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  Balinese Animism

Bali Hinduism is only a veneer over complex, deeper-lying, indigenous superstitions. Before a Balinese picks a leaf or flower or chops down a tree, she first asks permission of the spirit (tonya) within.

The Balinese even respect such inanimate objects as books, stones, large trees, and motorcycles. Just as the Balinese treat themselves to a bath in the streams late in the afternoons, revered objects too are accorded frequent bathing and renewals.

The Balinese are scared witless of ghosts, goblins, and the like, which disguise themselves as black cats, naked women, and crows. A Balinese can tell when a domestic animal is possessed-a cow that darts away, startled; a chicken that pecks in a peculiar manner.

Many Balinese can point to several people in the village who practice black magic, but would never name them for fear of incurring their wrath. The Balinese believe souls sometimes wander from people's bodies while they sleep. This is why a Balinese will never wake up someone sharply or suddenly, fearing the soul would not be given time to return to the body.

One must always wake someone gently, even in a crisis. It's also believed the soul may enter the body of an animal during the night; this is why a chicken is never slaughtered after sundown.

One hears of lingering, mysterious illnesses from unidentified poisons, of a husband who meets an untimely death at the hands of a jealous mistress. These incidents are often attributed to malicious spirits called 'kala' and 'buta', who have no other purpose than to cause misery and havoc amongst humans. They enter people's bodies, making them ill, insane, or imbecilic.

Like vampires, these spirits relish sucking the blood from sleeping victims, and have been known to abduct children for a tasty snack.

Even more dangerous and unpredictable are leyak, the witches. The Balinese believe a witch must endure 1,000 years as an earthworm and 200,000 years as a poisonous mushroom before rebirth as a human. At least the true demons, like Rangda and 'barong', are predictable and belong to the natural order of the cosmos.

Not so the dreaded leyak. These evil beings, who manifest themselves in the form of a monkey with golden teeth, a great rat, a baldheaded giant, a bird as large as a horse, a ball of fire, a motorcycle without the rider, haunt such desolate places as dark back roads, deep forests, ravines, seashores, crossroads, and cemeteries.

When the dogs begin to whine on moonless nights, the Balinese know the leyak are about. When these bloodthirsty creatures are not appeased with offerings, they can run rampant through the village, causing epidemics and famine. With their fire-dripping tongues, they suck the blood of unborn babies. Only the most elaborate purification ceremonies (mecaru) and blood sacrifices can expunge them.

On these occasions a visit to Pura Dalem Penataran Ped on Nusa Penida's northeast coast is in order. This temple was built to honor Ratu Gede Mecaling, the patron saint of all 'leyak'.

Spirits dominate everything the Balinese do, and they are constantly offering fruit and flowers to appease angry deities. If put in our society, a Balinese would show all the classic symptoms of paranoia and neurotic disorders, but on Bali these traits are ritualized and institutionalized.

There are sun gods, totemic gods, deer gods, secretaries to the gods, mythical turtles, and market deities. Clay figures of the fire god are put over kitchen hearths, bank clerks place pandanus-leaf offering trays on their desks.

Before a journey offerings are made to guarantee a safe passage. Once a year coconut trees are honored by dressing them in bright skirts and scarves. Old banyan trees are venerated by the placement of offerings in altars among their aerial roots.

Ngejot are placed in the courtyards of every house; these offerings consist of little squares of banana leaves holding a few grains of rice, a flower, salt, and a pinch of chili pepper. No one eats until ngedjot are placed at the cardinal points in the family courtyard and in front of each house.

Though mangy dogs eat the offerings as soon as they touch the ground, their essence has already been consumed by the spirits. Every morning this quiet drama is carried out all over Bali, from inexpensive losmen courtyards to the lobbies of Nusa Dua's grandest and most lavish hotels.

Even the most Westernized youth, wearing a World Beat T-shirt, head engulfed in a Sony Walkman, will still take time out every morning and evening to place offerings of flowers and rice before the shrines of his ancestors.

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