The Role of Mysticism in Bali

The original religion of the Balinese region was animistic.  Defined by Wikipedia: “Animism (from Latin anima "soul, life") is a philosophical, religious or spiritual idea that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in other animals, plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment.”[1] In Bali, there was a prevailing belief in the powers of nature-spirits and of deceased souls unseen by our world.  Medicine men or Shamans were the societal figures who understood and navigated these mysterious dimensions.  
Rituals, called Selamatans, for the dead prompted gatherings on the third, seventh, fortieth, hundredth and thousandth day anniversary of the deceased relatives.  Food is offered as a sacrifice to the soul of the deceased, and upon the thousandth day, it was believed that the soul would disintegrate and reincarnate into another existence.
Hinduism arrived to Indonesia in the 5th century and took root in the lives and values of the Balinese.  Despite the adoption of this new religion, the Balinese people never let go of their animistic beliefs, but instead, adapted them to Hinduism.  About a thousand years later in the 15th century, Islam was introduced to Indonesia, and it was like Hinduism, adapted to suit the populations existing animistic beliefs.[2]
To this day, the rooted beliefs of a deeper spiritual connection with the earth and its different dimensions remains a part of the life of the Balinese.  Army generals helicopter into the camps of mystics in E.Java (Blitar) for spiritual consultations. Witch doctors (dukun) exorcise evil spirits from granaries, temples, cars, hotels, swimming pools. Thieves use black magic to rob houses. There are devils, ghosts which steal children (wewe) and lure young men (puntianak).[3]
Be respectful of these spiritual beliefs of the Balinese culture, and be aware of the spirits that walk among us on the streets of Bali.

For an interesting related article about Balinese Mysticism, read this article in the New York Times:

Poyo, 72, lives under a tree thought to be inhabited by spirits. Animist beliefs and superstitions color everyday life for many people, and occult explanations, including the power of curses and black magic, are sometimes given for everyday events.
Photo: Justin Mott for The New York Times


During his illness, many believers in Solo, the heart of Javanese culture, held that powerful occult forces in Mr. Suharto's body would not let him go and that nature had not yet signaled that it was ready to receive him.
Photo: Justin Mott for The New York Times


Mr. Suharto was known as a devout follower of mystical practices. Many Indonesians say an albino water buffalo, like this one in Solo, has special powers.
Photo: Justin Mott for The New York Times

The buffalo's waste is often used as fertilizer and is thought to bring good luck, in the form of successful crops.
Photo: Justin Mott for The New York Times

Djoyo Prayitno, 91, collects tokens of magic like the Indonesian dagger called a kris.
Photo: Justin Mott for The New York Times



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