Ghosts in Bali

Part of what I love about the Balinese Hindu culture is that it is so different from what I grew up with. The rituals and rites of passage seem magical and mystic and even though I am largely prone to dispel myths, when you are exposed to it every day…well I find myself becoming a believer. That could be because of my own ghostly experiences in Bali.

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The first time I experienced what I’m now sure was a ghost, was when I went to bed early one night and the American went out with his brother. Three times I heard footsteps coming into the room and ‘felt’ someone leaning over me. I figured it was the American checking in on me. But no, he had actually gone out, off the property, so if it wasn’t him and the door was locked…could only be a ghost right? As if to confirm this, the following night I saw an old man in my dreams. He waved and walked away from me. I told some of my Balinese friends about all this. They said he was lost but because I wasn’t afraid of him, he was able to leave and find his way home.

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It would seem I was lucky he was a friendly ghost. Many Balinese tell of other ghost stories, some not even wanting to go anywhere at night alone for fear of ghosts. The ghosts most disturbing to the Balinese are the Leyak (le-ak). The leyak are said to be ghosts or even living people that with black magic can turn themselves into ghosts. This photo shows what the leyak look like and you’ll find these images on temples and masks to warn people what to look out for.

They are said to haunt cemetaries, crossroads and some temples where death ceremonies have been performed. The haunting of crossroads fascinates me…it’s like the ghosts can choose which way to go but for some reason the leyak choose to stay haunting the crossroads.

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However the reason they incite such fear is because it is said they also visit houses of people they want to harm, to cause unfounded disease and death or even steal newborn babies. For this reason babies are always held by someone for the first 3 months of their lives and are never put on the ground or left along. The Queen of the Leyak is a widow witch called Rangda. You often see statues of her or her mask is kept in the village death temple.

Many Balinese believe that sudden and unexplained death is caused by Leyak. In this instance a Balian (traditional Balinese healer) will conduct a seance to identify with witchcraft, who is responsible for the death. While revenge is never recommended, it can give the deceased’s family the knowledge as to what happened and why.

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Black magic can be cast on you and only white magic or a healer can cure it. I went to see a healer. Not because I thought black magic had been cast on me…although I felt immensely satisfied when he confirmed there was no black magic about me, only white magic. I went just before Nyepi Day, the day of silence in Bali, because I was curious what the medicine man could tell me. Perhaps because of the timing of my visit, his words and teachings to me seemed all the more spiritual. You see on Nyepi Day, all of Bali, whether Hindu or not, respect the culture by remaining indoors, not working, with no power and in relative silence. The day before Nyepi the Balinese have a big party to wake up all the ghosts and spirits. Then on Nyepi they remain indoors with the lights off in silence so the ghosts pass over their houses assuming no one is home. The day before Nyepi day sees the Ogoh-Ogoh parade.

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Not particularly attractive creatures, the Ogoh-Ogoh represent the demonic side of people or the leyak. Their effigies are paraded through the streets of the villages with loud drums and music and fire to accompany them. After the good side beats the bad side in a ‘fight’ in the streets, the Ogoh-Ogoh are then burnt in a ceremony to rid the village and the people of the bad ghosts or black magic.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, this important part of Balinese Hindu culture has been respected for many generations…and if it means avoiding the leyak or black magic, I’m more than happy to respect it too!

All photos are mine except for the above photo supplied by the American – a temple in the mangroves on Nusa Lembongan.

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