THERE are three words used by Malays for incantation or charm, two of them Sanskrit (jampi; mantra), the other the Arabic word for prayer (do'a). Charms are employed in agricultural operations, by fishermen, hunters, fowlers and trappers; to abduct or recall the soul; to revive ore in a mine or a patient on a bed of sickness; against cramp, poison, snakebite, enemies, vampires, evil spirits; at birth and at teeth-filing; to save men from tigers, and crops from rats and boars and insect pests; for beauty, virility, love; to weaken a rival in a race or in a fight; to divert a bullet or break a weapon as it is being drawn.
A Malay charm may form part of a primitive ritual, like that of the rice-year, conducted by a skilled magician. It may be merely recited on an appropriate occasion by any layman who has learnt it. One may buy the words of a love-charm, for example, from an expert "for three dollars, three yards of white cloth, cotton and thread, limes and salt, areca-nut, and betel-vine," or for "limes and salt, three small coins, five yards of white cloth and a needle."
The charm may require to be supplemented by contagious and by homopathic or mimetic magic. Sand from the foot-print of the woman loved, earth from the graves of a man and woman, the hair-like filaments of bamboo, black pepper: these are often steamed in a pot while a love-charm is being recited. Another method is to "take a lime, pierce it with the midrib of a fallen coconut palm, leaving one finger's length sticking out on either side whereby to hang the lime. Hang it up with thread of seven colours, leaving the thread also hanging loose an inch below the lime. Take seven sharpened midribs and stick them into the lime, leaving two fingers' length projecting. The sticking of the midrib into the lime is to symbolise piercing the heart and liver and life and soul and gall of the beloved. Put jasmine on the end of the midrib skewers. Do this first on Monday night, for three nights, and then on Friday night. Imagine you pierce the girl's heart as you pierce the lime. Recite the accompanying charm three or seven times, swinging the lime each time you recite the words and fumigating it with incense. Do this five times a day and five times a night in a private place where no one shall enter or sleep." A woman recites a charm for beauty over the water in which she bathes or over the coconut oil with which she anoints her hair.
Sometimes the Malay appears to be indebted to India for a charm and to have forgotten or purposely omitted the accompanying ritual. In the Atharva-Veda there is an incantation to arouse the passionate love of a woman:
May love, the disquieter, disquiet thee; do not hold
out upon thy bed. With the terrible arrow of Kama I pierce thee in the
Now turn to the modern Malay equivalent:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
The Malay lover only talks of Arjuna's arrow. But the Hindu lover pierced the heart of a clay effigy by means of a bow with a hempen string carrying an arrow whose barb was a thorn and whose plume was plucked from an owl.
Even in Vedic times, however, often no ritual was required and the mere recital of the verbal charm sufficed. A Hindu would mutter in the presence of a hostile witness:--"I take away the speech in thy mouth, I take away the speech in thy heart. Wherever thy speech is I take it away. What I say is true. Fall down inferior to me." So, too, the Malay today without any ritual recites:--"O God! let the world be blind, the universe deaf, the earth stretched out dumb; closed and locked be the desire of my enemy"; or he whispers,
Om! king of genies!
The voice of the Malay animist is heard in the charm calling the corn-baby to her embroidered cradle, or in the sailor's invocation for a breeze: "Come, wind, loose your long flowing tresses," or in the Perak raftsman's address to the spirit of a perilous rapid:--"Accept this offering, granddam! Send our raft safe through the long rapid, we beseech thee! Cause us no harm in mid journey. Open like the uncurling blossom of the palm! Open like a snake that uncoils." But it is not in many incantations that the Malay roars thus "gently as any sucking dove."
Most of his charms bear all the characteristic marks of the Indian mantra. They must be kept secret. They are in rude metrical form. Many are a mixture of prayer and spell. Numerous spirits are generally invoked so that the particular spirit whose help is wanted or whose malevolence is to be baulked shall not escape mention. And as knowledge of a man's name will give another power over him, so it is sought to influence and control a spirit by enumerating his various names. 'Take an address to the Earth-Spirit:--
At daybreak thou art called Lord of the Sun-Ray,
Like the Brahmin, the Malay magician will exhaust a series of possibilities, expelling disease from
Skin and bone and joint and vein,
Genies of the mountains return to the mountains!
For the Malay, too, as for the Hindu the origin of a thing or spirit gives magical control over them. In the Atharva-Veda the mention of the names of the father and mother of a plant, for example, is a typical part of a magic formula. Incense is hailed by the Malay magician as a product of the brain of Muhammad, "its smoke the breath of his spiritual life."
It came down from Allah's presence,
The trapper addresses genies -
I know the source of you, genies!
Sometimes an absurdly base origin is purposely assigned, as in a charm against tigers:--
Ho tiger! I know your origin!
The Malay magician under Indian influence threatens and commands, though he is apt to disclaim responsibility:--
Take this bait, crocodile,
Obey my words, trapped elephant!
In a charm to weaken a rival the Malay boasts:--
It is not on the earth that I tread!
In a charm against a thunderstorm he outroars the tempest:--
Om! Virgin goddess, Mahadewi! Om!
To frighten and capture a male elephant the hunter stands on one leg at sunrise and vaunts his prowess:--
My countenance is the light of breaking day!
Sitting on the skin of a tiger was supposed by Hindus to give invisible strength. But these daring assumptions of power were very far from the mind of the primitive animist, who addressed all things in heaven and earth with courtesy and deference.
In Malay as in Hindu charms the curse plays a weighty part:--
I would wed the image in the pupil of my mistress'
Genies of supernatural power!
The mystic Om, symbolical of the Hindu triad, Vishnu, Siva, and Brahma, still remains a word of power with this Muslim magician, though almost supplanted by the Arabic kun, "Let it be," the creative word of Allah:--
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Islam, coming first from India, introduced the Malay to a wide field of fresh magic. A woman desiring the love of a man gets the following charm written down, wrapped in cerements that have covered the face of a male corpse, and buried where her lover is bound to step. The charm is interesting, because so, too, the Moroccan bride will pray to Allah and the Prophet and Fatimah that her husband may "be fond of her as the dead is fond of his grave"; and Syro-Christian charms (which appear to have influenced early Islam) invoke the Father and the Son to bind the tongues of false witnesses and the navel of the newly-born child as "the ox in the yoke, the dead in the grave." The Malay charm runs as follows:--
If Muhammad can be sundered from Allah
The Muslim element in Malay magic will form the subject of a separate chapter. But the final evolution of the spoken charm in the Malay vernacular may be illustrated here by the incantation whereby the Kelantan shaman exorcises the demon of disease at a séance:--
O universe, the world of Adam!
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