Hula Hooping in Ubud, Indonesia

Sacred Circularities is a hula hoop retreat that happens every year in Indonesia. Finn heard about it from someone at Burning Man last summer and since we were going to be in Indonesia anyway it sounded like a fun thing to do. It’s really expensive to attend, so we filled out a long application form and got accepted as volunteers during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of the retreat.

The retreat was held in Ubud, a town in the middle of Bali that westerners flock to for yoga retreats, fancy hippy gear and spiritual living. Indonesian architecture is different from the other places we have visited in Southeast Asia. I liked the use of decorative parasols. The vegetation was taking over every brick, vines crawled through cracks in the walls and trees spilled over the streets. The air was heavy with tropical humidity. We rented a motorbike for the two weeks of the retreat in town and drove it to Ananda Cottages, the retreat venue.IMG_0663

My volunteer job was to write three blog posts per week for the Sacred Circularities website, for which I was given free accommodation and access to all the retreat programming. The general volunteers could only access two workshops per week, plus the yoga and ‘inner alchemy’ sessions. My guess is that they wanted the bloggers to have the full retreat experience so we can write about it and also to keep us happy so we write nice things, but it seemed unfair that the general volunteers were given access to so little.

The resort was on a completely other level from the places Finn and I had been staying on this trip. Our room had a huge four poster bed, air conditioning and a patio with a table and chairs. Right outside our doors was a view of palm trees, rice paddies and a swimming pool. All the buildings at the resort were made of brick and thick wood beams, with detailed decorative carvings.IMG_0628
At the first volunteer meeting in the afternoon before the retreat started we helped prepare the welcome gifts for participants and the volunteer coordinator went over our responsibilities and privileges for the retreat. General volunteers like Finn were only entitled to attend two of the nine workshops each week and at the meeting we learned that food was also not included. We were also told to buy a phone so that we could be contacted, which seemed like an annoying expense to require of volunteers. I told the volunteer coordinator that I was disappointed to learn food wasn’t included and now we were being asked to buy a phone and Finn is only allowed to participate in two workshops per week. It got tense. She said Sacred Circularities is a luxury retreat and we couldn’t expect to access it as general volunteers.

After the volunteer meeting was the opening ceremony. The participants were all female and of diverse ages, from 20 – 65. They were mostly white except for some black and east Asian participants. The majority were from North America, a disproportional number from Alberta, lots from Australia, several from the UK and a smattering of people from other countries such as South Africa and Japan.

I guess I should have been ready for the hokey, new age-y spirituality of a retreat called Sacred Circularities, but it was more than I had prepared myself for. Words such as Intention, Magical, Sacred, Manifest, Spirit, Eternal, and so on, were overused. I was at the retreat to meet fun people, play with toys and get better at hooping, but other people attended because they believe the hula hoop is a ‘sacred’ circle. About ten to fifteen people took advantage of the invitation to place a personal item on the ‘alter’, which was a table at the back of the room. Some special rocks were passed around the circle for each of us to hold as music was played, group singing took place and a local priest blessed each person. Then we danced in a circle and twirled into the middle one by one to say our name and our intention for the week before being showered with flower petals and given a candle to place on the alter.

I went jogging most mornings before the daily schedule at Sacred Circularities started off with yoga or a “spiritual version of Zumba” called African Dance. It felt great to have already gone for a run and yoga class before eating breakfast. A breakfast buffet was included in the price of our room, so it was a daily struggle not to overeat first thing in the morning. I binged out on fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola with peanut butter and honey. I drank a fruit smoothie and coffee too. The problem was that I went back for a second helping of granola. The bigger problem was when I went for a third. When I topped it off with pancakes my mouth was in heaven, but later I felt like a bean bag. I felt like I should be rolled to the first workshop like the greedy blueberry girl in Willy Wonka. I loved the breakfasts so much.Breakfast buffet

There were hula hoop workshops and ‘inner alchemy’ (meditation and spirituality) sessions throughout the day and a hoop jam in the evening where everyone played and danced with their hoops. During free time I sampled delicious restaurants around Ubud, got a few massages and drove past the monkey forest. I didn’t end up actually entering the monkey forest, but there were monkeys all over the parking lot so it was fun to look at the animals from the road.

At the end of every class the teachers did a recap demonstration of the moves they taught so that participants could film it to remember later, but volunteers were told we are not allowed to film the recaps. The founder, Jaguar Mary, said it was because the recaps were a ‘special gift for participants’. That sounded didn’t seem to fit the concept of ‘eternal abundance’ that was brought up throughout the retreat. It’s supposed to mean that there will always be enough for everyone, which is obviously not true. There wasn’t enough space in the workshops for volunteers to participate, for one.

One of Finn’s jobs was to assist in some of the hoop workshops, which sounded like a great job because he would be able to attend more workshops, but then he was tapped on the shoulder and told he wasn’t allowed to participate if he was volunteering. He had to wait behind the teacher just in case the mic volume needed to be turned up of down, but wasn’t allowed to pick up a hoop.

In the middle of the first week there was a holiday called Nyepi. It was explained to us that it is a day of reflection, on which no one is allowed to go into the streets. Religious people fast for the holiday and stay in their homes with the lights off. The resort management wrote on a big chalk board that we were not to leave the property. At breakfast everyone ate together and everything was usual, even the resort staff were talking and laughing without restraint, but after that most of the Sacred Circularities participants I saw throughout the day were silent. A bunch of people hung out by the pool all day without talking. It was boring and too bad that we missed the opportunity to get to know each other better. I was glad Finn was there so we could talk to each other in our room at least. I already did a 10 day silent meditation retreat last year, that was enough for me.

The next morning one of the Sacred Circularities participants complained that disrespectful people were so loud during breakfast on Nyepi. Being spiritual just for the sake of it annoys me, but being holier than thou about it really gets on my nerves. I asked her if she was Hindu and she said she wasn’t, but she thought we should at least talk quietly on this holiday that we all just learned about, even though we were only among foreigners. I told her I didn’t maintain silence because I’m not a practitioner of the local religion. There are lots of holidays I don’t celebrate. We all spent the holiday on an isolated resort so our voices weren’t disturbing local people. I should have pointed out that we weren’t fasting or leaving the lights off either, which are also part of Nyepi.

The equinox, solar eclipse, and new moon were big news around the retreat. The moon cycles and how they affect our bodies and minds was a hot topic. I overheard participants talking about their concern that they were absorbing the dreams of the people who had stayed in their room before them. They would need to clear out the old dreams with a sage smudging session as soon as possible.

I was responsible for writing three blog articles per week and provide a photo to attach, which sounded easy, but I felt at a loss for what to write. I felt alienated by the particular brand of hippiness and didn’t know how to write about it. For my first two articles I took some things that other people said and wrote about them. I wrote about the special, supportive community of Sacred Circularities and the healing power of a movement practice like hooping. I had heard people saying these things, so I thought they would go over well. I was happier with my third blog article, which was an interview with one of the teachers, but when I let her read it over before posting it she wanted me to take out most of the more interesting stuff. I didn’t want her to be unhappy about the way she was portrayed, so I allowed the changes, but I’ve learned my lesson not to give future interview subjects control over their interviews.

I met some great people at the retreat, despite the annoying ones. All the hoop teachers were very down to earth and fun to be around, and I really enjoyed some of the participants and volunteers. I was happy to make friends with people from around the world because now I have a reason to go visit places.

In the second week I was in the swing of blogging and was much happier with my articles. I wrote about the hoop balance class for my first post, which turned out nicely. For my second post I wrote about how the hula hoop community is mostly female and how it feels to be in a female space. I don’t particularly like being in a female-dominated space, I much prefer gender balance, but I didn’t want the article to be negative so I wrote that I like gender balance as well as positive things about a female only space. I also interviewed female and male participants for the article.

The other blogger for the second week, Fenixx, and I were responsible for proofreading each other’s work, but it turned out that Fenixx didn’t like my writing. She said my first article was too focused because it was only about one workshop. She said my second article was too general, that it wasn’t the right format and that she wanted to talk to the founder of Sacred Circularities, Jaguar Mary, about it. I told her I would send it to JM myself, and when I did I got an email response from Fenixx saying that Jaguar Mary wanted me to rewrite my article and make it more inclusive. I was sitting at breakfast when I got the email and Jaguar Mary was in the room, so I went over and asked her what was up.

Jaguar Mary told me gently that my blog article may alienate men and make them think they aren’t welcome at Sacred Circularities. She carefully communicated that she wanted me to rewrite the article and make it less man-hate-y (it wasn’t). It’s her event that she’s trying to promote, so I agreed to make some changes.

There was a ‘tribal market and performance showcase,’ every week, but the week before it couldn’t happen because of the holiday, Nyepi. Vendors came to Ananda cottages to sell expensive, beautiful hippy clothing and jewellery in the afternoon and then Sacred Circularities participants, teachers and volunteers performed for everyone. The performances were fantastic. I had no idea that some of the participants were such great performers and the teachers blew everyone away. The show was a big highlight of my time at Sacred Circularities.

Sacred Circularities had enjoyable moments, despite my complaints. I liked to swim in the pool and just be near it. I spent a lot of time practicing hooping, juggling and spinning poi, in and out of the workshops. I worked on doing a handstand and slowly improved. Lots of people gave me tips. I liked the nightly hoop jams where everyone played and practiced together with loud music. It wasn’t until the last two nights that I realized how much my hooping had improved. I was able to do a bunch of moves that I couldn’t before and I felt comfortable flowing with the music.

My favourite moment was the second to last day of the retreat during free time when an impromptu pool party started in the afternoon. The weather was perfect, someone put on music and we had fun together. Helly, one of the participants, made a compilation video of a bunch of us hooping that day. You can see it here:

I was working on this blog post on the last day of the retreat and had been writing down all the things that annoyed me before going to the closing ceremony. I didn’t want to do anymore silly ‘get into your body’ dances, I was sick of metaphorical workshops with little substance and wanted to be out from under the authority of the volunteer program.

In the closing circle I realized that I was the grinch in the group. Sacred Circularities wasn’t for me, but it was exactly what most people wanted. I was the negative one who dislikes silly exercises and hippy spirituality and that was my problem. The mic was passed to each person to share something with the group and most described a feeling of connectedness and love. They described spiritual awakenings and life changing experiences from the week as they broke down into tears of joy. It was such a dichotomy from what I felt. I’m glad that lots of people love Sacred Circularities, but by the end of two weeks I could hardly wait to get away from it.


10 Days of Silent Self-Torture

I had never really meditated before, but I like yoga and I am kind of a hippie, so after many people told me that doing a 10 silent meditation retreat is a transformative, amazing experience I decided to try it if ever I had the chance. It sounded like a great challenge: no talking, technology, stimulation, only meditation. Nothing but being left alone with your thoughts. Who knows what could come of that? Now that I’m in Asia with no limits on time, I thought this would be the perfect time to try it. In Thailand, a monastery called Suan Mokk holds a retreat for foreigners at a retreat centre across from the monastery. I decided to choose this retreat as opposed to the many others in the region because there was 90 minutes of yoga in the daily schedule, whereas most retreats do not have any yoga. Also, you don’t need to register for this one, whereas for others you must register months in advance. You can find the daily schedule, rules and other info about the retreat on their website.

I arrived at Suan Mokk a day and a half before the retreat started. Laura and Brenden were leaving Ranong to go back to Canada so I decided to leave when they leave. I was also concerned about having trouble finding this little place in the jungle and didn’t want any possibility of missing the registration. The travel agents and bus station workers had never heard of Chaiya, the nearest town to Suan Mokk, and that made me a bit nervous, but I found the monastery without too much trouble. I walked through the gates and the lush, perfectly manicured nature of the religious space and to the monastery information booth. It said on the Suan Mokk website that we could stay at the monastery for free before or after retreats.

I walked up to the tall desk at the information hut after filling up my water bottle from a big steel container labelled “rain water – for drinking only”. I felt kind of intimidated by the monk behind the desk, with his sassy orange robe thrown casually over one shoulder, as monks’ robes typically are. I didn’t want to be presumptive so I asked if he knew where I could stay in advance of the retreat. “You can stay here,” he said with an implied “duh”. He asked me to fill out a form and give him my passport as collateral and he gave me a key to the women’s dorm along with directions on how to get there. I was so relieved that I found the place and had a free room in this beautiful natural place.

I walked across the beautiful monastery grounds filled with many roosters and a few hens, to the women’s dorm. It was easy to tell I was in the right place because of the hand painted WOMAN ONLY sign nailed to a tree. I wandered around trying to find my room and a woman came over and quietly showed me where it was. This dorm was meant only for the foreigners who were coming for a meditation retreat. There were about 30 rooms. 15 were around the outside, facing the little courtyard, and 15 were on the inside, facing a creepy, poorly lit hallway. That inner hallway looked like a prison to me. Luckily my room was on the outside. The windows on all windows had bars on them. The rooms had nothing in them but a wooden bed (no mattress) and a wooden pillow. We could collect a straw sleeping mat, mosquito net, blanket and conventional, non-wooden pillow to use from the storage area. There was a big open space without walls above the rooms for meditation or yoga. I was the first one to arrive and totally alone in the dormitory. It was just about evening when I got there, so after getting a coffee and using wifi at the western style “espresso bar” across the street and doing an hour of yoga in the upstairs dorm space I went to bed early.

In the morning a bunch of people arrived. The dorm became quite full of women from all over the world, mostly Europe. I hung out with an awesome British woman for most of the day. We walked around the little area getting food and coffee. The following day was registration day. Everyone at the dorm got up at 7am to head across the road to the retreat centre. At the retreat centre I noticed most of the participants were around my age, mostly white, backpackers. There were a few middle aged people and a group of four friends who looked about 18 years old. I wondered why the 18 year olds decided to do this. Perhaps their school encouraged it, or some other group or team that they were involved with. I noticed later in the retreat that they each had a matching bright yellow shirt. I met a volunteer for the Peace Corps who was on vacation from her placement in rural Thailand and a former hotel manager who just quit his job in Bangkok to explore other parts of Asia.

The registration process involved filling forms, reading information about the retreat, doing a 2 minute interview, choosing our chore for the week (I chose sweeping the path around the women’s dorm) handing over our passports and paying our $80 fee. We were fed breakfast and then put our things in our rooms (cement bed, wooden pillow, not much else), took a couple cushions and placed them in the meditation hall to stake our spot for the retreat and then had free time until the festivities began at 4pm. It was really happening. Starting that night I would fall silent and be cut off from the world.

After spending the day with some other women from the retreat eating and hanging out in the little town, Chaiya, and getting my last fill of wifi technology at the espresso bar, I was back at the retreat centre, excited to get my silence on. I really was excited. I had high hopes that over these 10 days I would mellow out, become ready to accept any adversity with a clear head and never get overtaken by emotion, anxiety or insecurity again.

We took a tour of the grounds and were allowed to ask all the questions we wanted before the silence began. On the tour we were instructed how to capture an insect and put it outside in case we find one in our room. We aren’t allowed to kill anything during the retreat. We hoped we would not have to try the procedure on a scorpion. At 7:15pm, everyone gathered in the mediation hall. There were about 80 of us, a few more men than women. A monk rang a tiny bell, signifying the beginning of the silence.

There were a lot more rules than just no talking at the retreat. These are the most important rules, as described on the website:

– Keep complete silence throughout the retreat
(exceptions: personal interviews from Day 3 to Day 6 and emergencies).
– Stay within the boundaries of the retreat center.

Keep the Eight Precepts, which are:
– Intend not to take away any breath(abstain from killing).
– Intend not to take away what is not given (abstain from stealing).
– Intend to keep one’s mind and one’s body free from any sexual activity.
– Intend not to harm others by speech.
– Intend not to harm one’s consciousness with substances that intoxicate
and lead to carelessness (no alcohol, no drugs, no smoking etc).
– Intend not to eat between after noon and before dawn.
– Intend not to dance, sing, play or listen to music, watch shows, wear
garlands, ornaments and beautify oneself with perfumes and cosmetics.
Intend not to sleep or sit on luxurious beds and seats.

Also, it was explained upon arrival: no jogging, no wearing revealing clothing, no yoga in public except during yoga class, no ‘sexual misconduct’ (ie nothing sexual at all), no facing your feet towards the front of the meditation hall, no laying down in public, no reading and no writing. I’ve never been constrained by so many rules, but that’s kind of the point of the retreat. It was announced that we must not send love notes. A monk told us that twice men have sent love notes to women and were kicked out for doing so.

Males and females were strictly kept apart. The assumption was that there were no gender or sexuality variations, I suppose. We had separate dorms and yoga classes, we ate on different sides of the dining hall, scooped our food out of separate pots, we sat on opposite sides of the meditation hall, everything was separate. I almost forgot the men were there.

There was no need for a watch at the retreat because someone banged on the big bell in the bell tower whenever it was time to be somewhere. The first bell was at 4am(!). It rang for about 15 minutes, just to be sure no one could sleep through it. You could hear the ring clearly anywhere on the grounds, and loudly in the dorms. We had to be at the meditation hall and ready to get mindful at 430. I had never woken up that early more than one day in a row. I have consistently gone to bed after 4, however, when I was working at the bar, Vol de Nuit, my shifts ended at 330. This early rising thing was a whole new world. I was exhausted the first day, but, surprisingly, got used to it by the third day. I appreciated seeing the sunrise and sunset every day.

My favourite thing about the retreat was the hot springs. There were separate hot springs for men and women on the grounds that we could use whenever we had free time, particularly at sunset during the ‘tea and hot springs’ time on the schedule. We had to go in wearing a sarong, even though it was a women only space. The sarong resulted in more nudity for me as mine kept floating up to my waist as I swam around. You weren’t expected to wear anything under the sarong. The hot springs were left natural, with simple cement steps leading down to them. Palm and other kinds of trees hung over them and they were surrounded by other foliage. At sunset there were usually about 7 women in the hot springs, silently, calmly hanging out together. It felt nice to swim through the hot water and float on it. I went in every night.

We were fed two meals each day. The first meal was a bland rice soup and mini bananas served at 8am. Since we woke up at 4am, I found myself starving by breakfast time. I started smuggling an extra banana out of the dining hall at breakfast to eat the following morning at dawn so that I would feel comfortable waiting for breakfast at 8. By lunch time at 1230 I was so hungry I couldn’t think of anything else. Lunch was always delicious, a coconut milk curry, brown rice, marinated tofu, green beans, stuff like that. There was always dessert of a jelly, tapioca, soy milky type thing that was wonderful. I was looking forward to lunch at all times. By the time lunch came I wanted to eat ALL THE FOOD. I was kind of hoping I would lose weight by only eating two meals a day, but I more than made up for the lack of dinner by doubling down on lunch. It was pretty much the only pleasurable stimulation in the day, other than the hot springs. But we weren’t supposed to view the food this way. According to Buddhist philosophy, pleasure of food should be avoided because it is impermanent, it has no spiritual value. Before we could eat any meal, we had to wait for everyone to fill their bowl and take a seat and then read aloud together the ‘food reflection’, which goes something like this:
With wise reflection, I eat this food. Not for play, not for intoxication. Not for fattening, not for beautification. Only to maintain this body. To remain alive and healthy. To support the spiritual way of life.

Thus, I let go of unpleasant feelings, and do not stir up new ones. Thereby, the process of life goes on. Blameless, at ease and in peace.
I read it with the group, but was thinking the opposite. Eating is not a spiritual endeavour, but it’s enjoyable. If I become attached to the eating of tasty food I may be sad if in future I don’t have any tasty food, but I still want to enjoy food when I have it. I love food. I was meditating on how amazing that food was going to taste and how I was going to love it. I wasn’t pushing the joy of eating out of my mind so that I could enjoy the purity of spiritual thoughts.

I enjoyed the first few days of the retreat. I was getting better at meditating and had fun trying different ways to focus my mind. There were a couple hours of talks every day explaining how to meditate, so I tried different tips and tricks all the time. I was getting better at focusing. However, things started going downhill for me on the 4th day. My focus was gone. I started counting down the days until I could leave. I started hating it.

I got so bored. I started feeling like meditation was a cage and I wanted to think my thoughts, not push them away. It felt pointless and I realized I kind of hate meditating. I wanted to lie on a bed with a mattress and have a shower. I wanted to talk to a friend, read my book and write in my journal. As the retreat progressed, the talks started becoming a lot more specific and not useful or interesting to me. They played a recording of an American monk translating the work of another monk, which included long translations of lists of Pali (the dead language of Buddhism) words that were irrelevant to me. The talks were not only boring, they became irritating to the point that I considered walking away just to think my own thoughts and not hear that yammering on. I learned to pull my knees up to my chest, wrap my arms around my shins and sleep like that. I wasn’t the only one sleeping. The monks got annoyed a few times and gave suggestions on things we could do to not fall asleep. We could focus on our breathing, we could take notes (I guess we can only write if it’s directly related to what we’re learning). The group was scolded for playing with the sand or moving around a lot when we should sit still and listen.

In addition to being boring, I didn’t like the talks because I disagreed with them. I’m not sure how much variance there is between different perspectives on Buddhism, but I did not agree with what was said at the retreat. I agree that attachment to endless materialism will leave people unhappy, but I not agree that people should never attach to anything. We were instructed not to attach to people, to love, to any pleasures at all, because they are impermanent. Because they can go away. I am okay with the pain I feel when I lose something or someone I love because it feels so good to love. Feeling happy and sad is part of life and I don’t want to shield myself from that. I’m happy to enjoy the little pleasures in life, even though they are ‘void of all meaning’. I take immense pleasure in flipping over a pillow and feeling the cold side, for example. I’m okay with that and I’m going to keep enjoying it.

Half way through the retreat almost half the participants had left. On the 6th day a friend I made before the retreat left. She came up to me and broke the silence to tell me she would rather go to the beach than meditate more. I didn’t blame her. On the 7th day another friend left, I didn’t see her leave though. I wanted to leave so badly, but I wanted to stick it out because I had already started it. My food and accommodation were already paid for, though they were really cheap, and I already made plans for afterward. I stayed until the 10th day.

I thought I would like the meditation retreat because I like yoga and challenging myself. Many people told me it’s a great thing to do. I learned that it wasn’t for me. I like to think my thoughts freely, not push them out of my mind. I already knew that taking deep breaths calms me down, I didn’t need to do it for 10 days. I don’t regret doing the retreat, however, even though I kind of hated it. I learned a lot about meditation and Buddhism (and that neither are for me). I challenged myself and got a new experience. I was curious about what the retreat would be like, and now I know.

Vegetarian Festival in Ranong

There are many Buddhists in Ranong who take their religion seriously. In front of most homes are little shrines that look like fancy birdhouses resembling tiny temples. I was told that these are meant to house the ancestors of the people who live in the homes. People leave food offerings for their ancestors beside the shrines. It seems that Fanta is a popular drink for ancestors as an opened bottle of it with a straw is often left out for them.

Buddhists recognize that being vegetarian is a good thing, though few refrain from meat all through the year. However, many Buddhists in Thailand eat vegetarian for the 10 day vegetarian festival. That is why temporary vegetarian restaurants pop up and many existing restaurants become vegetarian for the festival. The vegetarian festival is celebrated in many countries, but celebrations vary by region.

In Ranong, there were events every night of the festival in the big multipurpose festival grounds, at temples and in the streets. Participants wore white to all festival events. Laura, Brenden, Cory and I stopped by the festival grounds one night and saw a Chinese dragon show. The two dragon costumes were worn by kids who moved in them expertly. People crowded around to watch the dragons move to the beat of drums like shiny, colourful, happy dogs, wagging their tails and bobbing their heads. One of the dragons got on a dangerous looking stairway-like structure. Instead of complete steps, there were tall, narrow posts of different heights. The dragon started climbing and we were thrilled and nervous to watch. It moved smoothly and danced on the posts. The kid in the front part of the costume would jump and be thrown up so that he was standing on the shoulders of the kid in the back. This gave the appearance that the dragon is on it’s hind legs, standing on shaky tall posts. This tricky manoeuvre was executed accurately, but twice when walking on the posts the dragon fell, prompting the crowd to scream. But they were okay! They got back on! Whew.

Free food was served at the temple during the vegetarian festival so we went to have some one evening. The food was delicious. All day a big cauldron of herbal massage oil had been brewing in the foyer of the temple. During the festival, certain men and women (mostly men) believe that they are possessed by spirits. These people are called the sorcerers. There were about 18 sorcerers at the temple in Ranong. They shook their heads and moved their bodies in an unnatural way so you could tell they were possessed. At certain moments they freaked out and started jumping and hitting things, prompting someone to pull their shirt off and replace it with a colourful apron. When the massage oil was ready, much of it was poured into bottles for anyone to take home with them. Some of it was used by the sorcerers who gave foot and leg massages to anyone who wanted one, particularly those who had an illness or injury recently.

Only in the south of Thailand, not in most other places where the vegetarian festival takes place, do the sorcerers perform self mutilation and self flagellation. I found it hard to understand why they do this, and many local people did not exactly know. What I gathered is that the sorcerers are proving that they are possessed, which causes them to not feel the pain of self-injury. At the Saturday morning procession, some sorcerers pierced their cheeks with 10 – 15 thin skewers. A group of them walked together and whenever the procession stopped they would get in a circle, hit the ground with an ax or sword and swing it up to strike themselves on the back repeatedly. They started bleeding after repeating this many times.

It seemed strange that the vegetarian festival involved self-mutilation as well as a meat-free diet. I wonder if those sorcerers truly believe that they are possessed and cannot feel the pain of what they are doing. I wonder if they have doubts as they are waiting for the wounds to heal over the next few weeks or months. Maybe not, since the same sorcerers repeat the self-mutilation year after year.