Mengwi Ceremony

February 23rd, 2007

Post 2: Ceremony at Mengwi Temple:

This is an account of our next ceremony, the annual birthday celebration of the mother temple of the ancient Mengwi Kingdom. We didn’t take cameras to the ceremony, so I’ve included some other photos of our trip.

Adolf and Arjuna, mythic hero-warrior-spiritual seeker from the Bhagavad Gita:
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Arjuna statue details:
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Arjuna statue details:
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Ceremonial traffic jam:
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Rice paddies from our bedroom window:
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The Mengwi Kingdom was the second largest of the 9 pre-Dutch colonial Balinese kingdoms.
The presiding Deity of this ancient temple is Durga, wife of Shiva, mother of Kali. Our host is Agung Kartiasa, who we met through our friends, Bobbie and Allan Goodman. The Goodmans lead amazing spiritual adventure travel tours to Bali. (You can email them for a flyer about their next Bali tour in June at: allang97@hotmail.com).

We arrive at the family compound in Umabian village and are greeted like royalty. We are shown around the beautiful compound and bungalows.

Agung family compound:
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Agung family shrine:
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Next we are treated to a sumptuous vegetarian dinner of Nasi Campur over looking terraced rice fields. Each dish is served in it’s own banana leaf boat. Our guide, Brata, joins us for dinner. We have a lively conversation about Balinese culture. I comment to Brata on the incredible artistry, craftsmanship and attention to detail I see everywhere in Bali. He explains how the Balinese incorporate the concepts of Karma yoga (the yoga of action) into everything they do.

A carved window:
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Our dinner with Brata:
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In the distance we can see people walking to the temple through the green rice fields, brightly dressed in ceremonial attire. The women, flowers in their hair, balance richly woven baskets on their heads filled with ritual offerings of fruit, rice, incense, and food.

Ritual Offerings being prepared. These are sweet rice cakes:
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After dinner, Brata ties my sarong, adds a sash and hat, and we head to the temple at dusk. The path winds down through the precisely sculpted rice terraces. We are surrounded by the sound of running water and the emerald green rice, glowing in the sunset.

Steep stone steps bring us down to a deep, strongly flowing canal. We’re in the forest now and the air is steamy as shadows gather under the trees. I’m drenched in sweat, even though our pace is relaxed. The narrow, slippery path follows the dike above the canal. A misstep would send me plunging. We approach the temple in the gathering darkness. The sound of chanting and the hypnotic tones of the gamelon orchestra float through the humid night air, dense with spirits .

Entering the threshold of the temple, it seems as though we are stepping back through time. The whole village has turned out. Men and women are sitting or standing in groups. Some of the men are smoking and the air is scented with clove cigarettes and sandalwood incense. Kids are running around laughing. Scruffy dogs sniff the floor, which is covered with discarded ritual offerings of the previous days of preparation; flowers, rice bamboo leaf boxes and multitudes of bamboo and palm-leaf stenciled shapes and woven designs. The atmosphere is relaxed and festive, more like a 4th of July family reunion than a powerful ceremony. The shrines are fully decorated with gold–embroidered fabrics and piled high with offerings; fruit, ornately carved and woven bamboo and palm-leaf designs and incense.

We follow Brata through this maze like chicks following a mother hen. We’re the only foreigners here and I see lots of curious looks, but the eyes are smiling. One of the temple priests, an older man clad simply in white with a white scarf-hat, smiles at me and we pranam. His eyes beam with inner energy. The plainness of the priests garb and demeanor contrasts with the lavish and ornate decorations of the shrines. Yet the priests all radiate a potent spiritual energy.

We find a spot to sit and wait. The first ceremony of the evening is a purification ceremony. Sandals and flip-flops pile high on the threshold as people clamor into the inner temple and sit crowded together on the ground. The shrines are piled high with offerings and lit with fluorescent lights, which contrast strangely with the candle light flickering in the dark recesses deeper in the temple. I watch a gecko chasing moths fluttering around the light and listen to the night sounds of the jungle forest. A priest begins chanting in a deep resonant voice over a loudspeaker, in what sounds like Sanskrit. People hold different colored flowers, offerings or incense in pranamed hands in front of their foreheads, changing them between each prayer. The chanted prayers continue for a long while, ending with “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti Om”. How those words have followed me through my life!

After the prayers the priests mingle through the seated crowd blessing each person with holy water. As I sip the holy water spilled into my palm, I thank the spirits for the opportunity to participate in this event. (And add an extra prayer that the spiritual energy will neutralize any microbes in the water).

After the blessing, people file out to the outer temple to relax and socialize while the gamelon orchestra plays. I learn from Agung that the instruments are tuned to a pentatonic scale. When the music stops, men chant and sing songs from the Ramayana (Hindu epic poem describing the lives, adventures and antics of the Gods) over a loudspeaker. Brata leaves us to take his turn singing.

After a long wait, the dancing begins. The first dance is by the women for the Goddess, Durga. They face the inner temple holding offerings and do slow, trance-like movements, while a priest, also dancing, holds an incense burner billowing with smoke. The smoke floats eerily around the priest and dancing women, diffusing through the stark halogen light into the dark shadows of the shrine, pregnant with unseen energy.

The next dances are for social enjoyment. The dancers wear beautiful costumes of bright colored fabric, richly embroidered with gold. The dancers represent characters from Balinese mythic stories like the Ramayana. Men in brightly painted masks are fierce or cavorting. A masked warrior man points at Tami across the dance floor, zapping her with energy. He then dances over and taking her hand, kisses it lovingly, much to our embarrassment and the delight of the crowd. In other dances, women in long dresses make intricate motions with their hands and wrists.
Next, young girls in ornate costumes and flowers in their hair dance the Legong dance as their mothers watch with proud smiles.

The next ceremony is a procession carrying effigies of the temple Gods around the inner enclosure of the temple. Women carry the effigies on their heads while the people follow, many carrying lit incense.

After the procession we wait for the final meditation at midnight. We’re exhausted and sweating in our hot sarongs. Our bums hurt from sitting on the hard cement. Brata offers to take us back, but we decide to tough it out until the final meditation at midnight.

The evening finally ends at midnight with a meditation to Durga. People again crowd into the inner temple and sit on the stone floor. All lights are extinguished and we sit in silence in the darkness, receiving the blessing of the Divine Mother. In the darkness, surrounded by Balinese people earnestly praying in their ancient temple, the awkward mask of my foreignness falls away, and for a time, I lose myself in the vastness of the jungle night. The meditation ends with another blessing of holy water.

On the long walk back, we’re simultaneously exhausted and buzzing with energy. I’m happy that Brata brought a flashlight to help us negotiate the dark, slippery path and steep stone steps. He casually comments to watch out for the extremely poisonous green snakes. Tami says, “I wish you would have told me that before I went into the forest to go to the bathroom,” So it goes.

February 23rd, 2007

Bali Blog Post 1

January 16th, 2007

We have traveled from the coast inland to Ubud, a small but chaotic town that is a cultural, artistic and spiritual center, as well as a tourist hub crowded with scooters, shops, restaurants, hotels and homestays (which is a family compound where guest rooms have been added). Our homestay has gardens, ponds, and cottage-style rooms with ornately carved doors, columns and walls. There are several rooms built on the edge of a jungle ravine, defying gravity. I could toss a stone from our balcony 200 feet to the creek below.

Path to our room at Ketut’s place:
Path to our room at Ketut's place

Gardens at Ketut’s place:
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We arrive auspiciously during Galungan, a major 10-day festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. It ends with Kunnigan, which our host, Ketut, describes as being like Christmas. Gods and Ancestors are invited to attend. People spend it with their families. It reminds me of Dias de los Muertos. Ketut invites us to celebrate with his family in their family temple. The preparations have been going on for days. The main altar is piled high with ornate offerings of food, many different fruits, sweet and savory baked goods, and flowers in woven bamboo baskets. Complexly designed hangings fashioned from palm leaves adorn the altar.

Main Altar, family temple:
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Offerings on the main altar:
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The shrines in the temple are decorated with beautiful gold-embroidered fabrics that Ketut says are only for this ceremony and will go back into a box for another year after it’s done. It reminds of Western rituals of decorating Christmas trees and putting up lights.

Shrines in family temple:
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We go shopping at the local open-air market for sarongs for the ceremony (sarongs are required for men and women at all temples). By the time we reach the market, we’re sweating profusely in the thick tropical heat. I feel like a dish sponge dipped in hot water.

The day of the ceremony, I am awakened at dawn by heavy rain. When the morning sun rises, the jungle ravine off our balcony is covered with mist. As the equatorial sun climbs higher, the mist burns off and the air becomes torpid with humidity. Before the ceremony, I’m intensely nervous, as I fumble with my sarong. Will I make a mistake and offend our host, or worse, the presiding deities? Will the Gods and Spirits of Bali accept or reject me? This is a pivotal point in our quest.

We walk from our room to the family temple. Ketut is smiling and relaxed. He points to my sarong and says, laughing, “woman way”. He reties it, adds a sash and scarf-like hat, and invites us to cross the threshold into the temple.

Temple threshold:
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An older, priest-like man clad simply in white sits on the bare concrete floor in front of the central shrine. He is praying silently, a lit incense stick held between his pranamed hands. Offerings and a bowl of holy water are arranged on the floor in front of him at the base of a shrine. Ketut motions us to sit on two stools (they had anticipated our Western discomfort at sitting on the ground). I am relieved to see an Australian woman sitting on a third stool. We chat for a few minutes. She is a medical doctor from Perth. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual and I feel myself relaxing. It feels more like being invited to celebrate Christmas at someone’s home than a major ceremony, only all the presents are for the God’s and Ancestors. People come and go, chatting amongst themselves, seemingly ignoring the old man praying. The women are gaily dressed in colorful sarongs and lacy shirts, flowers in their hair. The men are dressed mostly in white, with sarongs, sashes and white scarf-hats. After a long while, the old man gets up, surprisingly supple, and is replaced by three men and two boys. When they are finished praying, it’s our turn. Ketut hands us lit incense sticks and motions for us to sit in front of the shrine. “Ask for good luck and blessings from the God, and for a good trip in Bali.” I’m painfully aware of my stiffness and difficulty sitting on the ground. As I pray, I feel warmth and energy flowing through my body, especially my hands holding the incense. We have been accepted! During our meditation, Tami sees a festive crowd of ancestors laughing and talking, enjoying the offerings and the opportunity to commune with their families.

Ketut’s daughter:
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After leaving Ketut’s place we pass a procession of a dancing Barong, (a lion-like mythological creature), followed by a gamelan orchestra and a crowd of young men. The procession will dance its way around Ubud for the remainder of the day, stopping to bless each family compound for the coming year. We catch the procession again later that night on the main road. It has now gathered hundreds of people and additional representations of gods, which they dance on the way to the temple to finish the ceremony around midnight in the main temple.

Barong procession:
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Love and Blessings from Bali, Adolf and Tami

Casa Dom Ignacio, Brazil

May 23rd, 2006

Spiritual Adventure Travel Log of Adolf M. Brown, D.C. and Tami Johnson-Brown
May 20, 2006. Abadiania, Brazil
Casa Dom Ignacio, the healing center of Joao de Deus (John of God).
It’s hard to write about what happens here in Abadiania because so much of it happens on spiritual levels and, seemingly, so little happens on the physical level. Joao de Teixeira da Faria, known as Joao de Deus (John of God) began his healing mission at the age of 16. A tailor by trade, Joao was very poor and uneducated, having only attended school for two years. He was traveling from town to town looking for work, and hadn’t eaten in days, when walking beside a river, a beautiful spirit woman dressed in blue appeared before him. She src=”httshared with him many things from the spiritual world, and told him to go to a certain house in the nearby town. When he arrived there, he was told that they had been waiting for him, that it was a Spiritist center and he was there to heal people. He fell into a spontaneous trance, incorporated a spiritual entity, and healed dozens of people. Rebellious by nature, Joao rejected his spiritual calling at first, but gradually accepted it, traveling from town to town healing thousands of people. Due to the political and cultural climate at the time, Joao was persecuted for his work for many years, especially by the medical establishment. He was jailed, beaten, tried and repeatedly run out of towns, but he persisted, and finally won a decisive court battle that enabled to practice his healing work. Guided by the spiritual entities he incorporates, he founded the casa Dom Ignacio (named after it’s patron saint) twenty-seven years ago in the small town of Abadiania. Abadiania is located in the state of Goias, in North-central Brazil, two hours by car from the capitol city of Brasilia. Abadiania was chosen because of the unique earth energies here (it is said the casa is build over giant subterranean crystal beds). Since then he has ministered to tens of thousands of people from all over Brazil and the world, effecting cures of many grave maladies that other health professionals claimed hopeless. He charges no money for his work and many poor Brazilians come to him who can’t afford other forms of medical care.

Joao is a full trance medium, meaning that he goes into trance and incorporates a spiritual entity who takes over his body and does the healing work. When Joao awakes from his trance, he remembers nothing of what transpired. Some of his most outwardly dramatic healings are the physical surgeries; he removes all manor of tumors with minor surgeries, cures cataracts and other eye conditions by scraping the eyeball with a paring knife, and performs over 30 surgeries by shoving a hemostat up the nose remarkably deep into the sinus cavities and twirling it! The only antiseptic used is holy water and anesthesia is effected spiritually. Few people feel much if any pain. Due to the accelerated energy at the casa, the surgical incisions heal rapidly and people report wounds healing in front of their eyes. The surgeries are performed publicly and most are videotaped. Most people elect to have non-physical, or “invisible” surgeries (duh), which are said to be equally effective. The entities Joao incorporates often prescribe herbs, which is a simple passion flower preparation specifically charged by the entities for each individual. The other common prescription is “sit in current”. In the room where Joao works there are about 200 chairs were people sit to meditate in the current of healing energy generated by the entities. This is where much of the healing occurs. The Casa is based on a Spiritist model which maintains that in helping others, we help effect our own cures. People sitting in current are asked to help “hold the energy” for everyone receiving healing. In addition to people seeking healing or spiritual uplifting, up to 50 casa mediums meditate to hold the energy, keeping a strong spiritual vibration to help the entity work. The Casa Dom Ignacio is considered a spiritual hospital; at any one time there are thousands of helping spirits present, from doctors and nurses to ascended masters. Joao frequently incorporates an entity known as Dr. Augusto, a medical doctor. He also incorporates Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, Franciso (Chico) Xavier (a well-known Brazilian medium), King Solomon and many others.

Although he has a remarkable track record, Joao doesn’t physically cure everyone who comes to him, but (more importantly) everyone who comes to him has the opportunity for profound spiritual healing. Physical miracles happen here on a daily basis, but what is most profound are the spiritual transformations that take place.

Next time: personal stories from the casa, and energy orbs, a unique Abadiania photographic phenomenon.

For more information:
www.friendsofthecasa.org
Books: “The Miracle Man” by Robert Pellegrino
“Spiritual Alliances” by Emma Bragdon
“The Book of Miracles” by Josie Ravenwing
Film Documentaries on John of God: ABC Primetime
Discovery Channel
Irish television

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