Pilgrimages are made all year round in Mount Banahaw. This extinct volcano has become a religious center attracting psychics, mystics, occultists, and soothsayers. Either in search for miraculous healing or to be in close contact with the divine, Mount Banahaw has earned its reputation among its pilgrims as a geological dynamo fueled by intense energies from Mother Nature.
Historically, we have never been through a mountain hiking trail. If this counts, our pilgrimage to the sacred sites in Mount Banahaw is our first.
The pilgrimage to Mount Banahaw begins at Barangay Sta. Lucia in Dolores, Quezon. Stores selling anting-anting are common to this quiet barrio for the popular belief that Mount Banahaw works as a ‘charging station’ for these natural and man-made talismans and amulets.
Sold side-by-side with the popular brass medallions with Catholic symbols and Latin inscriptions are mutya made from sundry objects. Mutya are smooth white stones, dried roots placed in glass bottles, python’s bones and buntot ng page, seeds with natural floral carving called rosa mystica, cut branches of a tree called santong kahoy and sinag araw, a pulverized metamorphic rock molded into a ring called the aras angel, and the triangle medallion fashioned from black dignum wood called solo mata.
The ritualized pilgrimage to the sacred shrines in Mount Banahaw is called pamumuwesto. According to legend, the spirit of the mountain in the form of Santong Boses revealed to hermit Agripino Lontoc the holy places or puwestos in the mountain. These puwestos are rock formations, caves, peaks, and natural springs and streams where pilgrims light a candle and say prayers.
The first step for Mount Banahaw pilgrims is to go through the ritual of going down the 260-steps to bathe in the two waterfalls and soak in Lagnas River. At the end of the concrete steps, pilgrims light a candle on a rock with an image of Sta. Lucia holding a dish with two eyes on it. A fitting shrine for those beginning their Mount Banahaw pilgrimage since Sta. Lucia is patroness of sight and of guiding light.
Although an extinct volcano, the locals believe Mount Banahaw to be in active state but instead of lava, running streams, natural springs and waterfalls flow out from the mountain, earning it a sobriquet as the water mountain. Water from Mount Banahaw is believed to have physical and spiritual healing powers.
Pilgrims bathe at the waterfalls Talon ng Ama and then to the Buhok ng Birhen before soaking to the ice-cold river as a symbolic physical and spiritual cleansing ritual before going to the sacred shrines or Santong Lugar.
From Lagnas River, pilgrims climb back up to town level of Sta. Lucia and proceed to the shrines in the Santong Lugar. Along the moss-covered path are ancient trees. From the size of the roots and trunk these trees must be centuries-old.
The entrance to the Santong Lugar is marked by symbols of the all-seeing eye and by the Ten Commandments inscribed on concrete slabs.
Pass the Santong Lugar marker is the Kaban ni San Isidro where pilgrims stretch out their hands to a huge protruding rock while reciting prayers.
Next puwestos are the caves of San Pedro, San Pablo, Santong Jacob, Inang Awa, and Husgado.
Before entering the twin cave of the San Pedro and San Pablo, we wrote our full name using a candle on a slab of rock as if registering to the Banahaw guestbook. This is called Presintahan.
In the darkness of caves, swirling vapors rose from our body while glowing candles left by pilgrims complete the eerie setting. The ritual of lighting candles are repeated in each puwesto.
Banahaw folks encourage pilgrims to light candles using matchsticks and discourage the practice of lighting from candles left earlier by other pilgrims to avoid the transfer of karma.
After going through the ritual cleansing in the waterfalls and saying prayers in dark caves, pilgrims proceed to Santos Kalbaryo.
The hike to Santos Kalbaryo is like going up an uneven, moss-covered staircase in Middle-earth. It a treacherous climb. In a make-shift shed we rested next to a pair of vintage tapayan secured permanently by growing vines. Old folks say it used to hold drinking water for the pilgrims.
Banahaw traditions ranges from being an altar of Filipino hero Jose Rizal to extra-terrestrial airport of UFOs. It is only in this part of our country where folk Catholicism is blended with nationalistic fervor, combined with ancient alien theories akin to legendary cities of Lemuria and Atlantis.
Most popular of the Banahaw legends relates to the transferring of Calvary from Jerusalem to Mount Banahaw by four angels. This legend explains to this day the generations of pilgrims making their way to Mount Banahaw in the same tradition of the Via Crucis.
Upon reaching the Santos Kalbaryo, it is a custom among pilgrims to leave a piece of stone they’ve been carrying from the start of the pilgrimage at the foot of the three crosses. The view of the lowlands and the sea and the neighboring mountains of Masalakot and Cristobal are breathtaking from Santos Kalbaryo.
For local Banahaw folks, plans of commercializing Mount Banahaw as a tourist spot is a threat to its spiritual tradition. The hundred of pilgrims who come to this holy mountain are not tourists. They go to Mount Banahaw to offer prayers of thanks and to ask forgiveness and grace. Thus, just like in any other sacred ground, Mount Banahaw commands utmost respect from those who come to this holy mountain.