The Balians of Bali

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The otherworldly powers of Bali’s traditional healers are well documented and are part of daily life for locals and expats.

Ketut Liyer
Pak Ketut Liyer

On top of ordinary health issues, spirits both good and bad abound on this Island of the Gods and they can wreak havoc on the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Everything from a broken bone to a broken heart will invoke a visit to one of more than 8,000 healers practising in Bali.

Traditional Balinese healing shot to fame with the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love – which shone a light on the late Ubud Balian and priest, Pak Ketut Liyer. He became an instant rock star of the alternative medicine scene and his home was a major tourist destination.

Healers reject being called a Balian as too conceited for their spiritual calling, which is delivered through illness or an ancient family line. Balians specialise in specific areas such as heart problems, migraine headache, sports injuries or the removal of a spell.

The Four Types of Balian

The first is a Ketakson, who is usually a female and will channel between the client and God and call on the spirit of a dead person for guidance and pass on the information.

The second is a Pica – a medium and not a formal student of traditional medicine, massage or magic. There are stories of physical objects – such as the Balinese dagger called a kris – appearing out of thin air during a session with a Pica.

The third is a Usada who receives divine knowledge during a severe illness that leads them to study the Lontars – ancient, sacred texts written on bamboo. They are a masters’ apprentice while studying anatomy, ethics, traditional herbs, massage, magic, meditation, yoga, and tantra among many subjects. Black and white magic are widely practised in Bali.

The fourth kind of Balian combines all of the above and during a session, the healer may appear mildly psychotic, hearing voices and having visions while the wisdom enters their body.

How To Visit a Balian

Travellers can visit a Balian or even study for a few days with an expert. Etiquette must be observed so dress modestly and be patient since locals with real illnesses will be also waiting. Bring an offering of money but never pass cash directly to the healer. Give it to an assistant with the right hand. and always take a translator.

A woman is blessed with holy water as part of her treatment with a balian.
A woman is blessed with holy water as part of her treatment with a balian.

Expect to be treated in full view of the household and waiting clients who will watch avidly. A fire may be created, a potion brewed, healing oils applied, patterns could be drawn on your body or a painful deep tissue massage delivered. Patients may be poked with sharp sticks too. Healers often create a bespoke blend of herbs and instead of passing it to their patient to devour, they pop the lot into their mouth to chew and suck and then spit gobs of the mulch onto the patients’ body – face can be included.

More than one visit to a Balian may be required, so don’t expect to be healed between sundowners and breakfast or on the way to the airport. Visit a healer who has been referred by a villa manager or a friend to avoid bogus operators.

If you choose to experience it, please do so with the respect it deserves.

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