized by humility, firmness of conviction, resoluteness of purpose, and fairness in dealing with people. Such loob bespeaks one’s harmonious relationship with God and the spirits, one’s high degree of self-control (self-mastery, inner discipline), and knowledge of one’s own purpose in life and one’s relentless pursuit of it.[7]

From what has just been said about shamanic ritual, it can be deduced that the shaman and the ritual sacrifice, as mimetic representations of the figure of power and the petitioner respectively, do offer us additional categories to talk about Jesus Christ as dramatic center of the Theo-dulâ. Jesus the Son-actor who stepped onto the world stage is also the shaman, the priest-healer who, possessed by the Spirit of God, acts as medium (mediator) and represents the deity. Through his union with the Father and the Spirit, his deep sense of prayer and mission, dedication and sacrifice, Jesus manifests himself as one who possesses an extraordinary inner strength or strong loob. This explains the authority and healing power that emanate from Jesus’ loob.

His inner strength is further exhibited dramatically in his obedient self-surrender to the Father, his death on the cross and descent into hell. It is perhaps an exclusive case in which the shaman himself becomes the sacrifice, one who represents the whole of humanity in need of healing and acts on behalf of it. The healing that Jesus brings is reconciliation, i.e., restoration of the harmonious relationship between God and humanity. Put in theological dramatic terms: through Christ’s dramatic death and resurrection, the human drama – which deviated from God’s intended script to run a drama (tragedy) of its own – is now led from within to play in God’s drama towards its intended conclusion. Jesus Christ, playing the two-fold role as shaman and sacrifice, leads the human drama back to participate in God’s drama.

Somehow, the talk of Jesus’ twofold role resonates with the reflection of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews on the saving significance of Jesus’ death. In this letter, the author speaks of the eternal priesthood and the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He is the faithful and compassionate High Priest, and the victim of his sacrifice is his own self.[8] His priesthood is heavenly; his sacrifice, perfect.[9] Augustine too refers to the death of Jesus as an offering – a sacrifice of reconciliation – for the sins of the world; it was a sacrifice freely brought and offered by a holy and righteous priest, Jesus Christ. He was both priest and sacrifice.[10] Developing a soteriology that hinged on the mystery of the hypostatic union, Thomas Aquinas holds that Jesus is priest and mediator by means of his humanity. It is his humanity which unites him with all created world. His passion and death is offered freely, obediently, and lovingly as his sacrifice of expiation for the salvation of the world.[11]

[1] Catalonan is the Tagalog word referring to the shaman in the Traditional Religion.  In other regional languages of the Philippines, the shaman is called the names like arbularyo, babaylan, mumbaki, tambalan, mambunong, marayawan, and manalisig.

[2] Tiongson and Obusan, Dulaan, 4-7; F. Landa Jocano, Filipino Prehistory: Rediscovering Precolonial Heritage (Metro Manila: Punlad Research House, 2001), 185; and Miguel Lopez de Loarca, “Relation of the Filipinas Islands,” in The Philippines at the Spanish Contact: Some Major Accounts of Early Filipino Society and Culture, edited by F. Landa Jocano (MCS Enterprise, Inc: Manila, 1975), 87. Loarca describes how the shamanic healing sacrifice was performed in the 16th century. It is interesting to note that the shaman healer and the sacrifice were named by the same word baylanes. Juan de Plasencia describes how the shamanic healing ritual was performed among the Tagalogs. See Juan de Plasencia, O.S.F., “Customs of the Tagalogs,” in Philippines at the Spanish Contact, edited by Jocano, 119-120.

[3] By “Traditional Religion” I refer to the religion practiced by the indigenous. In the past, this religion has been given different names, often times limiting if not negative or totally pejorative names: pagan, primitive religion, archaic religion, polytheism, animism, pantheism, and ancestral worship. Recently, it was given more acceptable names like cosmic religion, biocosmic religion and primal religion. Traditional Religion describes the basic stance of human beings as they are confronted by the so called mysteries of life that include the basic concerns of human existence and survival and the influence of the cosmic forces. Leonardo N. Mercado, From Pagans to Partners: the Change in Catholic Attitudes towards Traditional Religion, Philippine Inter-religious Dialogue Series, no. 6 (Manila: Logos Publication, 2000), 10-12; John P. McAndrew, People of Power: a Philippine Worldview of Spirit Encounters (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2001), 2.

[4] Mercado, Pagans to Partners, 12-21; F. Landa Jocano, Filipino Worldview: Ethnography of Local Knowledge, Anthropology of the Filipino People V (Metro Manila: Punlad Research House, 2001), 145-59.

[5] Mercado, Pagans to Partners, 21.

[6] Jocano, Filipino Worldview, 146-47.

[7] Ibid., 147-59. According to Jocano, “knowledge” does not mean “all-knowing”. It rather implies a good grasp of the weaknesses of the mundane world and faith in the goodness of the human person and the benevolence of the supernatural power.

[8] Heb 7:27.

[9] Myles M. Bourke, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer and Roland Murphy (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990), 920-41; Anthony C. Thiselton, Hebrews, in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, ed. James Dunn and John Rogerson (Michigan/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2003) 1451-82.

[10] Augustine  Enchiridion  13.41;  De Trinitate  4.12.15, 13.16.

[11] Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae  3.22, 26, 47-48.