Angels of Bali

The Sanghyang Dedari Trance Performance Tradition

©  Ronaldo Morelos 2006

ABSTRACT: Since the 14th century, the notion of “trance” as a state of consciousness or being has been considered in English performative and literary traditions, notably in the poems of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gow, and the plays of William Shakespeare. Around the late 19th century, coincident with the rise of Psychology (as well as Spiritism and Mesmerism), the notion of “trance” as a mode of embodied performance entered the vocabulary of the performing arts largely through the work of Constantin Stanislavski. Contemporary usage of the term “trance” has come to encapsulate characteristic music forms, notably those emerging from a variety of dance music genres from the 1990s onwards as well as those considered in studies such as those by ethnomusicologist Gilbert Rouget (1985). This paper will consider one such application of the notion of “trance”, in the context of a Balinese dance tradition known as Sanghyang Dedari. This paper will examine some of the key constituents of both the conceptualisation and the practice of trance performance in this context. Specifically, this paper will consider the notion of personhood applicable in the context, the process of recruitment applied, the text of key songs used in the induction of trance, some of the imagery invoked, and key musical elements employed in this particular tradition.



Sanghyang Dedari is an example of consultative trance practice, performances driven and motivated by a formulated and conceptualised exemplary centre – an axis of legitimacy and authenticity, a source of authority which claims credibility by performed acts and utterances believed to originate from divine or supernatural sources.


The exemplary centres of Sanghyang Dedari are formulated and conceptualised as alternative authorities in response to dominant political and social structures. The measures of authenticity and legitimacy that they offer within a shared or common experience function as sanctioned transgressions of normal limits of knowledge, as power – as access to the divine that is transcendent of “base” humanity and modernity. These transgressions function as gestures of empowerment – a centre is created in contrast to what is conceptualised as a disempowering dominant centre or locus.


The exemplary centre provides a locus upon which various forces are concentrated in order to constitute appeals for identification and involvement – a positioning of the self, physically and mentally, in relation to relevant complexes. Therefore, the concepts of “self” applied and employed in these instances are seen here as central elements in the processes of enactment and embodiment applied by the various performers. In The Sacred Self, anthropologist Thomas Csordas studied healing practices in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, and grounded his phenomenological analysis on the principles of embodiment. The approach taken in this essay is derived from a similar stance. Accordingly, this study will apply the working concept of “self” that Csordas utilises in his study:


Self is neither substance nor entity, but an indeterminate capacity to engage or become oriented in the world, characterized by effort and reflexivity… self occurs as a conjunction of prereflective bodily experience, culturally constituted world or milieu, and situational specificity or habitus. Self processes are orientational processes in which aspects of the world are thematized, with the result that the self is objectified, most often as a “person” with a cultural identity or set of identities.[i]


Aside from the concept of “self” as an indeterminate capacity, this study will also be concerned with the symbol structures employed in Sanghyang Dedari, as formulations and notions that frame the practice of the performer. These symbol structures are seen to represent the social processes undergone by the performers, and determine the modes of enactment and embodiment invoked.


The discipline of Performance Studies demands that attention be given to both intended meaning and observed behaviour. As cultural analysis, it is important to focus on – as Clifford Geertz suggests – “political, economic and [stratified] realities… [as well as] biological and physical necessities” evident in the symbolic actions. In this way, the symbolic action is made expressible and legible – through a theoretical and conceptual structure.[ii]


Tourism-oriented materials that promote Sanghyang Dedari performances use a number of key themes to frame the performances. There will generally be two performers in Sanghyang Dedari. The performers are often described as pre-pubescent or pre-adolescent or “virgin” girls. The performers are said to be in a possession-trance while they perform as mediums for the “heavenly nymphs” or “angels” that descend for the ceremony. According to such literature, the trance is seen to be induced by incense smoke and the chanting of songs.[iii]

Table 1: Advertisement for Sanghyang Dedari performances aimed at the tourist market.


Some writings claim that the performers will never have had any formal dance training.[iv] In possession-trance they are said to dance a “dreamy version of the Legong” classical form.[v] Throughout the dance and the ceremony, the performers will have their eyes closed – this is considered to be one of the key indicators of the Sanghyang Dedari trance state. The observations that they dance a classical form generally in unison, whilst appearing to have their eyes closed, further support the belief that the performers are indeed in a trance state and that their movements reflect a supernatural force at work.


The performers are also believed to be in trance through demonstrations that are seen to indicate an immunity to pain, such as some Sanghyang Dedari performers who walk on bare feet over hot coals[vi] – however this is not always seen as a standard part of the Sanghyang Dedari performance repertoire.


Perhaps the most important indicators of the state of trance are the sections in the performance where the dancers are seen to enter into the trance state and then exit from their trance at the end. These, more than any other indicators, frame the trance state – the belief and expectation that the performers of Sanghyang Dedari experience a possession-trance.


The entry into the state of trance is referred to as “nadi” and the state of trance itself is referred to as “kerawuhan”. In Sanghyang Dedari the instance of nadi is indicated by the performers’ collapsing after a period of induction, consisting of inhaling incense and a series of songs by a chorus of women. After this point the performers are considered to be kerawuhan. At the conclusion of the ceremony the performers are seen to be brought out of the trance state by the priest, the pemangku who sprinkles holy water, as well as by particular prayers and songs used to bring them back to a “normal” state of consciousness. These indicators are essential to the actualisation and interpretation of a Sanghyang Dedari performance.


The concepts held by performers and observers to account for agency are central to the consideration of trance performances. These concepts describe formulated exemplary centres of authenticity and authority, which motivate the words and actions of the performer. These centres are culturally formulated and individually applied. Therefore, in Sanghyang Dedari for example, Balinese notions of personhood and legitimate forces or authorities are enacted and embodied by the performers of trance in the form of supernatural spirits invoked to exorcise forces that are believed to cause illness and misfortune. From her studies of Balinese trance performances, Jane Belo came to the belief that:


All the varieties of trance behavior are culturally stylized: they bear the imprint of cultural patterning.[vii]


In the first page of Belo’s study Trance in Bali, the Balinese culture – the way of being – is posited as a key factor in the performance of trance. The cultural and ideological positions from which trance performance is read in Belo’s study are highly representative of the assumptions evoked whenever general discussions of the notion of trance occur. These assumptions tend to limit the understanding of trance states to expressions of an “unconscious”, “subconscious” or “deeper” self.[viii] While these limitations offer a sense of mystery and ineffability to the notion of trance states, they serve to obscure the finer processes at play in the performance of these states. The aim of this essay is to develop the understanding of these finer processes by regarding this example of the intentional practice of trance performance within its local context.


These examples of Balinese trance performance demonstrate the functionality of individual identification and cultural information in the performance of trance. This study is not as concerned with identities as with the process of identification – the act of identifying with, as, and by an individual and a group. The individual self invokes, embodies and enacts an identity – a self-identity as well as contextualised social identities. The performer enacts and embodies the meaning of the identity invoked. Thus the enactment and embodiment is an act of identification. In these performances, the systems of determination comprise of identifications, obstacles and objectives – systems of force result from and propel the acts of individuals and groups.




Balinese notions of personhood inherently allow for the possibility of multiple identity structures, existent as potentialities for embodiment and enactment. The concept of “kanda mpat” or “four siblings”,[ix] for example, is introduced early in the life of a Balinese person’s experience and reinforced throughout Balinese cultural life. The theories of self and environment adopted by the Balinese trance performer enable the enactment, embodiment and interpretation of the performances in context. The Balinese trance performer does not “dissociate” from an individual biographical self as much as “become” the spirit.


Perceptions of Balinese trance in anthropology are based on psychological concepts inherited from William James, Freud and Jung; whereas the Balinese perceptions of trance are based on spiritual concepts derived from Hindu traditions. This study is interested in the concepts and perceptions that allow and enable the trance performance, which will also allow and enable the explanation of trance performance in psychological and cultural terms. As Belo argued, each trance state is effectively imbued with cultural norms in which are contained the vocabulary of words and actions appropriate or relevant to each state – in what Csordas described as a “genre of ritual language” and in the manner that ritual and society create or reflect each other as a form of “self-affirmation”.[x]


The Balinese theory of personhood is important to understanding an objective of the performer in the performance of trance – to become an expression and embodiment of the notion of the “divine”. The conversations inherent in the discourse of Balinese thought, history and tradition which suggest a particular way of embodying and enacting the divine, in the performance of Sanghyang Dedari, are examined in this paper. The performance of the “goddesses” of Sanghyang Dedari is viewed as a representation of a cultural process, a tradition traceable over a period of a few generations – through the works of Covarrubias (1937), Belo (1960), O’Neill (1978), Suryani and Jensen (1993), Bandem and DeBoer (1995) – read along with other writings on trance in order to regard its structure as a performance form.


The Balinese sense of community and conception of self interact to produce the performance of Sanghyang Dedari as a tradition. The performers of Sanghyang Dedari are selected and recruited from a community’s pool of pre-adolescent girls of between nine and thirteen years of age. Roma O’Neill documented a selection process for performers that demonstrates the deeply theatrical nature of this tradition.[xi] This quality is most evident in the ways in which the selection process compares with the typical audition process employed in conventional dramatic practice – for example, the young candidates for Sanghyang Dedari are asked to perform a critical section of the ceremony, as an auditioning performer might be asked to read or perform a certain section of a script, to determine the candidates’ suitability and capability. It is important to consider the intentions of the performance practices. In Sanghyang Dedari, the performance is framed as a ceremony of exorcism intended to purify the way of being of a community, to expel “spirits” that are believed to cause disease, disaster, death and misfortune.[xii] These spirits are believed to be embodied and enacted by entities known as “gering” and “leyak” which are animated and utilised by practitioners of the destructive or “black” magical arts. Some of these practitioners are believed to have the ability to transform themselves into leyak, which attack people in the community, and are thus targeted in Sanghyang Dedari performances as objects of evil to be identified and punished.


Traditionally, the Sanghyang Dedari performances are organised by the village temple dedicated to appeasing the spirits of the dead that are awaiting a process of purification by ritual cremation[xiii] – the “pura dalem” (literally the “deep” or “inside” temple). The priest, or “pemangku”, of this temple officiates over the Sanghyang Dedari ceremonies and is responsible for the selection and training of Sanghyang Dedari performers. Geertz argued in his studies of Balinese culture that “ceremonialism” is a driving force in politics, thus an expression of power and influence, in Balinese societies. The performances of Sanghyang Dedari function as communicative appeals for authority within the village social context. The privilege and status accorded to performers of Sanghyang Dedari provide substantial grounds for the argument of the “self-serving” nature of trance performance noted by Erika Bourguignon.[xiv]


The force of authority is based on the expression of spiritual power, or “sakti”, graded as a valuation of the level of “purity”. As Geertz noted, this system of valuation – denoted through a “metaphysical theatre” in Bali – positions a notion of the divine or supernatural as an “exemplary centre” around which social and cultural life are referenced and organised.[xv] The “sacred space” of the temple and the Sanghyang Dedari performance becomes the forum within which dynamics of power and influence are negotiated, enacted and embodied. The performances evoke, according to Geertz, a “mode of perception, representation and actualization” that attains “objective validity” through the frame of trance.[xvi]


The notion of human control, or lack of it, is central to the appeal to divinity in trance performance. The performance is framed as being controlled by some force outside of the agency of the performer; agency is attributed to a force that is not human, that is supernatural and divine. The performer is seen to enact and embody what Csordas describes as a culturally constituted “sacred self”.[xvii] Thus by negating the “personal” identity of the performer, the “cultural” identity is intensified by being made more fully realised and actualised. The power expressed, as Bourguignon believed, to “lend capacities of a special kind”.[xviii] This power is based on the idealisation of trance as performance of the “other”.


In Belo’s study, the impulse to search for “other-ness” is made understandable through the frameworks of psychology and anthropology. These frameworks have become the basis upon which the notion of “trance” has been constructed. In this way, the notions of the “unconscious” and “subconscious” have become central, however downplayed, to the conventional understandings of trance performance.


As appeals to the “other” and the “ineffable”, these concepts are not particularly useful for this study. The “deeper” self that Belo[xix] and others resort to will be shown to be the result of the performers’ acts of associations and identifications as interpreted by the enculturated audience, and from group-defined roles that are culturally enacted and embodied. This essay considers the indicators of trance in Sanghyang Dedari performance; the functionality of mental imagery and associations embedded in performance texts; as well as the selection and training of the performers of the Sanghyang Dedari roles.


The trance states enacted and embodied by Sanghyang Dedari performers must be seen in the context of the acts of identification that those particular performers engage in. These acts of identification shed light on the roles and functions undertaken by the performers, as well as on the scores and texts that are performed. The acts of identification, that precede the Sanghyang Dedari performers’ embodiments of the celestial nymphs, provide an insight into the styles of identification that are employed in the social and cultural milieux of these performances.


Geertz noted six types of labels by which persons can define themselves in Bali[xx] and by which they are identified as unique. A “personal” name, also known as the “child” or “little” name, is bestowed 105 days after birth but then rarely used; it provides the person with “the rudiments of a completely unique cultural identity” whilst remaining a “highly muted” and “intensely private matter” throughout life.[xxi] A “birth order” name designates a person as a member of a sibling set organised as a cycle, from first to fourth then repeated in a style that suggests “an endless four-stage replication of an imperishable form” and is the most frequently used term of address and reference within a local village context.[xxii] A “kinship” term identifies a person within a generational structure and conveys kinship information.[xxiii] In addition, a “teknonym” designates a person’s procreational and marital status, and becomes another commonly applied label in a local village context; a “status” title conveys information on a person’s place within the Triwangsa Varna social caste system; and a “public” title identifies the “linggah” or “seat” of a person, their occupation and social function within the Balinese social structure. These labels define a person’s biographical identity as well as that person’s relation to a central concern of Balinese culture – their “distance from divinity”, the level of “political and ecclesiastical authority” to which they are eligible.[xxiv]


Moreover, the Balinese concept of “personality” is seen to comprise of four “spiritual siblings” or “kanda mpat” that a person is born with and goes through life with. These siblings are associated with particular psychological and physical dispositions; a neglect of ritual obligations related to them or an act of sorcery upon them are seen to result in a loss of well-being or in death.[xxv]


These systems of identification serve to construct a world-view that positions the individual self as being predominantly acted upon by social and cultural forces, whilst muting the sense of uniqueness and wholly individual choice. Thus agency is conceived of as being a matter of social and cultural, rather than individual, impulse. This emphasises the capacity to accommodate the macrocosmic factors of the divine and the supernatural as primary motivating forces for action. This is a solid base upon which an “ideology of possession” can develop and prosper.[xxvi] Central to such an ideology is the conceptualisation by which the social and cultural functions of a Sanghyang Dedari performer are defined.


One key element in the acts of identification undertaken by the Sanghyang Dedari performer is the social role as conceptualised in the notion of “tapakan”; this refers to the dancers[xxvii] whilst literally meaning “support”, and also refers to inanimate objects that represent a deity.[xxviii] The tapakan is therefore conceived of as a “vessel” that acts as a “godly representation”. The conceptualisation of this role emphasises the performance of the culturally-defined identity whilst negating the individually-defined expressions of the person in much the same way that the function of the dramatic “actor” is conceptualised.


The conceptualisation of the possession-trance state itself is encapsulated in the notions of “kerawuhan”, which literally means “the coming” or “the entering” of a spirit or deity[xxix] and “nadi”, from “dadi” which means “to become”, referring to the state of being in trance. In addition, possession-trance is shaped by the notions of “engsap”, which means “to forget”[xxx] or “a state of being unaware”;[xxxi] and “inget”, which means “to remember”[xxxii] or “acute awareness”.[xxxiii] These notions suggest that the emphasis of the performer’s embodiment and enactment upon the expression of a culturally-defined identity greatly reduces, if not negates altogether, the sense of individual agency that is central to the experience of a “normal” state of consciousness.[xxxiv] The sense of authority, endowed upon the constructs of “divinity” and embodied by the possessing deity, serves to further dramatically reduce the performer’s sense of individual agency, as the weight of cultural expectations and performance training exert effect. The sense of being “moved” – referred to by Belo as the “puppet complex”[xxxv] – parallels the sense of “ideo-dynamicism” that has been noted in hypnosis research.[xxxvi] These acts of identification reflect particular theories of “self”, as well as a particular cosmology and ideology as theories of environment. The trance state is the embodiment and enactment of these theories, the performance of Sanghyang Dedari is the expression of these particular discourses.


A key problem encountered by this study is that the Balinese theory of self must be regarded through the psychological and anthropological theories of self, resulting in a layering of acts of identification that must be negotiated. This problem is most apparent in the question of susceptibility to trance states – the notion that the state of consciousness required for the performance of trance, and the hypnotic process in general, is reliant upon the suspension or the under-development of critical faculty. However, rather than use “susceptibility” as a measure of trance capacity, it is perhaps more useful to consider the ability to imagine and to believe a mythical world. These abilities will certainly be seen as necessary in order to enact and to embody the trance performances that are the focus of this study.


The processes by which these abilities are developed can be further understood by looking at parallel processes relevant to hypnosis research. The role of hypnotic processes in Balinese trance performance has long been recognised. For example, Belo employs the understandings of hypnosis practitioners like Milton Erickson to shed light on Balinese trance practice.[xxxvii] Studies of hypnosis have found that children make excellent hypnotic subjects,[xxxviii] and that the levels of hypnotisability and suggestibility are highest between the ages of 7 and 14 years.[xxxix] Thus the selection of pre-adolescent girls as performers in Sanghyang Dedari indicates an appreciation, on the part of the facilitators of the ceremonies, for the tendency to accept instructions without question as an essential quality.


Hypnotic processes are observable in this practice when analysing the attentional, associational, and dissociational strategies employed in the performance of the trance state in Sanghyang Dedari. The trance state is a process of attentional absorption,[xl] the capacity for which is a key factor in the selection of the Sanghyang Dedari performer.[xli]


In an initiation ceremony documented by O’Neill in 1974 at the village of Cemenggoan in the Gianyar region, the Sanghyang Dedari performer is selected by putting all candidates through the trance induction process employed in the ceremonies. Only the candidates that exhibited signs of intense attentional absorption in the images invoked by a series of songs, prayers, and incense smoke are selected for further training. These are the candidates that are deemed to exhibit signs of a “state of possession”, the capacity to engage in the experiential template provided by the induction ceremony, as suggested by the imagery and sensory stimulation provided by the ceremony.[xlii]


This capacity is further developed in training. Over the following two weeks, the performers become familiarised with this part of the ceremony, which is performed every night in the pura dalem – the death temple – of the village. The performers are dressed in the brass bangles and white clothing that they wear for the entire performance season, designating them as Sanghyang Dedari performers – as tapakan.




The Sanghyang Dedari ceremony is generally performed as an extended performance season.[xliii] As with most rehearsed performances, within a season the ceremonies follow  a  precise and consistent form.[xliv] A  Sanghyang Dedari  season  documented  by O’Neill in 1974-1976 and performances documented by Covarrubias in 1937, illustrate the functionality of the songs and other sensory stimuli in generating mental imagery and associations for the performers. The form and content of the ceremonies have maintained a level of consistency that indicates a well-established tradition. In particular, the songs utilised for the induction and exit stages of the ceremony have maintained a remarkable level of consistency for what is supposed to be a predominantly oral tradition.[xlv]


From the songs documented by both O’Neill and Covarrubias (See Tables 2-3), particular images function as key elements in the induction and exit processes. The image of the incense smoke drifting upwards is used to evoke a sense of a “pathway” upon which the celestial nymphs descend to enter the bodies of the performers as they kneel over the incense braziers.[xlvi] Thus the performers become attentionally absorbed in the imagery through the sensory stimulation provided by the fragrance of the smoking incense and the songs of the choir.


For the performers, this absorption in the imagery and the logic it entails, in turn provokes an act of identification with and as the celestial nymphs of the ritual. Similarly, the exit process utilises the imagery of the “gods” – having fulfilled their purpose in the ceremony – implored to “go home… to heaven”; and blown by a celestial “wind” they depart while “the human forms remain”.[xlvii]


In Sanghyang Dedari an important element in the induction is the repetition and rhythm changes employed in the Gending no. 1 set.[xlviii] The words of the song suggest the image of smoke rising up to the heavens as the pathway by which the celestial nymphs descend to earth, and the source of the smoke are the incense braziers over which the performers kneel awaiting the heavenly beings. The words of the song are repeated in an accelerating rhythm, intensifying the focus on the imagery and the sense of “arrival” and “becoming”. The performers in turn enlarge the swaying movements that accompany the song until a moment of physical collapse – the act of falling backwards is a popular technique of hypnosis induction for children[xlix] – that marks the embodiment of the spirits. The repetitions and rhythms influence the audience of the performance themselves, as a form of mutual hypnotic contract.[l]




From the selection process onwards and throughout the entire season, the performers are guided to use a particular sequence of songs and sensory stimuli to become attentionally absorbed in particular trains of thoughts and associations that function as the induction process for the Sanghyang Dedari performance.[li]


The selection of the Sanghyang Dedari performer is based on the candidate’s ability to achieve a level of attentional focus deemed necessary in order to induce and maintain a particular train of thoughts and associations, a particular state of consciousness or trance. The selection and induction process is comprised of four songs repeated by a chorus of women, a brazier of smoking incense over which the performer kneels, acts of purification, blessing with holy water, a set of prayers chanted by the pemangku, and the temple setting – the pura dalem at dusk.[lii] These elements serve as attentional and associational cues that motivate the act of identification that is required for the performance. These attentional and associational cues are framed as the sequence of imagery that leads to the “invitation” and “descent” of the celestial nymphs from the heavens and into the bodies of the performers, and then their eventual departure from the performers’ human forms. Another key element for selection as a Sanghyang Dedari performer is that the candidate fits the physical requirements of the role – that they are a pre-pubescent girl between the ages of nine and thirteen years; that they have not begun to menstruate; and that they meet a certain standard of “beauty” deemed necessary to become a representation of a celestial nymph.


In awe of the perceived power of the performance, it can be easy to attribute to the performers the special qualities deemed expressive of the nature of divine deities. Belo noted that in performance, the tapakan are “deferred to as gods, who were expected to be somewhat overbearing in their demands and whom it was wise to placate and to please”.[liii] However, from the selection process it is apparent that they are cast as performers in much the same way that dramatic roles are filled in the theatre and film that we are more familiar with – in accordance with the perceived ability and suitability to play the role. From O’Neill’s case study in Cemenggoan, it is apparent that the impetus to stage a Sanghyang Dedari season is dependent upon the pemangku – the temple priest – of the pura dalem, and their ability to persuade village councils of its necessity, in order to mobilize the funds, resources and personnel required. The process can therefore be seen as the creation of and appeal to an “exemplary centre”[liv] around which the social and cultural life of the village are reorganised and reoriented. This process serves as a form of group attentional absorption that gives rise to the mystique of the trance performance. Therefore the group’s aggregate ability to engage in this attentional absorption greatly influences the quality of the trance performance.


This dynamic is effectively reflected in the problems of the “commercial” as opposed to the “authentic” trance performances – the degree of “sacredness” of the ceremony – as well as the problems of the “depth” of trance achieved in performance. These difficulties are most apparent in the sensitivities encountered when performances are reconstructed and recontextualised for the purposes of the tourism market and television documentation. This was precisely the case when Indonesian television station RCTI withdrew an international broadcast featuring a Sanghyang Dedari performance in 1999, reportedly for fear of offending the Balinese community by framing the “sacred” performance as “entertainment”.[lv] Thus, in some regions and villages Sanghyang Dedari performances are staged only for local village audiences and are not open to tourists – these performances are considered to be the most “genuine” ones where performers enter into “real” as opposed to “acted” trance.[lvi]


Traditions of possession-trance, as a consultative practice employing a client and healer or guide or oracle relationship, have a long history in the Asia-Pacific region. From diagnoses of illnesses and cures, to political decision-making, these practices bestowed economic benefits and community-recognised status upon the practitioners,[lvii] and provided the community with appeals to authority and authenticity that were seen as transcendent of individual human agency – as voices of the gods and ancestral spirits, the divine and the supernatural. Performers of Sanghyang Dedari represent the manifestations of these types of traditions.


Here it becomes important to reflect on the notion of “pretense” in the context of this study. The notion does not present itself as a particularly useful instrument for the analysis of a complex phenomenon such as those investigated in this essay. The notion of pretense holds inherent value judgements in relation to notions of “truth” and “authenticity” that seem to serve only to obscure the focus of this study. The analogy of an actor performing Hamlet is perhaps more useful; the actor is not expected to pretend to be Hamlet, rather the cultural framework enables the enactment and embodiment of a script and role to be both perceived and experienced as the actor “being” or “becoming” Hamlet. This is the perspective employed in analysing Sanghyang Dedari. The performers qualifyingly believe in the transformation performed, and invite an audience to participate in the employment of a culturally sanctioned belief system. Therefore, in this study the concern is related to the experiences of “truth” and “authenticity” rather than their expressions as ultimate and objective values.


The power of Sanghyang Dedari performances lie in their capacity to invoke in the performative moment a dissociation from normative frameworks of experience and perception, thus creating a liminal or aspirational space within which particular suggestions for transformation are conveyed. The efficacy of these types of performances are measured by their perceived capacity to induce a transformative state – to effect desired changes in the individual or group, depending upon its focus.




The practices and theories of hypnosis are used in this study, not as an attempt to scientifically justify the trance performances investigated – hypnosis is not regarded as a science. Rather the comparisons are intended as a form of comparative analysis of two related art forms. For example, the act of falling backwards in Sanghyang Dedari induction demonstrates the employment of a corporeal metaphor that has been found across contexts – in this practice, in hypnosis theory and practice, as well as in conventional actor training – to have highly significant efficacy in creating a somewhat dissociative state. The act of falling backwards can perhaps create a disorientation or “neutral space” out of which the performer can act with the motivation and identification that is appropriate for the performance.


Thus in the practices investigated in this essay, it is evident that hypnotic processes are central to the induction of the particular states of performance that are required in each of these instances. However, it is also important to regard these hypnotic processes in the context of the social and cultural environments in which they function. The practices investigated respond to particular social conditions, they are presented as solutions to perceived needs or situations of crisis, or to some form of affliction. The role that this practice plays in cultivating or manufacturing the perceptions of the need or crisis – the demand for the products or services offered – must also be considered. Such practices are performed in the context of economic processes; the extent to which such processes shape and determine the practices and their perceived effects must certainly be considered a significant aspect of their social and cultural contexts.


In this practice, a particular understanding of the notion of “trance”, or the state of consciousness performed, is applied. This understanding influences the level and type of valuation that the practice is endowed with. These valuations are to do with the perceptions of authority and credibility that such performances are able to invoke. Therefore, by regarding the practices examined as appeals for empowerment, it is evident that such performances serve a kind of therapeutic purpose – in the sense that Csordas described religious healing on the basis of a “psychotherapy analogy”.[lviii] This therapeutic effect operates as aesthetic projections that elicit and manipulate particular belief systems in both performers and audiences. Such trance performance states appear to derive much of their power from the sense of transformation that is invoked.


The sense of transformation that is created and communicated is a central element of this type of therapeutic effect. The transformation perceived is thus potentially a transformation experienced by the individual performer and by the group for which it is performed. In short, these performances serve their audiences, and strive to be valued by such audiences – they are embodied ideology. These performances are inseparable from their social and cultural contexts, that is, they cannot exist without them. As performed states of consciousness, they are contingent upon the information flow – the trains of thoughts and associations – from which they are created, and through which they are embodied and enacted by the performers.


In this essay, a performative tradition that is conventionally recognised as employing “trance” states has been investigated in order to examine a practice that has been influential in shaping contemporary understandings of trance performance. Sanghyang Dedari has been shown to function as an appeal to authenticity and authority by positing exemplary centres – in the form of divine or supernatural sources – in response to dominant streams and social structures. The concepts of “self” that apply in this context have been considered in order to trace the acts of identification that performers undergo in this particular tradition. Thus the affective and imaginative involvements of the performer have been shown to be contingent upon the forms of identification and the cultural information employed in the performance tradition. In its intentions, this tradition has been shown to serve exorcistic functions, in endeavouring to expel the “spirits” that are held responsible for causing suffering or stifling growth by invoking divine or supernatural agency – herein lies the drama of the performance. This tradition has been shown to follow forms and themes that are particular to its context, as repertoire and vocabulary that both defines and facilitates the performative practice. Whilst the theories of “self” that apply to the practitioners may seem idiosyncratic in some ways, the hypnotic processes that are employed in this tradition have been shown to contain significant consistencies with the practices of clinical hypnosis. Therefore, praxis has been demonstrated to be discernible and systematic though heavily reliant upon both context and training. This study concludes that the embodiment and enactment of the performer inevitably emerges from the social and political milieu.



[i]     Thomas J. Csordas, The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1994).: p. 5.

[ii]     Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973).: p. 30.

[iii]     Accesss Bali Online ABL Tours and Travels, The Gods Dance on Earth [Website] (Access Bali Online, September 19, 2000 2000 [cited August 6, 2002 2002]); retrieved from, Bali Dreams Indah, Sanghyang or Fire Dance (, 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from, Bali Tribune Online, Sacred Dance of Trance (January 2001 (18th Print Edition)) [Web magazine] (Bali Tribune Multimedia, January 2001 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from,, Sang Hyang Dedari Dance [Website] (, August 20, 2001 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from

[iv]     Bali Dreams Indah, Sanghyang or Fire Dance ([cited), Bali Nagasari, Sanghyang Dedari and Sanghyang Jaran [Website] (Nagasari Tours and Travel, January 10, 2002 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from,, The Sanghyang [Website] (Bali For You, August 3, 2002 2002 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from, Balinesia, Sang Hyang Dance [Website] (, 2001 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from, Luh Ketut Suryani and Gordon D. Jensen, Trance and Possession in Bali : A Window on Western Multiple Personality, Possession Disorder, and Suicide (Kuala Lumpur and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

[v] Balinesia, Sang Hyang - Fire Dance [Website] (, 2002 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from

[vi]     I Madé Bandem and Fredrik Eugene deBoer, Kaja and Kelod: Balinese Dance in Transition (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1981/1995).: p. 12.

[vii]     Jane Belo, Trance in Bali (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960).: p. 1.

[viii]     Ibid, Suryani and Jensen, Trance and Possession in Bali : A Window on Western Multiple Personality, Possession Disorder, and Suicide.: pp. 20-23.

[ix]     Linda Connor, "The Unbounded Self: Balinese Therapy in Theory and Practice," in Cultural Conceptions of Mental Health and Therapy, ed. Anthony J. Marsella and Geoffrey M. White (Boston: Reidel and Kluwer, 1982).

[x]     Csordas.: pp. 20-21.

[xi]     Roma M.G. Sisley O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village" (Master of Arts thesis, University of Melbourne, 1978).: pp. 138-140.

[xii]     Bandem and deBoer, Kaja and Kelod: Balinese Dance in Transition, Belo, Trance in Bali, O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village", Suryani and Jensen, Trance and Possession in Bali : A Window on Western Multiple Personality, Possession Disorder, and Suicide.: p. 109.

[xiii]     Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980).: p. 264.

[xiv]     Erika Bourguignon, "Spirit Possession and Altered States of Consciousness: The Evolution of an Inquiry," in The Making of Psychological Anthropology, ed. George Dearborn Spindler and John Wesley Mayhew Whiting (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

[xv]     Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali.: pp. 104-109.

[xvi]     Ibid.: p. 130.

[xvii]     Csordas.: p. 4.

[xviii]     Bourguignon (1978): pp. 494-495.

[xix]     Belo, Trance in Bali.: p. 146.

[xx]     Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays.: p. 368.

[xxi]     Ibid.: pp. 368-370.

[xxii]     Ibid.: pp. 370-372.

[xxiii]     Ibid.: pp. 372-375.

[xxiv]     Ibid.: pp. 381-388.

[xxv]     Linda Connor, "Corpse Abuse and Trance in Bali: The Cultural Mediation of Aggression," Mankind 12, no. 2 (1979), Connor, "The Unbounded Self: Balinese Therapy in Theory and Practice.": pp. 260-261.

[xxvi]     Connor, "Corpse Abuse and Trance in Bali: The Cultural Mediation of Aggression.": p. 112.

[xxvii]     Belo, Trance in Bali.: p. 182.

[xxviii]     Ibid, O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village".: p. 190.

[xxix]     Belo, Trance in Bali, Beryl De Zoete and Walter Spies, Dance and Drama in Bali (Kuala Lumpur and London: Oxford University Press, 1938/1973), O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village".: p. 2.; Bandem and deBoer: pp. 148-149.

[xxx]     B. Joseph, "Learning Balinese," in Australian National University (Canberra: 1990).

[xxxi]     I Wayan Lendra, "Bali and Grotowski: Some Parallels in the Training Process," in Acting (Re)Considered, ed. Phillip B. Zarrilli (London and New York: Routledge, 1995).

[xxxii]     Joseph, "Learning Balinese."

[xxxiii]     Lendra, "Bali and Grotowski: Some Parallels in the Training Process.": p. 140.

[xxxiv]     Bandem and deBoer, Kaja and Kelod: Balinese Dance in Transition, Belo, Trance in Bali.

[xxxv]     Belo, Trance in Bali, De Zoete and Spies, Dance and Drama in Bali, Suryani and Jensen, Trance and Possession in Bali : A Window on Western Multiple Personality, Possession Disorder, and Suicide.: p. 111.

[xxxvi]     Stephen G. Gilligan, Therapeutic Trances: The Cooperation Principle in Ericksonian Hypnotherapy (New York: Brunner Mazel, 1987).

[xxxvii]     Belo, Trance in Bali.: pp. 4-5.

[xxxviii]     Hartland.: p. 25.;Bernard James Hartman, A System of Hypnotherapy (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1980). pp. 47-48.

[xxxix]     G. Gail Gardner and Karen Olness, Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy with Children (New York: Grune and Stratton, 1981).: pp. 19-26.

[xl]     Gilligan, Therapeutic Trances: The Cooperation Principle in Ericksonian Hypnotherapy.: p. 46.

[xli]     O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village".: p. 138.

[xlii]     Ibid.: pp. 138-139.

[xliii]     Ibid.: p. 1.

[xliv]     Ibid.: p. 53.

[xlv]     Miguel Covarrubias and Rose Covarrubias, Island of Bali (New York: Knopf, 1937), O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village".: pp. 11-26.

[xlvi]     O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village".: pp. 8, 138-139.

[xlvii]     Ibid: p. 25.

[xlviii]     O’Neill.: pp. 173-174.

[xlix]     Hartland.: p. 38-40.; Hartman.: pp. 47-48.

[l]     For example – see O’Neill.: p. 174.

[li]     John Hartland and Stanley Tinkler, Medical and Dental Hypnosis and Its Clinical Applications, 2nd ed. ed. (London: Baillière Tindall, 1971).: p. 375.

[lii]     O’Neill, "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village".: pp. 138-139.

[liii]     Belo, Trance in Bali.: pp. 180-181.

[liv]     Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali.: pp. 102-109.

[lv]     Jakarta Post (1999). 'RCTI' Drops 'Syanghyang Dedari', The Jakarta Post, December 3, 1999. Kompas Online.: Bali Echo Magazine, Evolving Dances (January 2000 (44: 8)) [Web magazine] (Bali Echo, December 25, 1999 1999 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from, Bali Echo Magazine, A Time to Correct (April-May 2000 (46)) [Web magazine] (Bali Echo, 2000 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from, Jakarta Post, 'Rcti' Drops 'Sanghyang Dedari' (December 3, 1999) [Newspaper report] (The Jakarta Post, Kompas Online, December 1999 1999 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]).

[lvi]     Bill Dalton, Bali Handbook: Bangli Regency [Website travel guide] (2000 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]); retrieved from

[lvii]     Jay D. Dobbin and Francis X. Hezel, "Distribution of Spirit Possession and Trance in Micronesia," Pacific Studies 19, no. 2 (1996).

[lviii]     Csordas, The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing.: p. 1.



ABL Tours and Travels, Accesss Bali Online. The Gods Dance on Earth [Website]. Access Bali Online, September 19, 2000, 2000 [cited August 6, 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Bali Dreams Indah. Sanghyang or Fire Dance, 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Bali Echo Magazine. Evolving Dances (January 2000 (44: 8)) [Web magazine]. Bali Echo, December 25, 1999, 1999 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

———. A Time to Correct (April-May 2000 (46)) [Web magazine]. Bali Echo, 2000 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Bali Nagasari. Sanghyang Dedari and Sanghyang Jaran [Website]. Nagasari Tours and Travel, January 10, 2002, 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Bali Tribune Online. Sacred Dance of Trance (January 2001 (18th Print Edition)) [Web magazine]. Bali Tribune Multimedia, January 2001, 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from The Sanghyang [Website]. Bali For You, August 3, 2002, 2002 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Balinesia. Sang Hyang Dance [Website]., 2001, 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Balinesia, Sang Hyang - Fire Dance [Website]., 2002 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Bandem, I Madé, and Fredrik Eugene deBoer. Kaja and Kelod: Balinese Dance in Transition. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1981/1995.

Belo, Jane. Trance in Bali. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.

Bourguignon, Erika. "Spirit Possession and Altered States of Consciousness: The Evolution of an Inquiry." In The Making of Psychological Anthropology, edited by George Dearborn Spindler and John Wesley Mayhew Whiting, 479-515. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Connor, Linda. "Corpse Abuse and Trance in Bali: The Cultural Mediation of Aggression." Mankind 12, no. 2 (1979): 104-18.

———. "The Unbounded Self: Balinese Therapy in Theory and Practice." In Cultural Conceptions of Mental Health and Therapy, edited by Anthony J. Marsella and Geoffrey M. White, 251-66. Boston: Reidel and Kluwer, 1982.

Covarrubias, Miguel, and Rose Covarrubias. Island of Bali. New York: Knopf, 1937.

Csordas, Thomas J. The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1994.

Dalton, Bill. Bali Handbook: Bangli Regency [Website travel guide]. 2000 [cited 7 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

De Zoete, Beryl, and Walter Spies. Dance and Drama in Bali. Kuala Lumpur and London: Oxford University Press, 1938/1973.

Dobbin, Jay D., and Francis X. Hezel. "Distribution of Spirit Possession and Trance in Micronesia." Pacific Studies 19, no. 2 (1996): 105-48.

Gardner, G. Gail, and Karen Olness. Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy with Children. New York: Grune and Stratton, 1981.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books, 1973.

———. Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Gilligan, Stephen G. Therapeutic Trances: The Cooperation Principle in Ericksonian Hypnotherapy. New York: Brunner Mazel, 1987.

Hartland, John, and Stanley Tinkler. Medical and Dental Hypnosis and Its Clinical Applications. 2nd ed. ed. London: Baillière Tindall, 1971.

Hartman, Bernard James. A System of Hypnotherapy. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1980. Sang Hyang Dedari Dance [Website]., August 20, 2001, 2001 [cited 6 August 2002 2002]. Retrieved from

Jakarta Post. 'Rcti' Drops 'Sanghyang Dedari' (December 3, 1999) [Newspaper report]. The Jakarta Post, Kompas Online, December 1999, 1999 [cited 7 August 2002 2002].

Joseph, B. "Learning Balinese." In Australian National University. Canberra, 1990.

Lendra, I Wayan. "Bali and Grotowski: Some Parallels in the Training Process." In Acting (Re)Considered, edited by Phillip B. Zarrilli, 137-54. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

O’Neill, Roma M.G. Sisley. "Spirit Possession and Healing Rites in a Balinese Village." Master of Arts thesis, University of Melbourne, 1978.

Suryani, Luh Ketut, and Gordon D. Jensen. Trance and Possession in Bali : A Window on Western Multiple Personality, Possession Disorder, and Suicide. Kuala Lumpur and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Published in Intercultural Music: Creation and Interpretation (Australian Music Centre: Sydney 2006): pp. 90-100.

Edited by Sally Macarthur, Ronaldo Morelos and Bruce Crossman.            ISBN 978-0-909-16860-5