The otherworldly powers of Bali’s traditional healers are well documented and are part of daily life for locals and expats.
It is believed that spirits, both good and bad, abound on this Island of the Gods, and they can wreak havoc on one’s physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Everything from a broken bone to a broken heart can invoke a visit to one of more than 8,000 healers practising in Bali.
Traditional Balinese healing shot to fame with the Hollywood film, 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 a major tourist destination.
Healers reject being called a Balian as it’s too conceited for their spiritual calling, which is delivered through illness or an ancient family line. Balian healers specialise in specific areas such as heart problems, migraine headaches, sports injuries or the removal of spells.
The Four Types of Balian Healers
The first is a Ketakson, usually female, who will channel between the client and God, calling on the spirit of a dead person for guidance, and passing 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 as the wisdom enters their body.
Etiquettes and Customs
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 also be waiting. Bring an offering of money, but never pass cash directly to the healer. Give it to an assistant with your right hand. And always take a translator along.
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 included. Try not to flinch or make facial expressions.
More than one visit to a Balian may be required, depending on the ailment, 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. And if you do choose to walk down this mystic path, please do so with the respect any ancient wisdom deserves.
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