Do Balinese still believe in Black Magic?

“So where do you live?”


“Be careful ya, lots of leyak (witches in different forms, including animals, fireballs etc) there.” Even though said half-jokingly, Balinese still see Sanur as the hub of the island’s black magic scene. This goes doubly so if you mention a village like Singgi (where my mother-in-law is from!) which has a history of fights between witches and stories of haunted alleyways, particularly after a Calonarang performance.

It’s not just Sanur though – Balinese believe that witches reside all over Bali and – even in the 21th century where most of the world is now skeptical of the ‘dark arts’ – get up to mischief: causing physical and mental sickness, family problems, marital issues, land disputes, or even something as harmless as a gamelan group to lose a competition.

When my wife was a child, her hair changed colour, developing a reddish tinge, and some people in her village would say she looked like the daughter of a memedi (the Balinese version of a goblin). Whether is was because her mother was from a village famous for witchcraft or not, it’s hard to say. This was only as recent as the late 1980s. Certainly, today her mother still believes that the source of intra-family disputes is black magic.

While many more educated Balinese are less superstitious than their ancestors, recent videos on YouTube by dark art practitioners (notably a video posted just two weeks ago of a lay priest from Klungkung) turning themselves into leyak.

An overwhelming number of Balinese still emphatically believe that sickness and eventual death has non-medical causes. They often use the words ‘non-medis’ to imply unknown causes, but what they’re really saying (because they’re often too scared to say) is that the causes were supernatural.

Even though there is much better healthcare and medical standards since I arrived in Bali in 1997, there is an inherent distrusted in mainstream medicine and science. Nontheless, most people who have a medical problem seek professional, scientific help in the first instance (perhaps except for those in remote areas) and only resort to the‘non-medis’ out of desperation.

Recently, with all the tensions about the impeding reclamation of Bali’s southern coastline, the symbol of black magic referred to as leyak Sanur has been used as a symbol of Sanur’s hard-line stance against the investors who are threatening Balinese culture and its people.


Copyright  Kulture Kid 2016

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