Let’s face it: you can’t write a piece on Filipino folklore without using the word ‘mythology.’ They go hand-in-hand, don’t they? But are they really that similar? Are they intertwined, as some sources claim? Or are we speaking about two completely different things with similar names? As much as I love nuno sa punso, duwendes, and stories about manananggals and the santelmo, there is no way these things qualify as mythology. So what do we mean when we say Filipino folklore vs. Filipino mythology?
What is Filipino Folklore?
Let’s start by defining ‘folklore.’ The word folklore refers to a particular culture’s customs, beliefs, and stories, either as an academic discipline or as part of a social tradition. According to this definition, Filipino folklore consists of all the beliefs and stories of the Filipino people.
The term ‘folklore’ is used to describe the traditions and customs of a particular culture, either in a scholarly or social context. Folklore, in short, is the art of storytelling that continues to relate to the present time.
Many of these stories are passed on from generation to generation and often contain elements of magic, superstition, or religion.
What is Filipino Mythology?
Now, let’s look at the definition of ‘mythology.’ Mythology refers to the study of myths and legends. While the word ‘myth’ is often used as a synonym for ‘lie,’ it actually refers to a story that explains the origins of something, usually revolving around gods or diwatas, magic, or religion.
Mythology, then, is the study of these myths and legends. But on a deeper level, Filipino mythology deals with the sacred cosmology, pantheons, and deities that make up core pre-colonial beliefs. According to this definition, Filipino mythology consists of all the myths and legends of the Filipino people. Mythology, in short, refers to the study of myths and legends.
The Differences Between Filipino Folklore and Mythology
Filipino folklore and Filipino mythology are two completely different things. So, what are the differences? Folklore is primarily passed down orally and continually practiced and believed to this day. Mythology, on the other hand, delves more into a different oral tradition. These are stories passed on recounting fantastical tales, adventures, legends, and creation narratives.
Folklore is told in the present, while mythology relates to the past. Folklore stories and superstitions assume a continual function to this day and age. Mythologies are stories that have long since been studied and largely dispelled as traditional stories, at least by the scientific consensus.
When someone utters a “Tabi-tabi po” while traversing the forested part of a subdivision at night, that is part of Filipino folkloric superstition. We still practice it today! However, when we discuss the creation mythology of the Bisaya, where Likalibutan was struck by Kaptan, and his body created the world’s landmass, then we’re walking in Filipino mythology territory.
Filipino folklore is quite flexible in making itself relevant to today’s world. Catholicism has long since embedded itself in Filipino folklore with stories of the Sto. Niño granting wishes or statues of the Virgin Mary crying tears of blood. On the other hand, Filipino mythology is confined to foundational narratives and mythos that are not easy to change. Unfortunately, a strict sequence of stories remains elusive and malleable because our pre-colonial ancestors passed it through oral tradition and did not put it into writing, or at least none survived to this day. Ironically, some of the primary sources of these mythologies are from our colonizers’ journal archives, which were notorious regarding documentation.
Now, why is there so much confusion around the topic of Filipino folklore vs. mythology? Well, that can easily be explained by the terms ‘ folklore’ and ‘mythology’ used interchangeably. In most cases, when people talk about Filipino folklore, they really mean Filipino mythology, and vice versa.
It’s probably because both folklore and mythology lean heavily on storytelling. Both use the same devices, such as fantasy and magic, to capture the imagination of their audience.
What is essential, in the end, is that despite their differences, we must treasure our mythologies and folklore and do our part in sustaining, promoting, and developing them for future Filipinos.