Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reading Notes: Rumors of Poison

From:  Bodt, Timotheus A ( 2012) " The New Lamp Clarifying the  History, Peoples, Language and Tradition of Eastern Bhutan and Eastern Mon"  Monpassang Publication: Alblasserdam, the Netherlands

" A curious and macabre cultural feature  that deserves mentioning is the poison cult that existed and according to some sources continues to exist in certain parts of Eastern Bhutan and Eastern Monyul. Notorious areas are the Kurma area in Lhuntsi, Upper Tashiyangtse, the border areas inhabited by Dakpa, certain parts of Pemagatshel. Lish and Chuk in Dirang and the Kongpo area and Pemako in Tibet.  But practically every area has certain households suspected of poisoning guests. According to popular belief, one should never accept any hot food or alcoholic beverages from household with whom one is not thoroughly familiar. Those suspected of giving poison are always women- most commonly spinsters and widows. They are believed to poison a person in order to obtain his... 'life force.' There are several ways in which the poison is prepared  as well as administer. Whereas the usual poison used for hunting is made from Aconitum sp., the poison for the poison cult is home-made. During the new moon, the woman will paint half her face black and half her face white. She will carry an unboiled egg into the forest and whilst uttering secret mantras, she will bury it at the foot of a tree. During the next full moon, she will return to this place and collect the mushroom that usually sprouts from the egg. The mushroom will be dried and ground to a fine powder. The poison can be administered unnoticed, for example by keeping it under the fingernail and adding it to a cup of alcohol when serving it to an unsuspecting victim.  The victim has to be, in order of preference,  a king, a high lama, a minister, a rich man, a young man, her husband or her son. In absence of any of these she has to consume  the poison herself. Death comes slow and sudden, and often poisoning is not suspected. Households thought to be poisoners are usually outcast and stigmatized but at the same time also kept in respect out of fear that retribution might take place. Belief in the poison cult is still strong and in many cases people suffering from sudden and severe illnesses  are  thought to be /duk rek/ 'touched by poison.' Official policy is to discourage belief in the cult and the social stigma it entails." 

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