VISIT WITH A MEDICINE MAN
1991-09-01, Candi Dasa
"It is supremely powerful medicine to pacify the diseases of Beings, A tree giving shade to Pilgrims long wandering on the roads of Life." 'Meditations On The Lower Tantras' LTWA
Ketut Liyer is wearing white today.
It is Kajeng Kliwan, a special day. Once every fifteen days, a day for powerful magic, and he must be prepared. Pants, a sturdy ironed cotton. Shirt, long-sleeved smooth silky cotton. A white angular headband, creased like two front wings above his forehead, also white. All this accented by a bright silk yellow sash.
Velvet brown skin speaks of vibrant energy, hiding his sixty-five years in a youthful veil. A thought flashes past: "Why is it all these kind always appear young?" He has a big broad smile, strong large teeth, a mouthfull. Open enough to take in everything and everyone around. His brown eyes dance, inviting, as he inquires, 'You Know?'
Ketut is a Dukun, Indonesian for Shaman. Here they are called Balians. A Healer. Indonesia is home for a varied assortment. On Bali, they have special types. Their practices range from herbs and plant medicines to massage, energy manipulation, to spells and sorcery.
I've come here to Pengostanan, a village outside of Ubud on the recommendation of a friend in Denpasar. Doctor Suryani, a Western-trained psychiatrist, includes Eastern methods of meditation as therapy in her practice, and occasionally refers patients to Balians such as Ketut.
The day is clear and bright, with palm and banana leaves blowing in the clear, light breeze. Farmers walking barefoot through rice-paddies, their small curved sickle slicing out to liberate stalks of rice. It's a cultural staple kind of day. A Balinese paradise kind of day.
In the community of artists, painters and wood carvers that has emerged here in Pengostanan I walk through small streets overlooking those ever-present rice fields, asking shop-tenders where to find Ketut Liyer. The Balinese are always helpful, giving directions with a warm smile.
Finally, following a side road I notice a sign: 'Ketut Liyer; Artist, Wood Carver, Medicine Man'. This must be the place!
Walking up stone steps, standing before the high-arched brick and stone doorway I encounter a portal guarded by Hindu figures, half-animal, half-human glowering at the entrance. Crossing over the portal, I view the courtyard of a compound.
Five separate one- and two-room bungalows, connected by open air gardens and path. In the rear, a separate compound filled with altars to the Ancestors and Gods.
In the center of the first compound there is an open air room. Just a Palapa-style roof really, supported by four massive worn wooden beams. Raised on cement and marble floors, a large canopied platform, half-filled with a huge bed, a few chairs and a table.
This is 'The Doctor's Office'. There are a small group of patients milling outside.
Ketut greets me warmly, as if he is expecting me. Sitting and talking with the Shaman, I am impressed with his openness. His full unconditional smile. Though the room has five or six patients waiting for his services, it is as if I am the only one there.
He talks about the meditation that has been a mainstay in his life. Every day, that inward search, as he begins his sitting and rises inwardly, through the seven levels to the space he calls 'Nirwana'. There he finds Peace On Earth.
As an adherent of the Hindu belief, it is here at the seventh level, or Nirwana, that he encounters Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom. She bestows knowledge, provides the power that enables him to heal.
"It is very easy to meet Saraswati! You Know!" He smiles that huge teeth-filled beam of encouragement.
Ketut explains his beliefs, common among Balinese Hindus, that there is one God, Hyang Widi, and all the other Deities - Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Saraswati - are really different aspects or manifestations of the One. Each appears as needed to the aspirant when they are ready to receive.
"All I want to do is meditate! Then the Gods appear and I live in Bliss!"
During my visits with Ketut I am impressed that this Bliss he cherishes so preciously carries over so spontaneously in his everyday activities and encounters with others.
A patient, young man in his early thirties, healthy-looking in brown sarong and shirtless comes to sit on the side of the Balian's bed. He sets down an offering of fruit, flowers, incense and money all wrapped in banana leaf, inside a small wicker basket.
He has come to receive a spell as protection against Black Magic. This is common here on Bali where many physical as well as psychic ills are attributed to the dark intentionality of a foe or some pissed off god.
Ketut takes his offering, sets it on the red round table at his side, set up like the mesas I've seen in South America among the curanderos. Spiritual Objects, usually plants, water and other symbolic earthly materials. An image of the deity that receives the offerings and provides the necessary healing, candles and incense.
Lighting the incense, a flower between two fingers of his right hand, he dips the flower in a pot of water and begins to spray the offering with the sacred water.
He performs the ritual sorcery in trance while explaining what he is doing with each step. It is a ritual I will become intimately familiar with in the days ahead.
He ends by blessing the patient, giving some advice and that ever-present smile. The young man, happy and satisfied, bows in gratitude, smiles at me, then leaves.
In between patents who wait quietly, Ketut explains the nature of his practice.
There is an openness about him, inviting me to stay, watch him work with the village people who come to him. These people are from many different social stratas. Some farmers, artists, shop-owners, educated business people. The old beliefs here, maintain.
There is the essence of humility that surrounds this Balian as he reaches into the rafters to pull down a Lontar. Opening the leaves, he explains how these books, handed down from Great-Grandfather to Grandfather to Father instruct him in the curing he provides. Saraswati, the Goddess bestows guidance.
Talking about Balian medicine, different herbs and teas for headache, stomach disorder, blood impurities, energy imbalance, he explains the idea of associative elements in the body.
The elements are fire, air, earth, water and ether. These reside in harmony and need to be sustained in equilibrium for the body to function optimally.
When an element is low or in abundance that delicate balance is tilted and a host of maladies from physical discomfort to emotional distress will result. His job is to treat the imbalances.
This is classical five-element Chinese medicine! And he goes on to emphasize the protection of the Four Brothers.
Coming into the world, still in the womb, we are sheltered.
The Mycromium, Placenta, Amniotic Fluid and Blood. These are the Four Brothers.
The Balians are familiar with the life supporting sheaths enveloping the fetus in the womb. They are believed to do more than just nurture the physical body.
Ketut explains that these are considered sacred from a spiritual point of view as well and provide psychic protection for the developing spirit that has assumed a physical body.
After birth, they remain as an energetic force to provide shelter. A spiritual cave to return for healing. During another visit I will learn the mantra to communicate with them.
A couple step up to the bed. They are husband and wife and are seeking a blessing for prosperity and health for their family. The husband has brought a Chuncieng, a small offering for the Dukun. They sit on the bed cross-legged, as Ketut stands before them.
He takes a banana leaf and fills it with small flower buds. He draws in breath and begins an invocation. As he chants, hands in mudra-fashion dip a flower into holy water and fling the water over husband and wife and the banana leaf. They sit solemnly, in quiet respectful contemplation as the Balian performs his Magic.
In an eerie way, this could be the blessings received in Church, yet these people prefer the services of their local Healer. When he is finished the couple thank him and leave.
My friend, Doctor Suryani tells me that the Balian is a solid part of this culture. The people believe, and that it is this belief which empowers the Healers. They are a cross between psychologist, spiritual counselor, and herbalist. In this way they touch body and mind equally.
The Balian says five-element theory in the traditional Balinese system is called five-energy healing. The objective in curing is to balance the energies in the body and to balance the microcosm which is the individual with the macrocosm, or Universe.
One way to do this is through meditation, where the Healer brings in the spirit of a particular Deity, then channels this energy through his body, passing it with hand and breath on to the patient.
A young woman, recently with child and accompanied by her mother is next. The baby is twelve days old. The young woman is seeking information on what to expect from the child. She wants to know what incarnate spirit inhabits her baby. Grandfather? Great-Grandmother?
The mother of the young woman also has questions. She wants to know about the security of her young daughter's marriage. The daughter has married a Japanese man, here in Bali. The Japanese are considered 'Westernized' and she is fearful of divorce, common in the West and unusual here on the Island.
Ketut sets his altar, incense and Holy Water. He begins to chant, bell ringing in left hand, flower dipping water and spraying from the right. On the table he lays seven coins, an assortment of aluminum, red, green and silver.
He's going into another Trance!
I've seen him do this a number of times already with various patients. It's amazing how effortlessly he crosses from one plane of awareness to another so frequently. A smile crosses my lips on realizing his comfort in living in two worlds at the same time!
Taking a Lontar that contains information on reincarnations from the eaves, he divines the message in the coins. Consulting the book he advises his patient on the incarnation of her child, personality features and karma. There are brief questions and discussion.
He then performs a ritual blessing for the woman and her family, pours some holy water and a flower petal into a plastic bag for the patient to take home. They step down from the dais, satisfied. Slipping into shoes, they depart.
Throughout the day, with the patients that visit, I am struck by the joy that emanates from Ketut. It seems even more than what we call in the West a 'good bedside manner'. The people trust and believe in him.
Being on a journey, a pilgrimage I decide I need a supportive blessing. Before leaving for the day I make arrangements with the Balian to return for a ritual 'Hit' for myself.
Riding back to Ubud, I'm reflecting on the experience I have witnessed, the surety and power emanating from Ketut, all those satisfied clients. I am conscious of a peculiar brightness, a special clarity and excitement that is overflowing from within and am looking forward to my session with the shaman.
Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman
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