Witchcraft, faith healing and the reality dysfunction

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MARCH 15 — The practice of witchcraft in Malaysia, and indeed the world, depends heavily on one major aspect: its opacity. The mystery that necessarily surrounds the occult makes practitioners of witchcraft figures of fear and suspicion. That is, the ones who apply black magic. 

On the flip side, the good guys — the faith healers — are considered to be practitioners of white magic, and are figures or respect and admiration. 

Either side of the divide, the methods of application and diagnosis continues to be opaque to us mere mortals. But both are still considered magic, still witchcraft. 

Take the practice of santau, as an example. There is, apparently, the normal santau, which is the administration of poison — consisting of shards of glass, bamboo, nails, arsenic, paraquat or anything else deemed capable of being fatal — into the intended victims’ food by physical means. That’s not very magic, though. 

The magic version of santau is called santau angin. In this instance, the poison is carried over to the victim via spirits or djinns (though one suspects they’re generally considered the same “thing”). In the more virulent instance of santau angin, it is believed that the djinn not only carries the poison into the victim, but also stays inside the victim to stir around the poison. 

You’ve got to really hate someone to do that, one would think. 

In order to treat a person who is suspected of being a victim of santau, it is widely held that he or she shall have to visit a faith healer. This is because santau is not a normal ailment, caused as it were by the administration of magic, executed by ephemeral beings. 

Now, a faith healer’s general diagnosis for the cause of any ailment, santau or otherwise, often boils down to one thing: djinns.  

So, for example, say a married man is who known to be religious as well as responsible, loving and caring towards his family suddenly changes and becomes besotted with a shapely, nubile young lady. Then there would be the suspicion that he had been “charmed” by the woman by means foul using witchcraft. The execution of the charm would be via a djinn as instructed by a (not necessarily considered evil, but possibly a romantic) bomoh. 

On the other hand, consider a married man who regards himself as having fallen in love via normal means with another woman who then suddenly finds himself incapacitated, unable to “perform”, lethargic and depressed. He may then suspect that he has been charmed by his spouse, either as revenge or as an attempt to steer him back into the family’s arms. Again, the general feeling would be that a djinn was involved. 

There’s almost always a djinn involved, basically. 

So, returning to santau, in order to cure a santau victim, the faith healer would need to extract the poison from the victim’s body. However, since the poison was inserted “spiritually”, the removal must also be done in the same manner. 

Using verses from the Holy Book, allied with props like betel leaves, incense, goat’s milk, cat’s intestines, raw eggs and possibly a slice of lemon to taste, the faith healer will do his, or her, best to suck out the glass, nails, bamboo and other foreign objects from the sufferer’s body.

In cases where a spirit or djinn is suspected to have remained in the victim’s body, the faith healer will also attempt to remove said being. Usually the being is then transferred into a bottle or a biscuit tin. To be thrown into the sea later. 

The exact method for curing the patient tends to vary from one healer to another, but the general aim is the same — to relieve the patient of his illness and to line the healer’s pockets. 

Now, the major question is, how pervasive is the act of this “kena buat” (literally, “being done”)? If we are to use anecdotal evidence, then it is very pervasive indeed. Rarely can we find anyone who claims less than three degrees of separation from knowing, or hearing, of someone who had been victimised in such a way. 

However, this is where the reality dysfunction* comes in. 

If being afflicted with illnesses caused by mysticism that pervasive, then can we safely assume that the act of countering it is mainstream?  

Maybe it is becoming so in Malaysia, judging by the amount of news on this matter we find in the vernacular tabloids. 

If it was that pervasive, then surely there would be well-known faith healers and bomohs? 

And there are. A few of the faith healers have obtained near-enough superstar status, even. With Facebook fan pages. 

If so, then surely there must be laws and regulations governing the use and abuse of black magic and faith healing, isn’t there? 

Apparently, there have been calls and attempts to do so. The Ministry of Health has a traditional and complementary medicine department looking into having government-approved shamans, and state religious departments have held seminars to discuss countering black magic and making proposals to criminalise its use.  

If such is the case, then clearly the developed nations in the world have sat up and taken notice of our efforts in this area, haven’t they? 

No, they haven’t. 

But what about the developing nations, then? 

Don’t think so, either. 

What about the undeveloped nations? 

They usually have their own shamans, witch doctors and voodoo magic. 

Finally, will we ever learn that none of this is real, that it is all just charlatanism, quackery and wishy-washy mumbo-jumbo? 

One dearly hopes so. 

* The phrase “reality dysfunction” is unashamedly lifted from the title of a science-fiction book written by Peter F. Hamilton. I couldn’t think of a better phrase to describe the situation. I suppose cognitive dissonance is better, but I’m reserving that for something else. Also, the book “Reality Dysfunction” is a riveting read, if a little thick. You should get it.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


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