I opened Ubud Community Facebook page the other day to see the message “Hey Ubud Peeps! Where can I find a balian healer?”

Thus the ancient role of the Balian, who is guided by the gods to aid humans through mysticism and ritual, is reduced to just another item on the tourist itinerary to be sandwiched between a massage and a cycling tour.

“I’ve had people tell me they need to be at the airport by five o’clock but still have a few hours, so take me to a healer,” said I Made Surya, who is named in Lonely Planet On-line Travel as the leading authority on Balinese healers.  “These are not people with problems to be solved; they look on it as entertainment.”

Balians are traditional healers who play an important part in the local culture by treating physical and mental illness, removing spells and channeling information from the ancestors.  The Balian is an instrument of divine healing, and the client enters a covenant to receive this healing with respect, reverence and humility. There are about 8,000 practicing in Bali, outnumbering medical doctors.  Anthropologists and scholars have been studying Balians for almost a century but the book Eat, Pray, Love focused international attention on the men and women of magic for the first time.  Since then Surya has seen an escalating demand to be taken to ‘a healer’, even by people who had nothing wrong with them.

Demand has created an industry. If tourists want to visit healers, then healers they shall have. “It’s a good business,” Surya told me. “Ubud has the buzz, and has become a stage for commercial enterprises delivering ‘traditional healing’. Both Balinese and foreigners are getting into the act. There’s a proliferation of English-speaking Balinese and Westerners wearing traditional Balinese dress claiming to be healers. They have websites and I see them on Facebook.  There are plenty of bogus Balians out there. Genuine Balians don’t advertise, draw attention to themselves or even like to be addressed as a Balian, as this can invite jealousy.”

A visit to a genuine Balian will be very public, with all the other clients watching closely. The healer may make magic, create fire, use mudrahs, draw patterns on your body, spit wads of chewed herbs on your skin, apply scented oils, poke you with sharp sticks and/or give you a deep tissue massage or manipulation that will be very painful indeed.

A visit to a Balian is a serious matter.  If you decide to go, do your homework first.  “There are many types of healers who work on specific problems: broken bones, broken hearts, mental disorders, removing black magic – so choose one that’s appropriate for you,” advises Surya. “Expect that it will be a process involving several treatments.  It’s not an instantaneous process, so don’t expect to be healed on your way to the airport.

“Bring an offering to a healer, with a donation of appreciation inside. At the end of the day, the healer dedicates this offering to his/her spirit in the family temple; be generous. Give your offering with your right hand.  Balians have the same status as priests so show respect by dressing in a sarong and temple scarf. Of course if you are seeing a bone/muscle healer you need to wear loose, comfortable clothes.”

Quite a number of Balians won’t see foreigners at all, because they feel it’s too difficult to communicate the subtlety and nuance of their work across the language and cultural barriers, even with a translator. There are four kinds of Balians.

The first kind is a Ketakson who acts as a channel between the client and God. Ketaksons evoke the spirit of a dead person, and pass on information to the family about what kinds of offerings are needed for cremations and other ceremonies. They can also channel living people to give guidance or locate missing objects.  Most of the female Balians are Ketakson.

The Pica/Paica Balian is a medium who may not be a formal student of magic. This kind of Balian receives physical objects whichappear and disappear spontaneously and are used during healing sessions. The Balian Usada is a person who either has the intention to become a Balian or may receive divine knowledge during a severe illness.

These people decide to further their knowledge by studying the lontars (sacred texts) and with recognized healers. The lontars, thousands of ancient texts in Kawi script, contain information on ethics, anatomy, traditional herbs, meditation, yoga, tantra and other subjects. These Balians also study both white and black magic, which are very similar except for the intention of the practitioner. The fourth kind of Balian combines all of the above. Many may appear crazy or psychotic, or hear voices, while the wisdom is entering them.

If you want to visit a genuine Balian, you’ll get much more from the experience by learning something about the complex process. Surya, a scholar of the Hindu religion and very knowledgeable about Balians, is sometimes available to take visitors to a carefully selected healer depending on their condition. He’s the only expert I’m aware of who offers healing arts study tours to those interested in the culture of traditional Balinese medicine and magic, and the opportunity to visit authentic Balians during one, two and six-day study tours.

He explains the different types of healers, the mystical  aspects of the practice and the offerings, and translates. “I am not a Balian Referral Service to tell you who you should see in Bali,” he clarifies. “I don’t take visitors to fortune tellers, astrologers or palm readers; it is not part of our tradition.  The integrity of the system needs to be protected.  People need to shed their preconceptions. This is a very complex religion.”

For more information about Healing Arts Study Tours with Surya, visit or contact him directly


Help Change a Child’s Life

Imagine living in a world of silence. Deafness is not uncommon on Bali, due to trauma, infections and genetic causes. A deaf child is often regarded as shameful to the family and kept out of sight without any kind of support, living in a very isolated world and vulnerable to abuse.

Sushrusa is a school for deaf children, founded in 2008 by the charity YKIP and CV Lumina.  Each child is tested, provided with a hearing aid and taught a total communication system which includes sign language, lip reading, speech and expressive language. If the children can be reached while still young, then with training and interactive parents many can learn to speak. Children of all abilities flourish, learning to read, write, do mathematics and use computers.

The auditory-verbal language system closes down at about age ten. Deaf children can’t learn to speak after that, so it’s essential to start working with them as young as possible. Sushrusa has space for 15 children in its Playgroup intake this year.  It seeks donors who will consider long-term sponsorship for their child to enable a life-changing education.

Initial enrollment is Rp. 2,700,000 and after that Rp. 500,000 a month which includes tuition, uniforms, snacks, some after school speech therapy and a petrol allowance for the parents.

For further information please contact Vikki MacKay at: or call the Sushrusa School directly at 0361 262035.



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Ibu Kat’s book of stories

Bali Daze – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail  and Retired,

Rewired – Living Without Adult Supervision in Bali are available from Ganesha Books  and on Kindle