19 - Underbelly Bali (Black Magic, Indonesia)
Place a hex. Cast a spell. Let’s all just go to hell. Or not. It was two months before I felt the tug of Bali’s supernatural undercurrent. Activating goosebumps…now!
by The Nostomaniac
WELCOME TO THE DARK SIDE. Animism has its privileges and its drawbacks. Do you believe in magic…in a young girl’s heart? They do in Bali and other parts of Indonesia. Black magic is for reals. I’m talking spells, curses, possessions, hexes, etc. Sounds like Haiti. Tastes like Bali. I’d been on the island nearly two months and experienced none of this. Yet, it was there the whole time. That’s how you feel like a tourist. I blame Elizabeth.
Where was I exposed to the underbelly? At a dinner party, of course. I met an Australian woman who’d been living in Bali over five years. She had one helluva bedtime story. Her introduction to the supernatural started with a horrible motorbike accident. She veered off a bridge, plunged into the water, and broke her back. Ouchie. While convalescing, she hired a local woman to assist her recovery.
According to her, she witnessed the supernatural possession of her home aide a la The Exorcist. After Hollywood-style contortions and a complete change in demeanor, a “new” woman emerged claiming to be someone else. So disturbing was this sequence, the aide’s husband was summoned. Upon seeing his wife, he broke down in tears.
After the aide recovered a couple hours later (no memory of the incident), she claimed to know who had done this to her. No question about it. An adversary orchestrated her possession, and she knew the responsible party. Payback time. Duuum-duh-dum-duuum…duuuuuuummm! I was told if I questioned any expatriate living long-term in Bali as to whether they believed in magic, the answer would be unanimous: As sure as god made little green apples. The Pope does shit in the Vatican.
Remember the accident? Team Australia (her name eludes me) was certain dark forces were at play. After she arrived in Bali, there were many locals vying for her attention. She suspected some, feeling neglected, began nursing grudges. This might explain why she found curious items lying around her house, not the least of which were small bags containing lockets of hair. Charms? Curses? Unique fetishes? Who the hell knows, but if you ask her, someone channeled their negativity paranormally and facilitated the motorcycle mishap (insert ominous score here).
There was more. When she was in the process of building a home, a worker spotted a “spirit” wandering through the forest. Wandering spirits are no bueno. Construction halted until a shaman/priestly type could be summoned to purify the area. In every Balinese home, you’ll find a small offering stand somewhere within displayed prominently and in constant use. Keep the spirits happy or face their wrath.
I went straight to my friends at Balimode for answers. How the hell could I miss this? Cause I’m ignant. That’s how. The existence of magic is a foregone conclusion, but most folks are hesitant to discuss it openly, especially in the presence of foreigners. Agus (my visa agent/friend) was evasive about a ring he wore on his finger. His supernatural motive was mentioned by a coworker, not him. I was supremely curious but could tell he didn’t want to get into it. I relented. This reluctance to broach the topic partially explains my obliviousness. Still, it’s amazing. You could spend weeks in Bali and have no idea what lies beneath.
All this explains why Indonesia is a great place to be a magician. If you’re good enough, it’s likely audiences will believe you possess legit mystical powers. David Blaine doing his signature street magic in Indonesia would be like Jesus curing lepers in Galilee. It’d blow their fucking minds.
A friend of my Balimode crew, a small business owner in Ubud, told me dark magic is a tool for the unsophisticated. Only the ignorant trifle with such forces, he said. Want to exploit the dark arts to seduce a potential mate? Get a job? Ensure brisk sales? Go for it, but the consequences will be dire in the long run. Magic use for personal gain only leads to hardship and ruin. Most avoid it. (Or do they?) It’s sort of a Monkey’s Paw scenario. You’ll get your wish but at a terrible cost. Bad things come to those who cast.
Magic need not be “black.” If not exactly “white”, there are other more “neutral” forms, for lack of a better phrase. Contact with the dead comes to mind. Sudden death? No clue what the recently departed prefers? Well, go ahead and ask them. Or maybe you’re just lonely? Miss your daddy? Mama? Your grandpapá? No reason you can't visit the shaman and make a long distance call. This was the case with the businessman’s uncle. He desperately missed his father who’d died five years earlier. So, off to the see the wizard.
There are real-world ramifications to this belief system. The terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2004 left a deep impression on island residents. Many didn’t blame the terrorists. They blamed themselves and Bali’s wayward arc into tourist debauchery. The attacks were a lifestyle indictment. The gods had spoken. Time to shape up and heed their warnings. Glad to see Catholics haven’t cornered the market on guilt.
What did I make of this? Dunno. None of what you hear and half of what you see, maybe? My mind is wide open to the readily unexplainable, but all I had was hearsay and speculation. I rule nothing out. Still, without firsthand knowledge I must maintain perspective. I’ve heard similar stories back home and, like the Balinese, I believe they believed it. I was curious and wanted to know more, but had the sense my inquiries might not have received the warmest reception. Real or imagined, I didn’t want to make a habit of being cursed. And you can never discount the power of the nocebo effect. So, sadly, I let it go. In hindsight, I should’ve let curiosity overpower my reservations. I will say, if you visit Indonesia, bring a rabbit’s foot just in case. If you suspect supernatural foul play, shove it in your ass for protection. It’s the only way to be sure. You’re welcome.