Belief in magic is so ingrained in Southeast Asian society that you don’t need to look far to find it. Trust in the healing powers of magic has its roots in antiquity. Before the dawn of modern medicine, ‘healers’ were sought to fix all kinds of ills. Today, faith healers are sought for more specific reasons – moving from simple health cures to warding off bad luck and satiating darker desires.
Black magic in Southeast Asia has a more nefarious intent and is often fuelled by all that glitters. Lust for power and control – these are the evil twin desires that drive people to the doors of a dukun, bomoh or ‘master’.
POWER AND DOMINANCE
The measure of a man is his use of power. People don’t like to talk about the darker side of magic in the region; in fact, those who dabble in black magic guard their identities zealously. After all, these are people who often want harm and woe to befall others, so they hide in the shadows.
And what about those who feel they are the target of spells and charms? Who would they turn to? Like Jedis to the Sith Lords, ‘white magic’ practitioners work hard to dispel the maledictions brought on by the black magic masters. “Human beings are selfish by nature, and envious of other people’s wealth,” explains Sifu Alan Wan, a Taoist master.
Without his robes, Wan looks like any ordinary paunchy middle-aged ‘uncle’ you would meet on the streets. “Someone who covets another person’s wealth, and is obsessed with getting his hands on it, may be drawn to a master who can help him realise his evil ambitions,” says Wan, who has 30 years of experience as a healer. “Evil attracts evil; the more evil the intentions, the more they will gravitate towards a master who has no qualms about delving into the darkest recesses of black magic.”
“There will always be people who want quick money without having to work for it. They believe strongly in mystical and spiritual powers, so they are drawn to black magic,” says Sheikh Zahurin, a Singaporean self-proclaimed exorcist and demonologist. “Then there are those who want to be influential, respected, and highly regarded – and they want it instantly.”
Zahurin brought up the case of rising Pahang politician Datuk Mazlan Idris who met a gruesome death in the hands of bomoh couple Mona Fandey and her husband Mohd Affandi Abdul Rahman. Mazlan had sought the couple’s help to fast-track his career. Instead he ended up dead, his remains chopped into 18 pieces. His sensational murder gripped the nation back in 1993.
Zahurin was dressed in his ‘normal exorcism attire’ – a pair of trousers, t-shirt, blazer, and his signature cowboy hat. No bells and whistles here, just a man who exorcises jinn on a daily basis. Zahurin gets many calls to perform exorcism, but he would only proceed when there is an actual possession. “Someone once called me and asked if a cockroach they found in their house was actually a jinn. I said no and hung up.”
SPELLS AND RITUALS
Standing at the altar of his temple in Subang, Selangor, Sifu Wan demonstrated the various spells that are commonly requested. The first is the love spell – how to turn unrequited love into mutual attraction. “This spell is called the ‘love spell with a toad’. It originates from Thailand,” says Wan.
Dressed in his yellow ceremonial tunic, Wan lit a few candles. He took out six frogs from a bag, maggots from a plastic container, and began chanting. The ritual calls for ‘nasi kangkang’ (menstrual blood poured over rice). For this demonstration, Wan substituted the blood with strawberry Fanta and water.
He held the frogs by their legs and gently rubbed them against one another. He took out a paper cut-out of a girl’s face (to represent the intended target), rolled up the cut-out, and pushed it into the mouth of a frog. “At least once a day, the target will feel compelled to seek out the person who commissioned the spell. They will even be willing to give money to the person. Their lives will become interlocked and the spell-buyer will have control over the target’s free will,” explains Wan.
Another popular spell is one where someone wants to ruin another’s business. This spell is usually requested by business rivals who want to put their competitors out of business.
In Singapore, longstanding business rivalry between two adjacent restaurants came to a head when one owner accused the other of using the occult to cast a curse over his premises. He produced a CCTV clip to show a worker from the next door eatery, sprinkling an unknown substance in front of the shuttered premises of his restaurant.
“This type of spell requires a few main components: fresh sand from the ocean, ashes of a human bone, and dead body oil,” Wan explains. “Dead body oil is commonly used in black magic spells. It is typically obtained from the chin of a dead person.” Wan did not elaborate how one gets the olein. “After this spell is cast and spread, the targeted business will start to encounter problems. Potential customers will walk by without seeing the outlet. If customers do go in, even if the food is good, they will not enjoy it and they will leave.”
A lock of hair fashioned into a doll used in black magic spells.
A CAUTIONARY TALE
As the saying goes, “He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon”. Dabbling in the dark arts is perilous, no doubt about it. “In the long run, they will lose everything they got through black magic as quickly as they gained it. This is because they had not obtained those items through proper channels,” cautions Wan. “The consequences of the master’s actions will also be felt down the generations. This is why many masters do not have a family; if they have no descendants, they need not fear the repercussions.”
“The perpetrators will often suffer at the hands of the very master they sought help from,” says Zahurin, talking from experience. “The master will send his jinn to disturb past customers, who will then think their victims are attacking them. They begin to feel paranoid and start seeing things that force them to return to the master for help. They will never be at peace.” As for the masters, Zahurin tells us that it is believed that when the master is close to death, “the jinn will come to consume his body.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT MONEY
Black magic is lucrative business and it is money that drives the masters to a life of serving the Devil. Zahurin tells us, “For grade A black magic, you need to invest over US$1,300 minimum.” This may not sound much, but do bear in mind that it’s never just one visit. The master will find ways to squeeze more money out of a client. “If you want more authentic masters, you go to Indonesia or Malaysia. It’s very expensive in Singapore,” says Zahurin. Indonesia’s high profile dukun Ki Joko Bodo has appeared on television telling the world about his lavish lifestyle, his various properties and fleet of cars.
Most of the items used in black magic come from dead bodies: dead body oil and scrapings from the tongue of a dead person, the procurement of which may be illegal. This jacks up prices. It was reported in South China Morning Post that a man arrested in Thailand for trafficking grilled foetuses for black magic purposes, boasted that he once sold a gold wrapped foetus for over US$920,000. Black magic runs on money, and at the end of the day, it just goes to show that money is again the root of all evil.