December 2, 2011

The Possessed of Hazrat Ali Mira Datar

This is a fascinating photo essay I came across while researching for an article on  travel photography. The photographer who posted this, Tewfic al-Sawy, has been documenting the ecstatic rites held at the tombs of some Muslim saints in India. 

(C) Tewfic al-Sawy

At these tombs both Muslims and Hindus, many seeking cures for chronic, untreatable ailments, work themselves into a hypnotic trance; as Tewfic al-Sawy describes, “violently throwing their hair about … rolling over the marble floor, bumping into people and pillars … writhing like snakes.  The rest of the pilgrims consider these wild manifestations as the women’s battle against evil, and [empathize] with them.” 

The existence of these shrines and the practices held there speak of the tenacity of these customs’ hold in many parts of the world.  The Philippines itself is considered a center for psychic healers, including some who are said to perform surgery barehanded, using their shamanistic powers to wrench malfunctioning organs and tumors right through the skin without making any incisions at all. 

Can this inspire elements in your games?  The typical pulp approach, which we’ll have to remember is grounded in a European-American, Christian, industrial society’s viewpoint, is to model a villain or a villain’s schtick on this.  Who doesn’t love to stomp down evil cults?  But hey, to these people it’s a good thing – mysterious and frightening, true, but a good thing.  What non-stereotypical plots and setting ideas can you come up with based on this?

Here’s an idea based on my Hari Ragat setting:

Mount Kinabaliwan was the home of a prophetic diwata who pined away from unrequited love.  Pilgrims who sleep on the mountaintop may be able to commune with the diwata in their dreams, receiving powerful prophetic visions, but in doing so they must share the diwata’s pain and sorrow, which can drive them into temporary catatonia or madness. 

It has thus become custom that pilgrims seeking visions here bring one or more companions who will not sleep while the pilgrim dreams, to aid the pilgrim through their temporary dementia and get them safely back off the mountain.  (The madness will cease as soon as the pilgrim leaves the mountain).

[In Hari Ragat, prophecies create pools of Asset dice that can be used in situations where the fulfillment of the prophecy is in crisis, thus making the prophecy more likely to occur.]

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