SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
IV. THE MALAY CHARM
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
The charm may require to be supplemented by contagious and by homÏopathic 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 heart!
The arrow winged with longing, barbed with love, whose shaft is undeviating desire, with that well−aimed Kama
shall pierce thee in the heart!
With that well−aimed arrow of Kama which parches the spleen, whose plume flies forward, which burns up, do I
pierce thee in the heart!
Consumed by burning ardour, with parched mouth, come to me woman, pliant, thy pride laid aside, mine alone,
speaking sweetly and to me devoted!
I drive thee with a goad from thy mother and thy father, so that thou shalt be in my power, shalt come up to my
All her thoughts do ye, O Mitra and Varuna, drive out of her. Then having deprived her of her will put her into my
Now turn to the modern Malay equivalent:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Burn, burn, sand and earth!
I burn the heart of my beloved
And my fire is the arrow of Arjuna!
If I burnt a mountain, it wouldfall;
If I burnt rock, it would split asunder.
I am burning the heart of my beloved,
So that she is broken and hot with love,
That giveth her no rest night or day,
Burning ever as this sand burns.
Let her cease to love parents and friends!
If she sleeps, awaken her!
If she awakes, cause her to rise and come
Yielding herself unto me,
Devoid of shame and discretion!
By virtue of the poison of Arjuna's arrow,
By virtue of the invocation,
"There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet."
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
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 rock−splitting lightning is my voice!
Michael is with me!
In virtue of my use of this charm
To make heavy and lock,
I lock the hearts of all my adversaries,
I make dumb their tongues,
I lock their mouths,
I tie their hands,
I fetter their feet.
Not till rock moves
Shall their hearts be moved;
Not till earth my mother moves
Shall their hearts be moved.
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,
In the morning Lord of Fortune,
At mid−day Lord of the World,
At evening Lord of the Evening Light:
In the high forest thy name is the Leafy Orchid,
In mid plain, the Flat One,
In the rivulet, the Flowing One,
In the spring, the Trickler.
Like the Brahmin, the Malay magician will exhaust a series of possibilities, expelling disease from
Skin and bone and joint and vein,
Flesh, blood, heart, spleen, racked with pain;
Genies of the mountains return to the mountains!
Genies of the hills return to the hills!
Genies of the plain return to the plain!
Genies of the forest return to the forest!
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,
From a drop of dew descended!
From the water whence eternal
Life comes−that it's source of being.
The trapper addresses genies −
I know the source of you, genies!
From the mangrove leaves ye were sprung!
One soared into the sky and became the green genies.
One fell at the gate of the forest and became the black genies!
One fell in the sea and became the white genies!
Sometimes an absurdly base origin is purposely assigned, as in a charm against tigers:−
Ho tiger! I know your origin!
Your mother, tiger, was a toad!
On the plains of Syria you were begotten!
The Malay magician under Indian influence threatens and commands, though he is apt to disclaim
Take this bait, crocodile,
A cake of yellow rice
The gift of thy sister Fatimah!
If thou takest it not,
Thou shalt be cursed by her,
Obey my words, trapped elephant!
If thou obeyest not,
Thou wilt be killed by Sri Rama.
If thou obeyest,
The Great Rishis will keep thee alive.
In a charm to weaken a rival the Malay boasts:−
It is not on the earth that I tread!
I tread on the heads of all living things.
In a charm against a thunderstorm he outroars the tempest:−
Om! Virgin goddess, Mahadewi! Om!
Cub am I of mighty tiger!
'Ali's line through me descends!
My voice is the rumble of thunder,
Whose bolts strike a path for my seeing;
Forked lightning's the flash of my weapons!
I move not till earth moves!
I rock not till earth rocks!
I quake not till earth quakes,
Firm set as earth's axis.
By virtue of my charm got from 'Ali
And of Islam's confession of faith.
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!
My eyes are the star of dawn!
My body is as that of a tusker!
My prop is a fierce tiger!
My seat is a ravening crocodile!
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' eye
With the image in the pupil of my own!
If thou lookest not upon me,
May thy eyeballs burst!
Genies of supernatural power!
Your home is at the navel of the sea,
By the tree on the broken rock!
Enter not the line drawn by my teacher!
Else will I curse ye with the words,
"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet."
Om! I neutralise all evil,
O Solomon! In the name of God.
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!
I fry sand from the foot−print of my beloved;
Nay, I fry her heart and liver
Night and day, as this sand is fried.
"Let it be," says God.
"And it is so," says Muhammad, His Apostle.
Let her body itch with desire
Giving her no rest from longing for me.
"And it is so," says Gabriel.
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
And a corpse move in the grave,
Only then shall my lover's desire move to another.
The desire of his heart shall be only for me;
Straying now hither he shall be my mate unto death,
Safe near me like a corpse in the grave.
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!
Earth was made from a clod rom Paradise,
Water from a river of Paradise,
Fire from the smoke of Hell,
Air from the four elements.
Skin and hair, flesh and blood,
Bones and sinews, life and seed
Came from four elements of sperm.
Skin and hair were created by Gabriel,
Flesh and blood by Michael,
Bones and sinews by Israfil,
Life and seed by 'Azrail!
Where is this genie lodging and taking shelter?
Where is he lodging and crouching?
Genie! if thou art in the feet of this patient,
Know that these feet are moved by Allah and His Prophet;
If thou art in the belly of this patient,
His belly is God's sea, the sea, too, of Muhammad.
If thou art in his hands,
His hands pay homage to God and His Prophet.
If thou art in his liver, It is the secret place of God and His Prophet!
If thou art in his heart,
His heart is Abu Bakar's palace.
If thou art in his lungs,
His lungs are 'Omar's palace.
If thou art in his spleen,
His spleen is 'Usman's palace.
If thou art in his gall−bladder,
His gall−bladder is 'Ali's palace.
The heart, the lung, the spleen, the gall−bladder
Are the homestead of life,
Not the homestead of genie or Iblis,
Not the homestead of sickness or suffering.
Ho there, genie! thy origin was from the tonguelike fumes of smokeless hell.
I know thy origin,
The name o thy father, thy mother, and of thy child.