Through the Eyes of Researcher: Mediumship Sessions in Bali
Here is an interesting excerpt on mediumship sessions in Bali which is taken from a writing entitled “Mediumship and Magic in Bali” by Hoyt L. Edge.
During a research expedition in October-November, 1990, I witnessed (and video taped) two mediumistic sessions. As is usual in mediumship sessions in Bali, a group of us attended, all of whom were more interested in experiencing the phenomenon of mediumship than we were in receiving specific information. The group consisted of two Balinese, two Japanese and me. Mediumistic sessions in Bali are not private affairs, with sometimes up to ten or twelve people, usually family members, crowding around the raised platform on which the medium sits, but as is typical in Bali, the publicness extended farther than this, with groups of people waiting their turn able to hear what was being said.
I will quickly set the stage of the mediumistic session in Bali and describe the features of the two sessions, held about four days apart.
Appointments are not made, but rather whoever wants to visit the medium comes to the family compound in the morning, always dressed in traditional clothes (as one would wear to a temple ceremony). Because of this arrangement, waits are often quite long, although we did not have to wait in either case more than an hour and a half. Sessions usually last from one half hour to an hour and a half, so sometimes waiting periods can be quite long (Eiseman 1989, p 158 ). The mediums
are also dressed in traditional costumes and usually sit on a special speaking platform within the family temple that is found in every Balinese compound.
The first medium was a man (most seem to be women) living in a small town about five miles from Ubud, in the center of the island. He began the morning at 9.30 a.m. (Nov. 11, 1990) by chanting mantras (ngredana) to invite the power (wachyu, spirit, or word or vision) to come to him. A total of 16 people (three groups) were waiting when we arrived. Our turn came about 11 a.m.
The procedure was as follows: First, we presented our offering, giving it to the medium. The offering consisted of three parts: 1) Daksina (a coconut (symbolizing the sun), rice (the stars) and an egg (the moon); 2) Canang Rao (a flower –literally, an offering for talk); and 3) Rantasan (a piece of cloth for the ancestors, usually white or yellow). Sometimes the ancestors ask for cigarettes (but not this time), and a small amount of money is included.
Secondly, the medium chanted mantras inviting the spirits (especially Gana, the elephant-headed god, whose image appears on magic amulets, and the son of Siwa) to come. He also invoked the Balinese-Hindu trinity. Incense was burned, a bell was rung, and a flower was used in the prayer (the smell of the flower and the sound of the bell guides the mind to the upper world). Finally, a small fire of sandlewood was lit, and he purified his body by putting his hands in the smoke. Then the medium began talking.
This medium went in and out of trance and spoke in Kawi, the old Javanese language. Mediums in Bali often talk in Kawi, so it is usually necessary to bring someone, perhaps a local priest, to translate what is said. In this instance, a Japanese woman was presented by the group as the “target” “sitter” (S). I will give a sample of the conversation between her and the medium (M):
M. You come from a different country. [This was pretty easy to see.] You have come because you have a very difficult situation [This was not true.], and you should keep going.
S. What is wrong?
M. You have lost something.
M. Not anything material, but in the mind. You can’t sleep well or think about plans. [She had not completed some work she had planned to do, but that was because she slept a lot in the hot weather.] The problem is that you take trips, but you never tell your ancestors where you are going and ask them to come and bless you.
[Periodically, K would go back to chanting mantras to reestablish contacts with the spirits.]
M. The Brachma and your ancestors want to help you but you forget them. If you remember them, you will get success. Anytime you go on a trip, tell the ancestors where you are going and ask their blessing, making an offering. In Bali, make an offering to god, Brachma; when in the United States, make the offering in your mind, since they don’t know anything about offerings.
[M. then explained a complicated offering to be done where she was staying in Ubud].
S. Who are my ancestors who want to help me.
M. Grimadi. [S. did not recognize the name.]
The session ended with the medium chanting again and thanking the spirits for the information.
The second mediumship session took place four days later in Denpasar, the capital of Bali and on the southern coast. The medium, a woman, did not go into trance but spirits talked with her. When they did so, she made a sound like “Oh, oh, oh, oh.” Her preparations were not as formal as the previous medium’s, and rather than chanting mantras to the gods, she dipped palm leaves in arak and threw it, which usually is an indication that she has dealings in black magic. On this occasion a Japanese man was chosen as the target sitter; the medium spoke Balinese, and one of the group (himself a balian usada) who knew S fairly well answered for him, asking S for information he did not know. This man (who had chosen this medium) gave incorrect information at times, testing the medium to see if she would know this. She did not.
As opposed to the first medium (and mediums in Bali, in general), she asked the sitter a number of questions: what he did, where he stayed in Bali, what part of the compound he stayed in, if he had gotten sick, who is friend was, etc). A number of her statements about him obviously derived from the information she received in the answers, some of which intentionally contained false information.
After she heard he had been sick, she said “I know.” She told him that he must make an offering to get well and be successful. The offering was Pisang Putjati, meaning “correct, always stay here”). He should put it on the table and pray in any way his religion allows him. A second offering on the table should be not for the gods but for his ancestors. Later, she suggested making another offering (of coconut, rice and egg) each time he came back to Bali in order to have success here as a painter. His problem was that he wants to be Balinese, but he does not speak the language. However, she told him that when his body is pure, he will be able to wear Balinese clothes and go to the temple since god is one.
By Western standards, even without extensive analysis, one can say that these sessions were non-evidential. At least in one case, there was much probing for information from the sitter and others in the group, and what factual information was offered by the mediums was incorrect. It is interesting to note, however, that the Balinese in the group considered the second session a complete failure, and said that one should never trust the word of one medium. They said that a kind of majority vote technique is practiced in Bali, and that is that in important questions one should consult four mediums, one from each of the four directions in Bali (representing the nine deities) about the same question/problem and evaluate what is said by them all. In ideal cases and dealing with the most important problems, there has to be agreement among all four mediums before the answer/suggestion is accepted.
However, my aim is not to evaluate the mediums for evidence; rather, it is to understand the phenomenon within the Balinese context, comparing it to traditional Western perspectives.
There are, of course, several similarities between the two traditions. First, information is offered in both. Secondly, spirits are the source of the information (although what is meant by spirit in the two traditions may not be the same). The medium is simply that, a medium from the transcendent to the physical. Thirdly, there is guessing, questioning the sitter, reading of body language, and taking other cues as part of the procedure to produce the information given.
Several differences strike one immediately, however. The first is the consistency of the solution to all problems–one needs to honor the gods and the ancestors by making offerings. The advice given, therefore, is culture specific. When I summarize aspects of Bali-Hinduism shortly, we will be able to see how well it fits in with their general world view. Secondly, the Balinese session is highly ritualized. This makes sense in a culture which is quite homogeneous and focused on daily ritual. Thirdly, although one finds spirits, sometimes ancestors, which come through in trance, there are other differences. For instance, there do not seem to be special guides who accompany a medium,1 nor have I heard of extraterrestrials coming through in trance. The Balinese world abounds in spirits and gods which have concerns with the daily life of the living. Trance is a normal phenomenon in Balinese culture (Conner, et. al. 1986, p. 64), and often gods will possess individuals during a temple ceremony to complain that the ritual is not being done properly or to inform the people that he or she is pleased. Thus, possession by spirits is the norm in Bali, not an unusual occurrence or restricted to mediums (Belo, 1960). Finally, Western mediumship has traditionally little to do with black magic, but black magic is widely practiced in Bali and there are as many offerings made to evil spirits as to good spirits in daily life.