Perhaps the most feared of all of Bali’s supernatural phenomenons is the leyak (or leak), the ‘witches’ and practitioners of black magic.
Ajian Pangleyakan is the study of Balinese sorcery. It is considered an ancient art and study into the realms of Bali’s niskala, or ‘unseen’, world. There is a lontar (palm leaf manuscript) on Aji Pangleyakan (Leyak Teachings) which outlines the powers one can obtain from this practice, as well the specific mantras, rituals, prayers and recipes required to achieve them.
In this case, ‘sorcery’ is the ability to master unseen or supernatural forces and in Bali, its practice is not necessarily frowned upon. In fact, priests and shamans (balian) are sought after for their ability to assist an individual using these forces, whether it is to provide prayers, heal, provide charms or act as mediums.
How these teachings are used, however, is up to the individual and their own intent. It is those who decide to use these forces for negative purposes (‘left-handed magic’) that are branded under the name ‘leyak’, of which there are said to be 35 different kinds. The powers of a leyak are varied, ranging from causing illnesses and accidents to causing bodily harm or even killing. Their methods can be cruel. For example, a victim may experience extreme stomach pains, to find that a leyak has mysteriously placed nails inside of their body. Leyaks are said to be hired or called upon by those hoping to inflict hardship on business rivals, cheating spouses, a grudge and so on.
Leyaks are most known for their abilities to ‘transform’. Through mastery of their practice, their spirit is able to leave their body and take other forms, including bodiless heads with hanging entrails, fireballs, animals, objects, and most terrifying of all, Rangda, the queen of the leyaks herself, her long tongue, sharp fangs and hideously frightening image a horror for any to witness.
Those that are sick, injured or otherwise weak are said to be most vulnerable to leyak attacks. Pregnant women and newborn babies are especially vulnerable before their three-month birthday (nelubulanin), this is because leyaks are said to require young blood for their craft. Worshipping Durga, the goddess of death, their quest to reach higher levels of power may require sacrifices, human body parts and other exotic ingredients, adding to the fear of these island witches.
As implausible as it all sounds, leyaks are said to be active to this day, working in the dead of night and on specific ‘unholy’ days. Sanur was once a hub for this black practice, but many leyak have retreated to rural areas in fear of being identified.