The Sabu Oracle
Jullay (Hello, Goodbye and Thank You) in Ladakhi. It works wonders, especially when repeated over and over again to young Ladakhi villagers. Our stay in Ladakh has been an adventure of amazing sorts, beginning with a slow and painful arrival but we have finally settled in comfortable motion. And now luckily we will have the time to get to know the Ladakhi people on a closer level as we enter into their homes and make way into the everyday life they lead.
Before we set out on an excursion this past weekend, into the farther mountains beyond Ladakh, we visited the local oracle of a village known as Sabu. The following is a story I wrote after the experience. Enjoy.
The Sabu Oracle
We walked into a commonly small-sized room on the outskirts of the city of Leh. There we found a woman at the threshold, chanting to spirits, and swaying back and forth to the sound of her own voice. In the room were mostly Ladakhis, two muslim woman with gypsy dress, an American with a videocamera, a French couple, swarming flies, and the ten of us withstanding Ka Namgial. Immediately we sat with our blessing shawls while Namgial went forth to act as translator and local tie-keeper.
Cassie was the first to pose a question to the Oracle and luckily she recieved a fair response. On the contary, when Emma went forward and asked a rather intimate but universal question, "How will I know when I have met the man that I am going to marry?" The oracle had no remark. Emma remained a bit distressed and at odds with the oracle for she thought that somehow there would be a word or even two. But even the oracle was stumped.
When I went forth it was hard to pay attention to the words I was speaking or the Oracle's response because the aura of the woman and everything hidden inside her was staring straight at me. I managed to ask, "Should I begin a life again in New York City?", wondering if the woman might know whether it was wise to blaze though the maze of the apple or perhaps instead settle in a space more open and a lot less distracting. The Oracle thought it best to return to New York. She then blessed me, and the hopes of what I am still not sure, but I am wishing that it was a blessing of goodness, full of luck, if I do choose to return. And if it were just general luck, this would be gracious too, seeing that out crew will soon set out on a ten-day trek into the mighty, fiercely cold Himalayas and we'll need all the motivation we can rummage.
A final question by our crew was asked by a friend who comfortably recieved a natural answer. This question I will not disclose but if anything, you should know that the Oracle spoke in the simplest of words.
After our questioning ended the young muslim woman, conservatively dressed who had been sitting to the right of me stepped forward. The oracle tied a string around the middle fingers of both hands. The next seven minutes accumulated very fast into what appeared a violent situation.
In actuality the Oracle was trying to rid the young woman of the violence that existed inside her, as she yanked her hair, pulled back her fingers from her hands, and stuffed her face into the incense that caused the woman to tear. The oracle called to the harming spirits that have cursed this woman, spirits made from jealousy and forms of betrayal. The oracle continued to bend the young woman's fingers in all directions and strike her back with a covered dagger. All the time the young woman screeched and howled and wailed. I cringed watching this young woman in all her pain and felt helpless at the thought alone that there was little to do. She resisted what was happening and eventually ran from the room looking extremely distressed. Were the demons cast upon her by a friend released from her body? This is hard to know. Later when she returned "collected", she sat beside me and still looked incredibly helpless. I shot her one glance and turned away not knowing what to do.
The healings ocntinued after this and each person in the room stepped forward to recieve blessings. Another woman with an interesting case of insomnia, had trouble sleeping for the past two years. I later saw this same woman in a German bakery and she looked healthy and rather awake.
The Oracle then faced the right wall and began chanting on her own. I am not sure who exactly she was speaking to at that moment but it is known that she is generally possessed by at least seven different spirits. This chanting grew louder while she used her damaru, the two-sided drum, and chimed her bell with the vajra.
After she offered us raw rice as a future blessing, she undressed her cloak wrapped around her head, and the elaborate costume she was wearing, leaving a very small lady who appeared tired but welcoming. Just a minute ago this woman was possessed by spirits unknown to most human beings and now here she looked as a completely different character.
We left the house with perplexed expressions, each eager to know the reality of what we had just experienced. We learned a bit of history of the Oracle and how she was blessed and greatly approved by His Holiness. She was a chosen Oracle as in every generation of her family past there was usually one member possessed. Her own son had been possessed in some earlier years, but as an already-possessed woman and concerned mother, she wished a different life for him and the son is now driving maxicabs of course.
The woman has spent the last forty years of her life as the Sabu Oracle. Namgial, having spoken with her during a previous project with students explained that she is not necessarily happy in this lifestyle though she has chosen to experiement with the existing spirits. As for my message recieved, I will hold on to it to see if it has an effect in decisions in my later life.
What is clear from this meeting is the beauty of how Ladkhi culture is trying to understand the forces that exist beyond our own control.