Previous Next

All photos: Author

Matador Ambassador Nathan Myers’ investigation into Indonesia’s healing arts ultimately made him sick.

I TELL HER THAT A GIANT BIRD LANDED ON MY CHEST. I think. Maybe I was dreaming. I think I passed out. It’s all kinda vague.

“Yes,” she says. Excited now. “It was an eagle. Normally the eagle flies high and sees everything. It means you need to look at the big picture. To see everything. You’re focusing too hard on the details.”

Her job is to speak with angels. My angels, to be specific. My job is too write a story about her and the other various healers living in Bali. This particular shaman was from LA. She called her treatment an “angel reading,” and several of my woman friends have called her amazing. I wasn’t so sure. I lay there on her couch for a solid hour and wasn’t really so sure I’d even had the eagle dream. Or anything else. I just wanted to give her something to work with. I felt bad about the whole deal.

“So, did any angels talk to you,” I said.

“No,” she replied. “Sometimes they don’t show up. It’s always a bit different.”

This information cost me $75. Over the course of visiting several Western healers — including a psychic, a chiropractor, and an astrologist — I blew several hundred dollars and learned very little. My back was cracked and my stars aligned, but overall I felt pretty much the same. Which, to be honest, was fine. I felt fine.

By contrast, the local Balinese healers, called Balian, operated purely on a donation basis. After a session, you walk into their household temple and leave what you feel is appropriate in the form of an offering. The Balinese visit such healers just as Westerns might see their family practitioner, assuming your doctor can also locate missing objects and speak with dead relatives.

I had some interesting experiences for this gig — and most of them proved extremely painful. Once, after a woman channeling the spirit of a thousand-year-old Indonesian queen informed me that I had a demon inside me (acquired while surfing taboo waters), I was sent to her husband for removal. He was waiting nearby. As if he knew I was coming.

He started at my neck, then worked the negative “demon” energy down my arms towards my hands. I could feel it moving. Building in my arms and wrists. By the time his intense, wringing “massage” reached my hands I had lightning bolts shooting out of my fingertips. I screamed. The Balian giggled. He saw this every day.

A Westerner sitting nearby told me she’d seen people pass out and throw up during these treatments. One man spoke in tongues and another tried to punch the kindly Balian. I could relate to all these reactions. The pain was making me crazy…and also I wasn’t even sure if it was real or imagined.

He was doing my legs now, working towards my toes, and there were tears and agonized laughter pouring from various parts of my body. When he reached my ankles, the Balian produced a small, oiled stick. He pressed it into my toe and I wailed. Lightning shot across the room and killed a small bird. Goddfuckindamnthatshithurt!!! He pulled the stick away and the pain was gone. He pushed it back and more holyshit lightning shot out. Stick off, pain gone. Stick on, lightning blast. He did this several times to demonstrate his effectiveness. Smiling, like, “see what I can do.”

I loved him and I hated him. He had a gentle smile, but there was no pity in his work. No mercy. He was removing a demon from my body. One I didn’t even know I had in the first place.

In all these Balian and expat healer visits, the main problem was that I had no problem. I felt fine. I just wanted to learn more about magical healers on this magical island. The psychic, the astrologist, a hot stone chakra alignment reflexologist, and the guy who could see inside my body…they were all intriguing characters in my little story. So I sat outside their temples beside people in wheelchairs, people swaddled in blankets in the thousand-degree sun, people nursing their open sores and limping towards their salvation, and when my own turn arrived, when the mystical healers of Bali asked, “And what is your problem today? What can I help you with?”

I had nothing to say.

The thousand-year-old witch found a demon in me. The man who could see inside me said I should eat less sugar and then he increased my sperm count (free of charge). And maybe, just maybe, a giant eagle landed on my chest. I’m not sure, really. It’s all a bit vague.

Health + Lifestyle


About The Author

Nathan Myers

Nathan Myers is the world’s leading authority on guacamole combat. While his book Guac Off remains the definitive instructional for the avocado martial arts, his trilogy of short stories Broken Fables vol. I, II, and III should probably never be read by anyone again. A graduate of UC Berkeley and longtime senior editor of Surfing Magazine, Nathan has contributed stories and photography to Islands, Sierra,Destinasian, Maxim and LA Times, as well as most major surf magazines around the world. In 2009, he co-founded the open-source surf video competition — which awards $100,000 to the best surf short every year — along with veteran surf filmmaker Taylor Steele, with whom he previously collaborated on the surf-travel films Stranger Than Fiction, The Drifter and Castles in the Sky. He currently lives in Bali, Indonesia with his wife and two boys, where he continues to write, take photos, produce film projects and teach guacamole fighting.

  • Catherine Broughton

    This made for an interesting read. I recently posted an article on my blog about witchcraft & witch doctors etc. – written in Africa by my father (a doctor) in the 1960s. It may interest you.

    • Nicky Rodgers

      Confused ? Who wrote this ?

  • Karl Lohninger

    I don’t understand why this article has been written in first place? Just for fun and giggles or for the spiffy but stupid headline (Myers’ investigation into Indonesia’s healing arts ultimately made him sick)? If you feel fine why’d you visit all those people. Is it possible that they’ve guessed the exploitative nature of your interest and they had their own fun with you? This is so typical ‘white man checks out uneducated witch doctors in the colonies’. Total nonsense and oh so snobby.

    • Krystalle Teh Xin Lei

      I think this was meant as a lighthearted article, and I enjoyed what I read. But I do see your point – local doctors and healers are highly revered in Balian culture, and I do think we need more articles tackling this topic from a different angle (socio-cultural and economic perspectives – is this healing culture deeply rooted in the Balians’ belief of the supernatural as well as their low incomes that render Western medicine unaffordable?)

      But this article was about Nathan’s perspective, and for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it. :)

  • Sue Cooper

    I am travelling to bli again in october and have been left disabled following a severe stroke. where a nd how can I find one of these healers?

    • James

      Every village has one. Just ask around. They’re not listed in the phonebook or facebook…but all the locals will know how to locate their favorite. Some are better than others. And what works for one may not for another, but it’s always an adventure.

  • Dwi Kresnantaka

    Interesting Post.. I have no idea what’s the real goal for Nathan to visit those healer. Anyway, in Bali there are some healer ( Balian ) who are learn to do this kind of thing, and some other are the chosen one, means they don’t learn anything in fact they don’t have any interest to be “Balian”, but some how they have been pick out in spiritual or mystical way which is most people couldn’t understand, and some how they can cure people with their own style.

    • Steve

      This article is about Balian… did you read past the first paragraph?

  • Puneet Sharma


  • Catherine Broughton

    Karl – actually, no, it is not snobby and the term “white man” is seriously out of date. The author was interested in finding out more (regardless of his colour or the colour of the people he visited). We may or may not agree as to why he did it, or how he did it, but it has nothing whatever to do with racism or snobbism.

  • Benny Blocksberg

    I think this is a particularly timely and relevant article, given the fairly recent influx of wealthy Western tourists heading to Bali to ‘find’ themselves/inner peace and their own EatPrayLove moment.
    Sadly this privileged movement (normally spotted near Ubud) seem to have spawned their own group of Western healers all ready to cash in.
    So Myers’ (all too brief) investigation of their nonsense seems like a sound idea to me.

A British man who faced amputation after a climbing accident will keep his leg, thanks to...
One more proven health benefit of studying the "supreme ultimate boxing."
If you're in the United States and looking for information about where to get vaccinated,...
From herbs to hypnosis: how to kick your cigarette habit naturally.
The comforts and contradictions of constantly moving back in with Mom and Dad as an adult...
The Matador Life team test runs home-made beauty recipes. Candice tries to eat hers.
This year on my birthday, I offered to give gifts instead of receive. Yet, few people...
I can't. I don't like. It's not for me. Are these all just another way to say something...
One Matadorian explores how travelers deal with everyday life when they're not on the...
American health care reform? See just how much it was needed.