First of all, there is no short answer. In fact, there is no definitive answer. It is so amorphous, there is no wikipedia entry on the topic. The publications in English on the topic are very limited. Nonetheless, I will do my best to explain and summarize, but even I don’t fully understand.
Healing Beyond the Physical Realm
Part of what makes Balinese Healing so inaccessible and incomprehensible to outsiders in the intimate relationship between treatment in the physical world and the cooperation and aid of the metaphysical or spiritual world.
The primary religion of the island of Bali is Hinduism; and rituals, spirituality, and temple offerings are sacred to Balinese life. Part of what makes the Balinese culture so rich, attractive and functional are the Hindu rituals that govern daily life.
With religion playing such a key role in the life of the Balinese, it is not surprising then that it is also core to the work of the healers. Healers have many methods of treatment at their disposal, but within each spirituality, mysticism, or at least another less comprehensible level must come into play.
I’m not explaining this to denounce or belittle Balinese healing; I’m trying to share the Balinese perspective and convey the overwhelming importance beliefs and communion with the nether world play in healing. This is not to say that those who aren’t Hindu or who don’t believe in spirits, altered consciousness, nor higher powers, can’t be cured, because many have been. This is to say all of it is integral to how the healer works on a patient.
The methods of healing most commonly used by Balinese healers include:
- massage or other body manipulations, including poking
- Jamu (herbal tonics or decoctions drunk by the patient)
- poultice (applied topically)
- leaves chewed by the patient that may have sacred drawings on them
- herbal spit (literally the healer may chew some herbs then spit them at the patient)
- essential oils rubbed into the skin
- sacred drawings (often times on the body of the patient)
- offerings, prayer, and purification required of the patient
- connecting with and seeking aid from the spirit world
Types of Healers
Traditional Balinese healers are most commonly referred to as Balians. But within the title “Balian” are many different types.
- Balian Usada – typically very well studied in the ancient texts of healing and apprenticed under a master Balian; They most closely resemble a western M.D. or general practitioner
- Balian Taksu – the channeler who communes with the spirit world to dignose and treat the patient whose condition typically is less rooted in the physical body. Channelers are usually called into their profession, not book-learned and trained; they are also more likely to be women, relative to the other types.
- Balian Urat – more like a massage therapist or chiropractor, this person specializes in muscles and bones.
If a Balian, usually of the Usada type wants to emphasize his role as a healer and not that of a black magician, he may call himself “Dukun.”
These are only very rough categorizations, and each type of healer can use methods of the others’. Furthermore, a Balian may change categories through his lifetime as he gains skills, loses powers, or develops other interests and abilities.
More on Balinese traditional healing, methods, Balians, and case examples in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, here are two pretty good (mostly accurate) articles on the topic from Bali Spirit: Bali’s Traditional Healers, Balian