The unknown, the unexplainable has always aroused fears in man. This is were the occult fills the bill. For many people in India ( most of the time illiterate people), magic and superstition serve as a ready substitute for knowledge ( unless it is another interpretation of rationality). Even today, the occult is an integral part of the rural conception, especially in backward areas.
Many strange occurences are believed to result from the occult : involuntary singing, compulsive undressing and even young women being lured by the sorcerers for sexual pleasures, huts aflame, appearing of marks on the body,…In rural India, every village has its sorcerers. For fears of occult reprisals, villagers refuse to identify them, but every village has also some exorcists to tackle the evils of sorcery or black magic, to remedy common ailments and treat those possessed by evil spirits.
In towns, sorcerers are believed to live in cremation grounds which are supposed to be haunted by the spirits of the dead and “kacha kalwa”, the spirits of children buried there. ( Infants are buried in India, not cremated.) The “evil eye” is so dreaded that mothers are always cautious about protecting their children against women who are barren and who might cut a piece of the dress or a lock of hair of a child in order to conceive. It is commonly believed that if this device works and the woman conceives, she does so at the cost of the life of the child on whom her “evil eye” was cast. Crossroads or squares are supposed to be influenced by ghosts and witches and it is at the centre of such crossings that certain offerings are made in twilight or at midnight to ward off evil spirits.
Most hindus believe the ashes of the deceased must be immersed in some sacred river and until this is done, the spirit of the dead haunts his earthly attachments. Among the Bhil, the largest Indian tribe, witchcraft is religion. At the “katha” ( death commemoration), the Bhil witch doctor dominates the scene in order to rid the surroundings of evil spirits. Indeed, the spirit of the deceased is supposed to enter his body and through him demand whatever it desires.
Charms and amulets are prepared by traditional healers to protect the people, particularly the children, but also the domestic animals, cars, houses,… Prayers to particular gods and goddesses are offered for the recovery of those ill.