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6/27/08 – Wow! I continue to gradually move through my journal, from the summer of 2008, and I am pleasantly surprised when I come upon these treasures. We were very fortunate on this particular journey – seeing several things which only locals would have access to – or that devoted Buddhists might glimpse or request. This day was one of those special occasions.
We walked all around and through the back alleys of Leh, making some of us wonder if we had gotten lost. But that was not the case, after crossing numerous little streams (on tiny concrete bridges) and wandering down walled alleys, we made it to the oracle’s house. We arrived early on purpose. There were 16 of us plus the guide – so 16 “Injies” or westerners. The front room, where the oracle and her assistant were busily setting up the shrine (they were not possessed yet), was seriously, 16 ft by 12 ft tops. We were a little cramped in there ourselves. Just to be clear, this was not a large room!
The oracle and her assistant had a strong, confident glint in their eyes. [See note below.] They were setting up the small shrine with water bowls, coins, paper money, flowers and tea. Local Ladakhis started to join us as the time grew near. Remember, we were already feeling a little crowded… heh, well that was nothing. By the time the oracle and her assistant became possessed, there were easily 30 plus people in the room with a dozen more waiting outside. I was practically sitting on someone’s lap.
The oracle and assistant went outside for some reason, and it turned out, that they become possessed outside and then come in the room. We could tell something had happened because they came in making many unusual noises – hiccups, guttural growls, whistles and high-pitched moans. The assistant (apprentice) started hitting herself in the back, a ritual that would repeat later on, shaking and then both apprentice and oracle started chanting / singing. They sang praises to Guru Rinpoche and to Bakula Rangdrol Nyima Rinpoche (? I have this written in my journal, not sure why. See previous post regarding this lama.) The head oracle put two khatas on her head, then a five-pointed crown, a sash and an additional apron.
Then the head oracle turned to us and started answering questions. We had been prepped ahead of time and we came prepared with one burning question each (some people refrained from asking anything). Someone said the locals might ask, “where is my yak?” But we asked questions about our Western lives – relationships, business, emotional process, etc. The oracle would put rice on her drum and then shift it around, doing a divination of sorts and then tell us what she saw / heard.
Because Ladakhi is similar to Tibetan, I could understand a tiny bit of it, and another translator who was on the pilgrimage understood it better. The oracle answered my question about putting a lot of effort into my business in the fall, ending with, “Bey yak po du! Bey yak po du.” Meaning in Tibetan – very, very good / beneficial. But when our guide was translating what she had said later, he did not say those words at all. I was curious if there was something lost in the translation (there had after all, been at least half an hour between her answering and his regurgitating those answers).
After all the questions had been asked – by the locals and by us, the oracle then asked if anyone was in need of healing. This was the bizarre part, as if it could get any stranger! Someone (a Ladakhi) approached the oracle and pointed to her mouth, saying something (probably about a bad tooth or something). The oracle then drank some water and then proceeded to suck, using a wide straw-like tool, on the woman’s cheek and then she (the oracle) spit out this gritty, sandy-looking liquid – it was tan in color. She did this again and then she told the woman that she should see a doctor.
She did this with multiple people. We witnessed about a half dozen healings and then we got up and left. The hallway outside was full of shoes – at least 50 pairs were strewn about. Several people came in to take our spot. As we walked toward downtown Leh, I had the chance to get my wits about me. I realized that I had been in a state of shocked amazement / amusement while in there – probably because we were crammed in like sardines and I had never seen an oracle / shaman become possessed. But we were able to ask questions of our guide and compare notes. If the healing-by-sucking-on-the-straw-and-then-spitting-out-the-gunk was a fraud, none of us could figure out how she was doing it. She would take a drink of clear water from a clear glass jar, suck on the straw and then spit out the sandy goop. Then she repeated this process at least six or seven times without a break.
What was most amazing (to me, as a healing facilitator) is that she only “charged” or asked a donation of 10 rupees for the questions. That is like 25 cents… Wow! Hopefully she charged more for the healings. Not sure. Oh – we were not allowed (politely asked not) to take pictures while we were in there, so unfortunately I don’t have any.
[On a side note, if I had not known better, I might compare that look to someone who in our culture might be diagnosed as having a psychological disorder. But they said that in Ladakh – some psychoses can be used productively. Silver linings to mental health problems! Very curious indeed.]
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