Initiation into Witchcraft

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

When girls are initiated into witchcraft they are taken away by force and made to lead tigers about. This makes them fearless. They are then taken to all the most powerful bongas in succession; and are taught to invoke them, as school boys are taught lessons, and to become possessed (rum). They are also taught mantras and songs and by degrees they cease to be afraid. The novice is made to come out of the house with a lamp in her hand and a broom tied round her waist; she is then conducted to the great bongas one of whom approves of her and when all have agreed she is married to that bonga. The bonga pays the usual brideprice and applies sindur to her forehead. After this she can also marry a man in the usual way and he also pays the bride price. When a girl has learnt everything she is made to take her degree (sid atang) by taking out a man’s liver and cooking it with rice in a new pot; then she and the young woman who is initiating her, eat the feast together; a woman who has once eaten such a stew is completely proficient and can never forget what she has learnt.

This is the way in which girls learn witchcraft; and if any girl refuses to take the final step and will not eat men she is caused to go mad or die. Those however who have once eaten men have a craving for it.

Generally it is only women who are witches; but there are men who have learnt witchcraft and there are others who without being initiated have kept company with witches. For instance in Simra village there is Chortha who was once a servant of the Parganna. He says that the Parganna’s wife used to take him out with her at night. The women used to sacrifice fowls and goats and make him skin them and cut them up: he had then to roast cakes of the flesh and give them to the Parganna’s wife who distributed them among the other women.

Sometimes also witches take a man with them to their meetings to beat the drum: and sometimes if a man is very much in love with a girl he is allowed to go with them and is taught witchcraft. For instance there was a man who had a family of daughters and no son and so he engaged a man servant by the year to work for him.

After being some years in service this man servant one night was for some reason unusually late in letting the buffaloes out to graze, and while doing so he saw all the women of the household assembled out of doors; they came up to him and told him not to be afraid and promised to do him no harm provided he told no one what he had seen. Two or three days later the young women of the house invited him to go to a witches’ meeting. He went but felt rather frightened the whole time; however nothing happened to him, so he got over his fear and after that he used to go with them quite willingly and learnt all about witchcraft. At last they told him that he must sid atang by “eating” a human being. He objected that he was an orphan and so there was no relation whom he could eat. This was a difficulty that seemed insurmountable; and he suggested that he should be excused the full course and taught only a little such as how to “eat” fowls. The women agreed but it was arranged that to deceive people he should go for two or three days and study with a jan guru and be initiated by him. Thus it would be thought that he learnt his magic from the guru but really he learnt it from the witches who taught him everything except how to “eat” human beings. He learnt how to make trees wither away and come to life again; and to make rain fall where he wished while any place he chose remained quite dry; he learnt to walk upon the surface of water without getting wet; he could exorcise hail so that none would touch his house though it fell all around. For a joke he could make stools stick fast to his friends when they sat on them; and anyone he scolded found himself unable to speak properly. All this we have seen him do; but it was no one’s business to question him to find out how much he really knew.

Once at the shield and sword dance they cast a spell on a youth till his clothes fell off him in shreds and he was ashamed to dance. Then this servant had the pieces of cloth brought to him; and he covered them with his own cloth and mumbled some mantras and blew on it and the pieces joined together and the cloth was as good as ever. This we have seen ourselves.

He lived a long time with his master who found him a wife; but because his first child died he left the place and went to live near Amrahat where he is now.

Another case is Tipu of Mohulpahari. They say that an old witch Dukkia taught him to be an ojha. No one has dared to ask him whether he also learnt witchcraft from her but he himself admits that she taught him to be an ojha.

Although it is true that there are witches and that they “eat” men you will never see them except when you are alone.

The son-in-law of Surai of Karmatane village, named Khade, died from meeting witches; he told us all about it as he lay dying. He was coming home with some other men: they had all had a little too much to drink and so they got separated. Khade was coming along alone and had nearly reached his house when he saw a crowd of witches under a tree. He went up and asked who they were. Thereupon they turned on him and seized him and dragged him away towards Maluncha. There they did something to him and let him go. Next morning he was seized with purging and by mistake some of the witches’ vengeance fell also on the other men and they were taken ill too. They however recovered, but Khade died. If you meet witches you die, but not of course if they take you with them of their own will and teach you their craft.