The Possessed Woman, The Spirit Within And The Cure Of Supernatural
The woman was possessed. That much everyone knew. As she wailed and screamed, and spat vomit across the floor, while she was being dragged to the ritual platform, the whole congregation felt a chill run down their spine. Thousands had gathered around the ritual platform, one which was constructed hastily in a couple of hours, once the scent of the devil was felt by the village heads. The rains lashed out in full swing, as the woman’s shrieks, coupled with thunders across the sky, would fuel the nightmares of the village children, for ages to come. The redundancy prayers were taken up in the highest pitches possible. The ritual platform, a wooden floor washed and soaked in turmeric, shined off its yellow, in the sparks of handheld torches of the onlookers.
The woman was dragged up the platform and thrown to the middle of the mandala, made of crossing lines of red coloured kokum powder and interjected by ripening lemons, pierced with long pins holding chillies at the top. The chants of the controlling woman seemed to wane as the woman’s face turned red and suddenly started growing pale, amidst all the cacophony. This was the time when the men in the congregation were barked at to leave. The demon inside her would perhaps latch onto any men who showed a sign of vulnerability. The women in this ritual were much stronger. Without question, and in a disciplined manner, the men walked away from the ritual place, leaving only the women to see the possessed one turning less and less human. She needed to be kept human for a while, at least a couple of more minutes. The Witch Doctor was on her way from the neighbouring village.
It took Yallamma another ten minutes to arrive at the scene. And as a measure of practice, she quickly ordered instructions to the women struggling to stop the demon from eating its human victim. She sat in front of the possessed woman and murmured something within herself. A language no one knew or understood. And then to the horror of the onlookers, she started slapping the possessed woman. Brutally and unabashedly. Yallamma continued slapping the possessed woman till the screaming stopped, and the wailing turned to uncontrollable crying. The possessed woman was vulnerable, and it was time. Yallamma took out a small sachet of green coloured powder and poured it on the ritual ground in front of her. As she had instructed, a couple of women had already brought a small pot of cow’s urine to her. She pulled out a bunch of leaves and started mixing the leaves in the cow’s urine, so as to purify it. All the while, amongst the splattering of the rain, she kept an eye on the distraught woman in front of her. She could turn into a monster at any time now. The demon inside her would not be tired for long.
Yallamma understood this and signalled a couple of strong looking woman to come and hold the possessed woman by her hands. Her legs were to be free. The demon had to escape from inside of her and through her vagina. Yallamma then calmly stood up and poured the whole pot of cow’s urine on her head. This was the moment that the demon appeared again. The possessed woman’s eyes turned red, and she screamed loudly at the witch doctor, perhaps recognizing her. In a moment, the women broke into uncontrollable fits, as she kept vomiting and banging her head on the floor at the same time. She kept rotating her head furiously from left to right as if someone was slapping her. Her nose bled, and her skin burned. This is when she struggled like hell to break free from the women holding her tightly. Yallamma understood that the demon wasn’t just a cursed soul. It was a Pisachin – a half soul, which had found its Kuropi. To fulfil its soul, the Pisachin would feed into this woman, its victim. She quickly bent to the floor, picked up a handful of the green powder, and started chanting chants which no one understood. And in a swift motion, blew the powder on the face of the possessed woman. This maddened her more, as she raged like an animal between the strengths of two women. The Pisachin was white with anger. However, it did not seem like it was leaving the woman. Yallamma then ordered an iron-spoke, washed and soaked in turmeric concoction. She tendered the iron-spoke’s sharp end with full lemons and squeezed them over it. It was ready. As she shouted the chants at the top of her voice, she pierced the woman’s left calf with the iron-spoke. The woman wailed in pain, and again beat herself up. As Yallamma plucked out the iron-spoke from the calf, blood came gushing out.
Unexpectedly, the woman went silent for a second. She just stared at Yallamma for a few moments. And fell to the ground unconscious. Yallamma sprinkled some water on her, but it was too late. The Pisachin had taken her. The woman was dead. Yallamma had failed. The congregation of women, sobbed silently, as the young woman, barely in her thirties, full of promise and hope, lay bare on the floor, lifeless. Yallamma stood up and, as quickly as she had come, she left. Sometimes, the spirits won, and sometimes the souls. Yallamma knew this from her personal experience, and there was nothing anyone could do. She was just a witch doctor. And she could save only so many people.
It is said that the good and the bad, both reside in us in equal proportions. They often balance each other out and make our lives wholesome and fulfilling. However, in more ancient parts of this modern rational world, it is also believed that occasionally a third entity resides inside of us. A cursed part of a departed soul lives on, wiggling to get back to life. A scarred soul which descends through realms of existence, hitherto unknown to humanity, for a singular and sometimes even grotesque motive. This part soul, half soul rather, residing within humans is called – Pisachin. And the human which the Pisachin torments is named Kuropi. As this phenomenon is established, it is but natural that a solution to the suffering is found as well. Although the practice of recognizing, identifying, binding, and abolishing Pisachin’s from innocent souls have been employed by many people under many different names. In this remote village of Zaheerabad, an old woman clad (always) in a white sari remains the only medium between humans and non-humans. Popularly called by the name Yallamma, the wrinkly old woman, with a peculiar laugh and a certain sense of detachment, is Zaheerabad’s renowned Witch Doctor.
The following conversations between the writer and the Witch Doctor are intended to throw light on the beliefs, cultures and belongings of a world much different than ours. In attending to these issues, neither the writer nor the platform vouch for or in any manner supports the measures employed to, what can be termed as, flushing away evil. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the speaker’s alone and hold no bearing as to the validity or otherwise of scientific bearings as applicable. We leave the discussions to the belief and awareness of the readers and nothing more.
Defining The Realms Of Existence – The Pisachin Exodus
In a shabby looking house in a random thrown away village, off the road going towards Ranjhol, with all sorts of strange repugnant smells, we meet Jaguru, the 30-year-old assistant to Yallamma. Jaguru, as we realise in our initial conversations with him, who is waiting for the Witch Doctor to return from a chore in a nearby village, is mentally undergrown. He tells us that he had a family once in Adilabad, but they abandoned him in a village fair somewhere, because his father didn’t like him. It was at the fair that he met Yellamma, who has been taking care of him for the past ten years. I feel it strangely satisfying to know that Jaguru accompanies Yellamma to most of the cases she attends. It is ironical that someone like him, who perceives the world differently than us, should be the one who sees beings from the world being objected and cured every now and then. Perhaps, it is fate. As Jaguru and I talk about different things, majorly revolving around obtaining fresh toddy from a nearby village, or catching a particularly tasty fish in a pond nearby, and as Jaguru proudly shows a button he’s sewn on a piece of cloth, we hear the old lady arrive outside the house. She calls for Jaguru, who hurriedly takes an urn of water with neem leaves dipped in it, and rushes outside. After washing herself thoroughly with the neem-water, she carefully steps inside the hut, muttering incoherent chants as she does. She walks to me and says something and blows two puffs of air, on either of my shoulders. She then orders Jaguru to bring me a glass of a concoction made of honey, neem and garlic and asks me to gulp it at one go. My tryst with the irrational practices had thus started.
Jaguru sweeps the floor with a broom and spreads a mat for his mentor to sit on. And the first thing the Witch Doctor asked, looking at me sharply with her ageing eyes was…
Did you get anything for Jaguru? He is hungry. Maybe something from the city?
I did. Yes. I brought some guavas from the place I am coming from and some peppermints. (I took out the guavas from my bag and a couple of mouth-freshener strips from my pocket. Truth be told I hadn’t brought anything but those were enough for Jaguru to jump with joy. He hurriedly took them, and as instructed by Yellamma, went outside to play). She smiled at me and took out a handful of beads and lay them in front of her. She signalled me to go ahead with the interview.
In being a Witch Doctor, at which point did you start to affirm the existence of supernatural forces or witches or tortured souls? Has it always been your perception to cure people of their ‘illness’?
If you are asking me, if I believe in supernatural elements beyond our own understanding, then yes I am religious. I am trusting in the word of God and also how he exists in all of us. He exists, and so do other forms of forces, which will always be inside of us. I can feel it within myself and within you too. Their presence is not an illness. It is when they start acting beyond their control and for motives which are despicable, then it is an illness. I just help people understand their illness and try to cure them. They feel I know much about these Pisachins, but no, I don’t. I just know which ones are harmful, and which ones are harmless. In the name of God, we are lucky if our loved ones die peacefully.
I learned whatever I learned from my aunt. Kamalamma was a Witch Doctor too. She had learned it from our great-grandmother. So, in every age one of us has been a Witch Doctor. It is in the family. If someone’s spirit returns to a Kuropi, in these few villages, everyone knows to come here. After me, maybe Jaguru will take it up. He is learning by my side. However, not everyone can do it. My mother, although she was good at many things, she could not learn the practice.
When you mention Pisachins and Souls, could you further explain them and also in your practice how do you differentiate between these two entities?
Pisachins are very different from souls. They are burdened with suffering, despair and torture. In Mythology, Rakshasas usually used to be the victims of Pisachins, who would enter them and make them do all kinds of violent activities. From those ages itself, writers and scholars used to write about them as part souls or half souls. In a normal human, there exists one soul, which contains both good and bad in equal parts. Good or bad portions go up depending on what is happening around the person, and his reaction to it. But sometimes a Pisachin, a half soul of someone else, comes into the body of a normal person because the person is vulnerable and his soul is weak. It becomes an appendage like an added limb, which then acts on its own. Friction arises between Pisachin and the original soul, and it consumes the Kuropi in the process. I try to help the people at that point.
And how do you do so? What are the procedures involved in identifying and eradicating a Pisachin from the body of an ignorant?
The decaying scent around the body when they sleep. That is the first symptom. Before meeting you, I was at Komali’s large bungalow, at the start of the highway. She had called for me, to look at her one of her maids. The maid had not been talking to anyone but had been screaming through the night for no reason. Last night their milkman saw that the maid was dragging a dead animal into her hut, right behind the bungalow. He claims to have seen her stop before the hut, kneel down and insert her hand into the dead animal’s mouth and pluck out something which looked like a lump of mass. I think it could be the animal’s tongue or it’s heart. The maid ate the lump and hurled the dead animal’s carcass into the nearby pond. In the morning as I arrived at the bungalow, I was told that the maid was locked up in a room near the kitchen, where she had been sleeping till I came about. As I entered the room, I observed the first thing that I usually look for. The decaying smell filling the whole room. That’s how you recognize it. The presence of a Pisachin.
Once you identify the Pisachin, you need to decide how violent it is. When I saw the maid, she was asleep. But her breath was not steady. When you are a Kuropi, you are breathing not just for yourself, but for the other entity too. And therefore, the maid’s breath was slow and heavy. Then pouring cold water on her helps her jump back to reality. Sometimes a ritual platform has to be created for extracting the Pisachin out. But sometimes, a weaker Pisachin is scared by the cold water itself. This one wasn’t. It was a strong one, which needed strong measures. We tied up the maid to the tree outside and performed Lobhirava (the practice of successively pouring pots of turmeric water intersected with throwing ash across the Kuropi’s face to keep it awake) for four hours. The soul becomes tortured enough to seep out of the vagina of the Kuropi. If it is a man, the exit of the Kuropi is through his mouth. In the process, if the victim starts vomiting furiously, it means that the Pisachin is getting stronger and stronger. Thankfully, it did not happen with the maid. After four hours, the Pisachin was slapped out of her.
As you describe in this case, a Pisachin latching onto an individual, man or a woman, How is it decided? How does the Pisachin decide which humans to latch onto? And what are the measures people here take to avoid Pisachins?
Weakness. Our air is filled with Pisachins. Of dead souls, floating in this realm to latch onto someone whose soul is weak. It chooses the weakest amongst us and gets inside them. Also, if a man impregnates a woman while she is possessed, the child, who is a result of such a union, will be born with two souls. We see people talking to themselves. Mad people, we call them, but they are actually children born out of such a consummation. Many years ago, I had been called to examine a girl child, who according to her parents behaved oddly. She would pet some animal one day and eat it the other day. They were afraid she was possessed and wanted a Witch Doctor to drive the soul away.
However, they were wrong. She was born with a full grown Pisachin inside of her. She could only bring the family misfortune. Thus, they took her to temples across the state, to appease the tortured soul inside of her. When I met the child, she had by then already tried to jump out of her rooftop twice. Both of the times she had sustained minor injuries, but the child survived. A fully grown Pisachin could ensure that the child lived. The child would rapidly lose weight and always vomit out everything she ate. Religious chants failed to work on her. Not even the strongest of mantras. In time, the child’s parents asked me to prepare a ritual platform with a sacrificial rite. In order to appease the Pisachin, a healthy cat was to be sacrificed. As the ritual began, we threw into the flames not just one, but five cats of different types. The child started laughing maniacally but eventually broke into inconsolable tears. It was the moment where the chants could be transmitted through her. After ten months, with much difficulty, we could finally drive away the soul inside her.
In order to avoid Pisachins entering into the houses, I sell charts like that one (she points to the wall behind me, where a long red cloth resembling the one she used as soon as she’d entered the hut hung. On careful observation, I could see that the cloth had fine lines of golden threads sewn into it, in the pattern of a complicated mandala). Usually, the charts keep the tormented souls outside a home. Sometimes a persistent soul might crossover but that only happens when the woman of the house fails to pray to the cloth at any time.
….As our conversations moved from the gruesome to the spectacular, from the natural to the supernatural, Jaguru walked inside, crying about something. It would appear that someone had torn his shirt in a street fight of kids. Yallamma asked him to sit down at a corner and recite some chant. Mumbling, his tears flowing down his cheek, he calmly sat cross-legged at a corner and closed his eyes reciting some chant loudly. Yallamma asked him to recite the chant silently within himself. As silence ensued, my questions seemed to have found a new muse. Not the demons or the possessed. Nor the sacrificial rituals or the forest deities which overlooked the realms of living and dead. But the Witch Doctor herself. Yellamma had talked about many things she did, but never about herself…
As a witch doctor, isn’t your presence perhaps the reason for such souls exonerating. I mean to ask that if a natural order of things is for people to be tormented by souls, then aren’t you disturbing that fabric of understanding by driving away the Pisachins from their hosts. If it is, as you said, common in everyone, then shouldn’t the people be allowed to deal with them?
So, you don’t want me to cure them? Is that what you mean? I agree, yes. I am not meant to save them. But fortunately or unfortunately, my family has been given the power to deal with them. Yes, I cannot save everyone. It is not my job. But to give hope to a family which has none, maybe that is all I am doing. It is just something I have learned from my own experience. Sometimes, people see omens and signs that something is going wrong. They are driven mad because of it. To them, if someone could tell that there could be a way out, maybe your child could be saved, or your wife could be recovered, then that is worth something. I do it for that little hope.
I was young when I was married to a cloth trader from my village in Pastapur. I was fifteen and my husband was thirty-five. He was a good man, but he believed in Jorim Baba. The Baba told him that our first child will ruin his cloth business. For a long time thus, he never touched me. My mother was very upset because of this and couldn’t bear the thought that I would be childless for the rest of my time. However, fortune turned in our favour, as on one day, saddened by the cruel fate that awaited him with a child, my husband returned home in an inebriated state. He impregnated me. By the time he realized his mistake, he couldn’t get himself to do anything. Jorim Baba told him that as long as the child was killed within three days of his taking birth, he would be safe. And so after nine months, I gave birth to a child, a boy. My husband had already lost a shop’s worth of clothes to rains that year, and his paranoia of losing more got the better of him. However, he knew he couldn’t forgive himself if he killed a child. His heart could not take it. Two days later, he took the child, tied it up on his back and drowned himself in the village pond. By the next day, however, the child miraculously survived as the fishermen dug them up. I believe that the child had travelled through the realms of spirits and came back to the life. And therefore, his mind has left the reality which we perceive and understand. Maybe Jaguru understands our reality better than anyone else. I think he is special in his own way.
…..Jaguru continued chanting the recitals with a more calmer tone now. He had been lied to about his life. I wondered – was it because of the tragic start it had or was it because he was born out of a marriage? Perhaps both. In those moments I stood to understand that Pisachin’s were perhaps the manifestations of our own evil. In actions and in words. The Witch Doctor was perhaps needed by the people, as much as they needed the Gods to take care of them. As the Witch Doctor stood up, the beaded ornament now complete, and walked slowly inside to a place where a raised platform housed figures made in copper red, I understood that this woman would be an extraordinary story to tell. Not just because of her supernatural abilities, but because there was something truly ordinary about her, in the extraordinary burden that the world had bestowed upon her. To be the middle-woman for the real and the unreal. And for the dead and more so for the undead……..
(To Be Continued …)