Magic and Occult in India



India : Mystical Systems.—It would be beyond the scope of such a work as this to undertake to provide any account of the several religious systems of India, and we must confine ourselves to a description of the mysticism and demonology which cluster round these systems, and an outline of the magic and sorcery of the native peoples of the empire.

Hinduism.—It may be said that the mysticism of the Hindus was a reaction against the detailed and practical ceremonial of the Vedas. If its trend were summarised it might justly be said that it partakes strongly of disinterestedness ; is a pantheistic identifying of subject and object, worshipper and worship ; aims at ultimate absorption in the Infinite; inculcates absolute passivity, the most minute self-examination, the cessation of the physical powers; and believes in the spiritual guidance of the mystical adept. For the Indian theosophists there is only one Absolute Being, the One Reality. True, the pantheistic doctrine of Ekam advitiyam " the One without Second " posits a countless pantheon of gods, great and small, and a rich demonology; but it has to be'understood that these are merely illusions of the soul and not realities. Upon the soul's coming to fuller knowledge, its illusions are totally dispelled, but to the ordinary man the impersonality of absolute being is useless. He requires a symbolic deity to bridge the gulf betwixt the impersonal Absolute and his very material self, hence the numerous gods of Hinduism which are regarded by the initiated merely as manifestations of the Supreme Spirit. Even the rudest forms of idolatry in this way possess higher meaning. As Sir Alfred Lyall says: "It (Brahminism) treats all the worships as outward visible signs of the same spiritual truth, and is ready to show how^each particular image or rite is the symbol of some aspect of universal divinity. The Hindus, like the pagans of antiquity adore natural objects and forces,—a mountain, a river, or an animal. The Brahmin holds all nature to be the vesture or cloak of indwelling divine energy which inspires everything that produces all or passes man's understanding."

The life ascetic has from the remotest times been regarded in India as the truest preparation for communion with the deity. Asceticism is extremely prevalent especially in connection with the cult of Siva, who is in great measure regarded as the prototype of this class. The Yogis or Jogis (disciples of the Yogi philosophy), practise mental abstraction, and are popularly supposed to attain to superhuman powers. The usual results of their ascetic practices are madness or mental vacancy, and their so-called supernatural powers are mostly prophetic, or in too many cases pure jugglery and conjuring. The Parama-Hamsas, that is " supreme swans " claim to be identical with the world-soul, and have no occupation except meditation on Brahma. They are said to be equally indifferent to pleasure or pain, insensible to heat or cold, and incapable of satiety or want. The Sannyasis are those who renounce terrestrial affairs: they are of the character of monks, and are as a general rule extremely dirty. The Dandis or staff-bearers are worshippers of Siva in his form of Bhai-rava the Terrible. Mr. J. C. Owen in his Mystics, Ascetics and Sects of India- says of these Sadhus or holy men:— " Sadhuism whether perpetuating the peculiar idea of the efficacy of asceticism for the acquisition of far-reaching powers over natural phenomena or bearing its testimony to the belief of the indispensableness of detachment from the world as a preparation for the ineffable joy of ecstatic communion with the Divine Being, has undoubtedly tended to keep before men's eyes as the highest ideal, a life of purity and restraint and contempt of the world of human affairs. It has also necessarily maintained amongst the laity a sense of the rights and claims of the poor upon the charity of the more opulent members of the community. Further, Sadhuism by the multiplicity of the independent sects which have arisen in India has engendered and favoured a spirit of tolerance which cannot escape the notice of the most superficial observer."

One of the most esoteric branches of Hinduism is the Sakta cult. The Saktas are worshippers of the Sakti or female principle as a creative and reproductive agency. Each of the principal gods possesses his own Sakti, through which his creative acts are performed, so that the Sakta worshippers are drawn from all sects. But it is principally in connection with the cult of Siva that Sakta worship is practised. Its principal seat is the north-eastern part of India—Bengal, Behar and Assam. It is divided into two distinct groups. The original self-existent gods were supposed to divide themselves into male and female energies, the male half occupying the right-hand and the female the left-hand side. From this conception we have the two groups of " right-hand " observers and " left-hand " observers. In the Tantras or mystical writings, Siva unfolds in the nature of a colloquy in answer to questions asked by his spouse Parvati, the mysteries of Sakta occultism. The right-hand worshippers are by far the most numerous. Strict secrecy is enjoined in the performance of the rites, and only one minor caste, the Kanlas, carry on the mystic and degraded rites of the Tantras.

Brahmanism.—Brahmanism is a system originated by the Brahmans, the sacerdotal caste of the Hindus, at a comparatively early date. It is the mystical religion of India par excellence, and represents the more archaic beliefs of its peoples. It states that the numberless individual existences of animate nature are but so many manifestations of the one eternal spirit towards which they tend as their final goal of supreme bliss. The object of man is to prevent himself sinking lower in the scale, and by degrees to raise himself in it, or if possible to attain the ultimate goal immediately from such state of existence as he happens to be in. The code of Manu concludes " He who in his own soul perceives the supreme soul in all beings and acquires equanimity towards them all attains the highest state of bliss." Mortification of animal instincts, absolute purity and perfection of spirit, were the moral ideals of the Brahman class. But it was necessary to pass through a succession of four orders or states of existence ere any hope of union with the deity could be held out. These were: that of brahmacharin, or student of religious matters ; grihastha, or householder ; vanavasin, or hermit; and sannyasin or bhikshu, fakir or religious mendicant. Practically every man of the higher castes practised at least the first two of these stages, while the priestly class took the entire course. Later, however, this was by no means the rule, as the scope of study was intensely exacting, often lasting as long as forty-eight years, and the neophyte had to support himself by begging from door to door. He was usually attached to the house of some religious teacher; and after several years of his tuition was usually married, as it was considered absolutely essential that he should leave a son behind him to offer food to his spirit and to those of his ancestors. He was then said to have become a " Householder " and was required to keep up perpetually the fire brought into his house upon his marriage day. Upon his growing older, the time for Mm arrived to enter the third stage of life, and he " cut himself off from all family ties except that (if she wished) his wife might accompany him, and went into retirement in a lonely place, carrying with him his sacred fire, and the instruments necessary to his daily sacrifices." Scantily clothed, and with hair and nails uncut, it is set down that the anchorite must Jive entirely on food growing wild in the forest—roots, herbs, wild grain, and so forth. The acceptance of gifts was not permitted him unless absolutely necessary, and his time was spent in reading the metaphysical portions of the Veda, in making offerings, and in practising austerities with tfie obj ect of producing entire indifference to worldly desires. In this way he fits himself for the final and most exalted order, that of religious mendicant or bhikshu. This consists solely of meditation. He takes up his abode at the foot of a tree in entire solitude, and only once a day at the end of their labours may he go near the dwellings of men to beg a little food. In this way he waits for death, neither desiring extinction nor existence, until at length it reaches him, and he is absorbed in the eternal Brahma.

The purest doctrines of Brahmanism are to be found in the Vedanta philosophic system, which recognises the Veda, or collection of ancient Sanskrit hymns, as the revealed source of religious belief through the visions of the ancient Rishis or seers. It has been already mentioned that the Hindu regarded the entire gamut of animated nature as being traversed by the one soul, which journeyed up and down the scale as its actions in its previous existence were good or evil. To the Hindu the vital element in all animate beings appears essentially similar, and this led directly to the Brahmanical theory of transmigration, which has taken such a powerful hold upon the Hindu mind.

Demonology.—A large and intricate demonology has clustered around Hindu mythology. The gods are at constant war with demons. Thus Durga slays Chanda and Asura, and also despatches Durga, a fiend of similar name to herself. Vishnu also slays more than one demon, but Durga appears to have been a great enemy of the demon race. The Asuras, probably a very ancient and aboriginal pantheon of deities, later became demons in the popular imagination, and the Rakshasas were cloud-demons. They are described as cannibals, could take any form, and were constantly menacing 'the gods. They haunt cemeteries, disturb sacrifices, animate the dead, harry and afflict mankind in all sorts of ways. In fact they are almost an absolute parallel with the vampires of Slavonic countries; and this greatly assists the conclusions of Asikoff that the Slavonic vampires were originally cloud-spirits. We find the gods constantly harassed by demons; and on the whole we may be justified in concluding that just as the Tuatha-de-danaan harassed the later deities of Ireland, so did these aboriginal gods lead an existence of constant warfare with the divine beings of the pantheon of the immigrant Aryans.

Popular Witchcraft and Sorcery.—The popular witchcraft and sorcery of India greatly resembles that of Europe. The Dravidian or aboriginal races of India have always been strong believers in witchcraft, and it is possible that here we have an example of the mythic influence of a conquered people. They are, however, extremely reticent regarding any knowledge they possess of it. It is practically confined to them, and this might lead to the hasty supposition that the Aryan races of India possess no witchcraft of their own. But this is strongly unlikely, and the truth probably lies quite in the other direction; however, the extraordinarily high demands made upon the popular religious sense by Brahmanism probably crushed the superstitions of the lower cultus of a very early period, and confined the practice of minor sorcery to the lower castes, who were of course of Dravidian or aboriginal blood. We find witchcraft most prevalent among the more isolated and least advanced races, like the Kols, Bhils, and Santals. The nomadic peoples are also strong believers in sorcery, one of the most dreaded forms of which is the Jigar Khor, or liver-eater, of whom Abul Fazl says:— •' One of this class can steal away the liver of another by looks and incantations. Other accounts say that by looking at a person he deprives him of his senses, and then steals from him something resembling the seed of a pomegranate, which he hides in the calf of his leg ; after being swelled by the fire, he distributes it among his fellows to be eaten, which ceremony concludes the life of the fascinated person. A Jigar Khor is able to communicate his art to another by teaching him incantations, and by making him eat a bit of the liver cake. These Jigar Khors are mostly women. It is said they can bring intelligence from a long distance in a short space of time, and if they are thrown inta a river with a stone tied to them, they nevertheless will not sink. In order to decrive any one of this wicked power, they brand his temples and every joint of his body, cram his eyes with salt, suspend him for forty days in a subterranean chamber, and repeat over him certain incantations." The witch does not, however, devour the man's liver for two and a half days, and even if she has eaten it, and is put under the hands of an exorciser, she can be forced to substitute a liver of some animal in the body of the man whom she victimised. We also hear tales of witches taking out the entrails of people, sucking them, and then replacing them. AH this undoubtedly illustrates, as in ancient France and Germany, and probably also in the Slavonic countries, the original combination of witch and vampire; how, in fact, the two were one and the same. In India the arch-witch Ralaratri, or '• black night " has the joined eyebrows of the Salvonic werewolf or vampire, large cheeks, widely-parted lips, projecting teeth, and is a veritable vampire. But she also possesses the powers of ordinary witchcraft,—second-sight, the making of philtres, the control of tempests, the evil eye, and so forth. Witches also take animal forms, especially those of tigers; and stories of trials are related at which natives gave evidence that they had tracked certain tigers to their lairs, which upon entering they had found tenanted by a a notorious witch or wizard. For such witch-tigers the usual remedy is to knock out their teeth to prevent their doing any more mischief. Strangely enough the Indian witch, like her European prototype, is very often accompanied by a cat. The cat, say the jungle people, is aunt to the tiger, and taught him everthing but how to climb a tree. Zalim Sinh, the famous regent of Kota, believed that cats were associated with witches, and imagining himself enchanted ordered that every cat should be expelled from his province.

As in Europe, witches are known by certain marks. They are believed to learn the secrets of their craft by eating offal of all kinds. The popular belief concerning them is that they are often very handsome and neat, and invariably apply a clear line of red lead to the parting of their hair. They are popularly accused of exhuming dead children, and bringing them to life to serve occult purposes of their own. They cannot die so long as they are witches, and until, as in Italy, they can pass on their knowledge of witchcraft to someone else. They recite charms backwards, repeating two letters and a half from a verse in the Koran. If a certain charm is repeated " forwards," the person employing it will become invisible to his neighbour, but if he repeats it backwards, he will assume whatever shape he chooses. A witch can acquire power over her victim by getting possession of a lock of hair, the paring of nails, or some other part of his body, such as a tooth. For this reason natives of India are extremely careful about the disposal of such, burying them in the earth in a'place covered with grass, or in the neighbourhood of water, which witches universally dislike. Some people even fling the cuttings of their hair into running water. Like the witches of Europe too, they are in the practice of making images of persons out of wax, dough, or similar substances, and torturing- them, with the idea that the pain will be felt by the person whom they desire to injure. In India the witches' familiar is known as Bir or the " hero," who aids her to inflict injury upon human beings. The power of the witch is greatest on the 14th, 15th and agth of each month, and in particular on the Feast of Lamps, and the Festival of Durga.
Witches are often severely punished amongst the isolated hill-folk and a diabolical ingenuity is shown in torturing them. To nullify their evil influence, they are beaten with rods of the castor-oil plant and usually die in the process. They are often forced to drink filthy water used by curriers in the process of their work, or their noses are cut off, or they are put to death. As has been said, their teeth are often knocked out, their heads shaved and offal is thrown at them. In the case of women their heads are shaved and their hair is attached to a tree in some public place. They are also branded; have a ploughshare tied to their legs ; and made to drink the water of a tannery. During the Mutiny, when British authority was relaxed, the most atrocious horrors were inflicted upon witches and sorcerers by the Dravidian people. Pounded chilli peppers were placed in their eyes to see if they would bring tears, and the wretched beings were suspended from a tree head downwards, being swung violently from side to side. They were then forced to drink the blood of a goat, and to exorcise the evil spirits that they had caused to enter the bodies of certain sick persons. The mutilations and cruelties practised on them are such as will not bear repetition, but one of the favourite ways of counteracting the spells of a witch is to draw blood from her, and the local priest will often prick the tongue of the witch with a needle, and place the resulting blood on some rice and compel her to eat it.



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