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Myth / Philippine Mythology

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Bathala, creating the world.

The islands of the Philippines in Southeast Asia have gone through a long and tragic history. While in the modern-day they are home to multiple different ethnicities with most of them having been converted by the Abrahamic, Buddhist and Hindu religions, this page deals with the mythologies of the ancient indigenous peoples. However, be warned that plenty of stories aren't for people with the faintest of hearts. Please be sure to check out the pages of the Malaysians, Thai and Vietnamese to find out more interesting information about the religions and the mythologies of the other Southeast Asian civilizations.


Philippine mythology provides examples of:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: With some exceptions (like the Kapre, the Sarimanok and the Alan Bird), all of the Philippines' monsters are either man-eating demons or soul-stealing ghosts.
  • Crossover Cosmology: A rare occurrence but possible due the diversity of precolonial Philippines' polytheistic pantheons. Even though there are some deities and characters who can be equivalents of each other, there are some tales where two or more of them have encountered.
    • There is a story where Dayang Makiling (Maria Makiling) led the Tagalogs in a war against Apúng Suku and the Kampampangans over resources. Makiling's Tagalog navy lost to the Kampampangan army and submits to Apúng Suku who then changed his name to Apúng Sinukuan which literally means "to whom one submits to".
  • Cultural Chop Suey: Centuries of Western colonization thanks to Spain and the US plus centuries of contact with Chinese, Malay (and through them, Indian) and other cultures prior to that have resulted in mythical/legendary/folkloric beings and concepts that in many cases bear some inescapable foreign influence, and it can be hard to uncover the root "native" or "indigenous" element, if such truly applies. For instance, the terms "duwende" , "engkanto", "kapre" and "santelmo" are clearly Spanish-derived (duende, encanto, cafre, and fuego de Santelmo i.e. "St. Elmo's fire") and cafre itself is from Arabic kaffir. Other terms like "diwata" are Indian-influenced, as diwata is from Sanskrit devata, a variant of deva. The Filipino generic word for spirit is "espiritu", straight from Spanish, though the Tagalog word for soul is "kaluluwa". And so on and so forth.
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  • Dark Is Not Evil: In Filipino mythology monsters are usually Always Chaotic Evil, but there are exceptions; The Kapre, for example, is a sasquatch like creature that usually only reveals itself to people because it wants to be their friend (or more) and will follow them throughout life afterward, implicitly protecting the people they like. The Alan, meanwhile is a deformed, mischievous bird-like creature with backward-facing hands and feet, that steals drops of menstrual blood, miscarried fetuses, afterbirth and other reproductive waste...and turns them into human babies that they raise lovingly as their own.
  • Depending on the Writer: Because multiple ethnic groups could inhabit the same island, there could be multiple myths to describe common features. For example, Mount Kanlaon on the Island of Negros either received its name from a pair of heroes named Kan and Laon, a hero-god named Khan Laon whose name was eventually corrupted into the name of the mountain, or as the home of a Goddess named either Laon or Kanlaon, among othersnote .
  • Dragons Are Divine: Recently rediscovered myths show a common motif where crocodiles are seen as Asian dragons, filling the roles of powerful water-spirits, if not outright Physical Gods like with East Asian mythology. Of course, being crocodiles, they're naturally more fearsome than most Asian dragons: They were held as minor gods because they protected mortals from the OTHER dangerous water-spirits lurking in the seas and rivers. It was often thought that being eaten by a crocodile sent someone directly to the positive "heaven-type" afterlife, without the arduous sea-journey needed after most other deaths, and some tribes thought that normal crocodiles needed a Human Sacrifice to Level Up INTO dragons, as they needed to eat a human soul.
  • The Fair Folk: In the Philippines, stories of "Engkanto" abound. These elementals come as close to Eldritch Abomination as they do to this trope with the forms they take varying on both witnesses and folklore. They may even take the form of a Humanoid Abomination at times if it would help with preserving their position.
  • Gender Flip: The Spanish wanting those of Pampanga to stop worshipping the Kampampangan sun god of war and death Apúng Sinukuan, who lived on Mount Arayat, by rebranding him as a woman named Maria Sinukuan as well as changed his wife Mingan into her husband.note  It wasn't as impactful as they would have hoped since the Top God of Kampampangan mythology, Mangachey (Mangacha), is a woman. It did changed reverence of Sinukuan from a male sun god of war and death to a mountain guardian goddess.
  • God of the Moon: Mayari is one of three sisters born to Bathala, king of the gods. Her sisters are Hanan, goddess of the morning star, and Tala, goddess of the evening star. In one myth told by the Kapampangan tribe, Bathala died without an heir, and both Mayari and her brother Apolaki vied to be ruler of the heavens. Being war gods, they settled this the only way they knew how, until Apolaki struck his sister in the eye, was horrified by what he'd done, and the two agreed to split the heavens evenly. Mayari's missing eye is meant to explain why moonlight is not as bright as sunlight. Further, as Mayari is considered the World's Most Beautiful Woman, she also symbolizes that something can be beautiful despite, or even because of, its imperfections.
  • The Great Serpent: The Bakunawa of is an enormous Sea Serpent with a nasty habit of trying to swallow the moon. It is often used as an explanation for why lunar eclipses happen.
  • Hijacked by Jesus:
    • Thanks to the colonization and Christianization of the Philippines by the Spanish, several local deities and spirits were rebranded to make them more church friendly. For example, the goddess of Mt Makiling in Laguna, Dayang Makiling (Lady Makiling), became the guardian spirit Mariang Makiling (Mary of Makiling), later simplified to just Maria Makiling.
    • Before the Spanish, the Tiyanak weren't born from babies who died before they could be baptized (since that would be every baby born before the Spanish came) but of children whose mothers died before they could be born. Nowadays they're sometimes said to be from aborted babies, after the sexual revolution became a hot topic in the 1960s to 1970s amidst Catholic disapproval.
  • Light Is Not Good: Adlaw/Apolaki, the Tagalog god of the Sun, fought against his sister Mayari the moon-goddess for supremacy of the world, refusing to share it with her, and even took out her eyes so that he could rule. He's also associated with war. In some versions he "only" takes out one of Mayari's eyes instead of both, but he realizes he's gone way too far and lets her rule the world by night, while he gets to rule in the daytime. Being (part-)blind is why the moon is no longer as bright as the sun.
  • Magic is Feminine: The shamans of the pre-colonial Philippines (today best known as the babaylan, but this is a Visayan term and not universal; various regions and ethnic groups and subgroups had variations like Bikolano "balyan" or altogether different terms like Tagalog "katalonan" and Kinaray-a "maaram" ) were almost exclusively female. Male shamans thus adopted feminine aspects in some way like wearing women's clothing. The sources don't go into much detail and it would be tricky to say the least to read 21st century ideas of gender into them, but today "Babaylan" has been adopted as the name of a Filipino LGBT advocacy organization.
  • Male Sun, Female Moon: Apolaki is the god of the Sun and Mayari is the goddess of the Moon. The "Just So" Story of the Moon's phases is that Apolaki and Mayari had a fight on who could rule the heavens and he hit her leaving her blind with one eye, and made peace by taking turns with him ruling the day, and her ruling the night.
  • Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty: The first man and woman according to Tagalog myth are named Malakas ("strong") and Maganda ("beautiful") respectively as they were born fully-formed from split bamboo, after a bird pecked it open.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters:
    • The Tikbalang from Philippine mythology has the body of a man, but with the head and feet of a horse. Its legs are so long that when it sits down, its knees are above its head. Some legends also give it a mane of spikes. They are known for messing with travelers by shapeshifting into someone's relative, but if you find the right one, you can control it and ride it through the sky.
    • The Anggitay of Philippine mythology are the Sexy Dimorphism of the Tikbalang; a counterpart to centaride (female centaurs) of Greek mythology. They have a female upper body with a horse lowered body. Some have a single horn growing from their forehead like unicorns.
  • Our Dragons Are Different:
    • The bakunawa, a sea serpent with a mouth as big as a lake (in the Philippines, the biggest one is Laguna de Bay, 911.7 square kilometers, or approximately five times the size of Brooklyn), a blood-red tongue, the whiskers and gills of a catfish, and two pairs of wings: one large and gray as ash, another small and further down its body. The bakunawa is the guardian of the spirit world, but has the unfortunate vice of attempting to swallow the moon causing eclipses.
    • A recently rediscovered Filipino dragon-type is none other than crocodiles. The closest thing to a pan-Filipino mythos is that crocodiles—especially the gigantic saltwater crocodiles roaming the islands—were routinely seen as 1) powerful Nature Spirits or outright Physical Gods (naturally attuned to water), 2) the Reincarnation of tribal ancestors, and obviously, 3) dragons, to the point where the Tagalog word for crocodile (buwaya) was frequently used as a synonym for "dragon" in old texts. A Tagalog myth states that a huge magical crocodile/dragon literally called the Buwaya acts as a Psychopomp, by ferrying recently-deceased souls to the afterlife. In a strange blend of Eastern and Western dragon-types, some tribes believed that crocodiles could Level Up INTO dragons... by means of Human Sacrifice, since they needed a human soul.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The Philippines' mermaid folklore was extremely grim before the Spanish arrived: While some Filipino merfolk are scary-looking Fish People, others are Apparently Human Merfolk, and still others are the standard "top-half-human, bottom-half-fish" variety, all of them are primarily known for eating people. Or sacrificing them to the water-gods, which is no less unpleasant.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: The Philippines features quite the Rogues Gallery of strange and almost always homicidal mythological beasties. The most famous is probably the Manananggal, a vampiric creature that Eats Babies and can fly by separating its torso from its legs. Additionally, there's the Tiyanak (a vampiric baby that died before it could be baptized), the Kapre (a Sasquatch-like figure that guards people but also likes to play tricks on them), the Alans (mischievous bird-humanoids that like to take care of lost or abandoned children and have backward-facing hands and feet), the Bungisngis (cheerful but dimwitted cyclops-like giants), the Pugot (headless ogres that like to steal women's underwear from clotheslines) and the Aswang (a frightening, shapeshifting predator).
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • The Manananggal detaches its entire upper body and grows bat wings. The Tagalog people use the same word for vampires (of which there are two sorts, the other kind has a long, proboscis-like tongue), ghouls and witches: "aswang", which is closer to "spook" than anything specific.
  • The Phoenix: The Sarimanok, a majestic, rainbow-colored rooster, is prominent in Filipino mythology. Usually appears as a companion to the gods and is said to give good luck to those who capture it. It also played a part in the Filipino creation myth by pecking open the tree that contained the first man and woman.
  • Solar and Lunar: The Tagalog god and goddess of the sun and moon — Apolaki and Mayari — are a brother/sister pair noted for their glowing eyes. The siblings quarreled over their duties, and Apolaki wounded Mayari in the eye before their fight ended and they eventually agreed to share duties, which is why the light of the moon is less bright than that of the sun.
  • Take Away Their Name: As stated previously, Spanish colonization sometimes forces name changes of the indigenous deities to be more church friendly.
    • One of the more obvious being affected is Maria Cacao of Mount Lantoy whose original name is basically forgotten. The word "cacao" is from the plant of the same name which was originally not native to the Philippines but rather a natural resource from the Central and South American Spanish colonies which would later come to make plantations. "Maria" is given to her to Christianize her. After a few generations, her name and her namesake crop eventually naturalized in the Philippines.
  • Together in Death: In Bikolano folklore, Magayon (meaning "beautiful") was a girl either married to or who tried to elope with a warrior named Panganoron (whose name means "clouds"). Both died in a battle with a rival suitor, and Magayon's father buried them together. A volcano grew from the grave, with the idea that Magayon became the famously perfectly symmetrical Mt. Mayon and Panganoron became the clouds around its summit. Magayon may truly have been the original name of the volcano before it was simplified to Mayon for whatever reason, or the legend may be a folk etymology to explain the name.
  • Top God: Bathala is the supreme creator god in Tagalog mythology. He's the primordial male deity which made the whole universe. A fuller name for him is Bathalang Maykapal, meaning "Lord Creator". "Bathala" itself is from Sanskrit bhattara "lord", so some scholars have proposed that the actual native Tagalog name or rather title was "ang Maykapal", the Creator. Even today the Christian God may be addressed as Panginoong Maykapal (often shortened to Poong Maykapal), also meaning Lord Creator, in addition to Diyos (from Spanish Dios... distantly but directly related to Sanskrit Deva, because they're both in the Indo-European language family.)

Alternative Title(s): Filipino Mythology