Ian is a full-blooded Filipino visual artist who incorporates Pinoy myth and folklore in his work.
Who Is Maria Makiling?
There is a beautiful young woman with mysterious abilities living in the mountains of the Philippines. She is beloved by her neighbors because of her extraordinary kindness and generosity. This woman is not a creature of flesh and blood, but a nymph from the fogs and mists of these dusky mountains—a bountiful recluse who defended her home against outlaws and renegades.
No one in the Philippines is unfamiliar with the name Maria Makiling, also spelled Maryang Makiling.
Maria is the mysterious protector of the natural resources and wildlife of Makiling mountain—a dormant volcano that separates the provinces of Los Bañoz, Laguna, and Tayabas, Quezon on the island of Luzon.
Makiling (also spelled Maquiling) means 'crooked' or 'bent.' This is an apt name for Mount Makiling because the mountain forms a rugged top and breaks into irregular hills southward, which makes it look as though it is leaning or uneven.
The mountain rises to an elevation of 1,090 m (3,580 ft.) above sea level and is the highest feature of the Laguna Volcanic Field. The volcano has no recorded historic eruption, but volcanism is still evident through geothermal features like mud springs and hot springs.
Another possible—though less popular—origin for the name is that it describes the mountain as having plenty of the bamboo variety known as kawayang kiling (Scientific name: Bambusa vulgaris Schrad). According to this proposed origin story, the mountain would have been named after the bamboo, and the lady named after the mountain.
Protector of Natural Resources
Maria Makiling is said to be responsible for protecting the bounty of Mount Makiling. As such, she is often seen as a benefactor for the townspeople who depend on the mountain's resources.
Belonging to the Laguna region, some legends also identify the lake Laguna de Bay—as well as the fish that are caught from it—as part of her domain. It is one of the primary sources of freshwater fish in the Philippines.
Bay (not to be confused with the English term for a 'part of the coast') comes from the earlier ba-e (pronounced 'Bä'ï'), from either bayi (woman), bahay (house), bahayan (settlement), baybayin (shore), or baybay (boundary).
Therefore, Laguna de Bay could mean 'Lake of the Woman' or 'Lagoon of the town called Bay'.
The many wonders and superstitions about the mystical and elusive Maria are fairytales that have been passed down from older generations to the next, making her the most prominent fairy figure in Philippine folklore.
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Her appearance raises the bar when we speak of diwata (goddess), encantada (enchantress), or lambana (pixies and forest nymphs). She is often described in these tales as a breathtakingly beautiful young woman. Her skin is said to be a kayumangging kaligatan (clear pure brown), and she has big twinkling black eyes and long hair that almost touches the ground.
Unlike the mischievous fairies of Western cultures, Maria remained humble, pure, and simple. She is always described as wearing a long white gown with a calm but serious expression on her never-aging face. However, this description is probably not the original image of the enchantress. This description is likely the result of the idealized femininity imposed during the conservative Spanish occupation, when women were always covered up and expected to display graceful elegance and submission at all times.
Maria and the Mountain
The abundance and serenity of the enchanted mountain complement Maria's own persona so much that she is also closely associated with the white mist that often surrounds it. In a few stories, Maria's skin or hair has been described as white. In most tales, however, it is her radiant clothing that makes people confuse a wisp of cloud through the trees as Maria.
The mountain's various peaks are also believed to be Maria's face and two breasts. Resembling a reclining woman or sleeping giant from certain angles, her hair cascades downwards a gentle slope away from her body.
This anthropomorphizing of natural phenomena was common for the early Filipinos as a way to explain natural events in simpler terms.
A Goddess of Kindness and Humility
The most notable characteristic of Maria Makiling is her kindness and charitable nature. When older folks gather firewood or pick wild fruits in the mountain, she often appears to them as a young girl offering to help. She then secretly slips gold nuggets, coins, or gems into their pile of wood or fruit baskets.
Tired hunters tell their own encounters about her inviting them to her secret home in the mountain. Providing them with a place to rest, she would serve them with a warm meal and cold drinks. As a parting gift, she often gives pieces of ginger, usually with an instruction to take them back home for cooking. If they follow her directions, these pieces of ginger turn into pieces of gold, much to their surprise.
It is said that when the poor country folk on the slopes of Makiling needed clothing, jewelry, or utensils for important occasions, Maria would always lend them what they needed.
Maria can appear however she wants. Sometimes she likes to test one's kindness by disguising herself as an old woman begging for food from the local villagers. When one is deemed honorable and kind, Maria will grant them gifts—a common theme in Filipino folktales, also linked to encounters with mystical hermits. Those who refuse to help her on the other hand, face the consequence of being chased away from the mountain by the sounds of howling monsters hiding in the shadows of the woods.
To repay the generosity she has shown them, the people often leave offerings to her —either fruits that they believe are her favorites or some eggs. These offerings are left on the grounds of Mount Makiling, and the most common offering is a hen with feathers as white as milk that is less than a year old (a dumalaga in Tagalog).
This practice of animal offerings and sacrifices goes back to the Hindu-animist worship that was prevalent in the islands before the coming of the Europeans.
The Home of Maria Makiling
Maria's dwelling place is not definitely known, because those who have been lucky enough to visit immediately forget the way back. It is believed that one can only find where she lives if/when allowed by Maria.
Unlike mountain goddesses from other regions who live in caves within their respective domains, some say Maria's home is a beautiful palace that is bright as a golden reliquary and surrounded by gardens and fine parks. Others, however, assert that they saw only a wretched hut with a patched roof and bamboo sides when they visited her.
In some stories, this hut is situated in the village amongst the people. This is where Maria Makiling once lived before she fled to the mountains after having been offended for some reason.
The distinct differences between these accounts led to the theory that most of those who tell the stories are probably just romanticizing. But it may also be due to the fact that Maria Makiling—like many persons in comfortable circumstances—might have several dwelling places.
A Demoted Goddess
Maria is a goddess who renews and restores, and she often favors appearing after a storm. She scurries over the fields, and once she has passed, life, order, and calm is renewed. She strolls around the woods to straighten broken tree trunks, replace nests on the branches, mend the wings of birds and butterflies, and clear the streams of fallen twigs and logs. As she walks around, all traces of the unchained elements are wiped away; roses and orchids bloom, birds chirp with glee, and deer run around once again.
The truth is that Maria Makiling was originally venerated in the pre-colonial Philippines as a goddess known as Dian Masalanta, who was invoked to stop deluges, storms, and earthquakes. She was the patroness of Mount Makiling; the goddess of fertility, love, childbirth, and the protector of lovers.
Dian Masalanta belonged to the Tagalog Pantheon as the daughter of Anagolay—the goddess of lost things—and Dumakulem—the strong, agile guardian of mountains. She was also the sister of Apolaki, god of the sun.
Dian Masalanta was considered the goddess of peace and was often overlooked because she was the youngest of all the eternal beings. She was the kindest and most loving of all the goddesses as she only desired peace for everyone and loved all things like an innocent child.
Recognizing her passion for humanity, the supreme god, Bathala, gave her the duty of peacemaker among the warring tribes. But it was Dian Masalanta's deep love for a mortal man that angered her family members—this relationship broke what they considered to be sacred laws. Because of this, she was banished to the world of mortals. Despite the punishment she received, she was happy to be among the people that she loved.
They had another idol called Dian Masalanta, who was the patron of lovers and of generation."
— Juan de Placencia, Spanish friar
From Dian Masalanta to Maria Makiling
The name Maria Makiling is the Hispanicized evolution of Dayang Makiling.
Dayang is the Austronesian word for 'princess' or 'lady', and Dian comes from Diyang—another form of Dayang.
Masalanta or magsalanta means 'to be destroyed', from the root word salanta. According to the Vocabulary of Tagalog Languages written by Juan de Noceda and Pedro del San Lucar in 1754, and the earlier Buenaventura dictionary in 1613, salanta has been known to mean 'poor', 'needy', 'crippled' or 'blind'.
The name literally means 'to be destroyed there'—which sounds odd for a supposed goddess of peace and love, right?
In truth, these Tagalog words are commonly used whenever there is a calamity and could be translated to mean 'victimized', 'damaged', or 'having misfortune'. As a part of her name, these words refer to the state of the people who invoke her—not to the goddess herself and what she represented.
So, the more accurate meaning of her name is 'the princess that poor people came to for help in times of disasters'.
The Role of Colonization
When colonizers arrived on Philippine shores, they stomped on the Animistic religions of the Filipinos and forced them to convert to Catholicism. They demonized the earlier diwata and considered them as lesser spirits and elementals.
In the case of Diyan Masalanta, her worship diminished considerably, now reduced as a petty enchantress or dryad.
But Mary Joyce Caballes put forward a very interesting theory about the survival of Dian Masalanta's fertility rites. They suggest that these ancient rites continue today in the form of the Obando dance rituals at the festival of Bulacan province, which is celebrated every month of May. This popular practice is performed by childless couples hoping to conceive, and by single individuals looking for love. They pray to Saint Clare of Assisi and two other Catholic saints.
This hypothesis seems feasible as this ritual already existed and was originally anitist (the worship of anito or ancestral spirits) in nature before the arrival of the Spaniards. Perhaps Dian Masalanta, along with Lingga (the phallic god of medicine) and Lakapati (the goddess of fertility), was originally called upon during this ritual.
Though some find this theory viable, some modern Filipinos who are strong Catholics might not want this annual ritual linked to paganism.
She was a fantastic creature, half nymph, half sylph, born under the moonbeams of the Philippines, in the mystery of its ancient woods, to the murmur of the waves on the neighboring shore … one can see her passing in the distance over the reed grass so lightly and airily that she did not even make the flexible blades bend."
— Dr. Jose Rizal, Philippine National Hero
Supernatural or Superstition?
Because stories about Maria Makiling were part of an oral tradition long before they were documented, it is unsurprising that there are numerous versions of her tale. In fact, several superstitions sprung out of her legends.
One such famous superstition is that, every time mountaineers disappear into the forests of Mount Makiling, people say that they were most likely abducted by the enchantress. Whenever there are hiking accidents near the mountain, they say it was Maria—or the spirits that follow her—who caused it.
Another superstition revolves around lost men. It is said that if Maria takes a liking to a particular mortal man who wanders into her land, she will take him to be her husband and bring him into her home. This man would then spend his remaining days in matrimonial bliss in the fairy realm, lost and unable to return to his real human family forever.
One final superstition says that, if an individual takes anything from the mountain without asking for permission from Maria Makiling, they risk angering her. The punishment is that they will get lost or beset by insects and thorn pricks. The only solution in this situation is to leave thieves behind and to turn one's clothing inside out to prove that you are not hiding anything from her.
Two Tales of Love
The most obvious pattern in the legends of Maria Makiling are the stories about her falling in love with a mortal man—these go all the way back to the myths of Diyan Masalanta. Below are two such stories.
1. The Three Suitors
Maria was sought for and wooed by many suitors. Three of them were Captain Lara, a Spanish soldier; Joselito, a Spanish mestizo studying in Manila; and Juan, who was but a common farmer. Despite his lowly status, Juan was chosen by Maria Makiling over the other two.
Spurned, Joselito and Captain Lara conspired to frame Juan for setting fire to the cuartel (barracks) of the Spanish, and Juan was shot as the enemy of the Spaniards. But before he died, he cried Maria's name out loud.
The diwata quickly came down from her mountain while Captain Lara and Joselito fled to Manila in fear of Maria's wrath. She cursed the two, along with all those who cannot accept failure in love.
Soon, the curse took effect. Joselito suddenly contracted an incurable illness, while the revolutionary Filipinos killed Captain Lara.
This tale is obviously biased against the Spaniards because it was told during the Philippine Revolutionary period.
2. The Spurned Lover
Maria Makiling fell in love with a young and handsome farmer. The young man tilled fields that always bloomed abundantly—even when that of his neighbors lay dry and barren. His animals and fowls remained robust, even when famine and pests killed his neighbor's flock. He was blessed and protected by a beautiful and unseen spirit.
The time came when the Spaniards wanted to gather all the strong single men to serve in the colonial army. Because of this, some young men fled to the mountains to avoid fighting their fellow natives and other opposing forces.
But Maria Makiling's beloved chose to marry a village girl instead. On the eve of his wedding, he was walking along the grassy paths of the forest. Suddenly, in the mists and shadows of the evening, Maria Makiling appeared before him and said;
'I have loved you with all the love I am capable of in this world of mortals and know you will marry someone else. I had hoped that you would have faith in me. I had hoped that you would love me in return. But you need an earthly love. I could have protected you and your family. We go separate paths from hereon.'
She vanished and was never seen again.
As time went by, people saw less of Maria Makiling.
Now, lovers get married without receiving her blessings. Hikers get lost in the woods for hours without help. Many fear that she has disappeared forever, avoiding any contact with mankind. She has become an invisible presence that is always felt, but rarely seen.
One popular story is about a group of hikers who went hiking at Mt. Makiling. They left their campsite dirty and littered all over the place. Deciding to go on with their journey, they found themselves befuddled as they kept finding themselves back in the same spot over and over again. Only after they took the time to clean up the camp did they manage to find both water and their way onwards.
At a University
At the University of the Philippines Los Baños, which sits at the foot of Mount Makiling, students tell stories of a woman in white. This woman has been sighted walking down the long uphill road heading to the campus of the Upper College of Forestry.
The mystery woman appears to be trying to hitch a ride down the mountain. However, the observers are often too frightened to stop for her as they believe her to be Maria Makiling in the flesh.
The unusual weather patterns in the mountain area are also often attributed to Maria Makiling. For example, sometimes sudden rains occur whenever particularly noisy events are held in the areas near the mountain. Locals say that Maria does not approve of the loud sounds disturbing her peace.
At an Event to Protect Mount Makiling
Acclaimed Filipino actor and director Behn Cervantes believes that Maria Makiling once made her presence known at a program he directed through the UP Alumni Association's Maria Makiling Foundation. He believes she was present in order to show her appreciation to the foundation for its advocacy efforts for the protection and conservation of Mount Makiling.
During our launch, we had a hair-raising experience. When the phenomenal singer Dulce reached the climax of her song praising nature, she raised her arms to the heavens in veneration. As if on cue, golden leaves from surrounding trees showered the audience like petals from the heavens. The astounded crowd gasped and aahhed in unison. Los Baños' Dr. Portia Lapitan whispered to me, 'The diwata approves.'"
— Behn Cervantes
The Disappearance of Maria Makiling
Many blame Maria Makiling’s disappearance on the people who do not return her generosity with respect. Others say that the excessive cutting of trees and hunting of endangered wild animals have greatly disappointed her. They believe that she refuses to come out anymore as a result of her shame and disappointment.
Though she is not seen as often these days, there is a clear, quiet pool hidden among thick vegetation on one side of the mountain. The legend persists that the vapory figure of Maria Makiling can still be seen reflected in this pool in the mists of early dawn.
And so the legend of Maria from the Crooked Mountain lives on.
- Blessed Earth Mother Dian Masalanta, theunicornopal.wordpress.com
- Dayang Masalanta, Goddess of Love, Childbirth and Destruction, thepinaywriter.com
- The Legend of Maria Makiling, aboutphilippines.org
- Maria Makiling, Wikipedia
- The Legend of Mariang Makiling, wikipilipinas.org
- The Diwata of Philippine Mythology, aswangproject.com
- Stories of Maria Makiling, instructionalminutes.blogspot.com
Ian Spike (author) from Cebu, Philippines on October 26, 2019:
Glad you enjoyed it, thanks @JC Scull.
JC Scull on October 26, 2019:
Very nice story. Thank you for writing it.
Ian Spike (author) from Cebu, Philippines on April 01, 2017:
Walang anuman Miss Intern! The Maria Makiling story is worth telling. Thanks for the comment.
Miss Intern on March 31, 2017:
This is such a nice story. This story reminisce my childhood memories because when I was a child my Mother always telling about this story. Nice :) Magaling at Mahusay Maraming Salamat sa pagbabahagi nito :)
Ian Spike (author) from Cebu, Philippines on March 30, 2017:
You're always welcome Nicole, glad you liked it. There's more to come, hope you read and enjoy them too. Thanks for commenting.
Kitty Fields from Summerland on March 30, 2017:
What an awesome story! I've never heard of this goddess but am glad I have now! Thanks for sharing.