A Bhut (also bhuta) is in Indian lore, an evil ghost of the dead, especially a man who has died by execution, suicide or accident. The bhut may be detected by its nasal twang, fear of burning turmeric, and the fact that it has no shadow. It never rests on the earth, so it may be avoided by lying on the ground. The airi is a type of bhut of a man killed during a hunt.
It lives in the hills and travels with a pack of spectral dogs. Its saliva is poisonous, and to see it usually results in death by fright. Those strong enough to survive are rewarded with treasures. The airi is worshipped, and temples to it are built in isolated regions.
Bhuts were originally ancestral spirits who, if propitiated and venerated, protect and provide for their descendents. However, if dead souls are not propitiated; if they lack descendents or living people to honor them; if they were not given proper funeral rites, then they can transform into malevolent, resentful spirits. These hostile spirits are also known as Bhuts. Since they’re not being treated as honored ancestors, these Bhuts may kill off other people’s descendents.
The most famous Bhut is a type of restless ghost—souls of those who died unexpectedly, especially by violence and/or lacked correct funeral rituals. Thus a lone traveler, set upon by thieves and killed in a lonely spot, whose body is never recovered is a likely candidate to transform into this kind of Bhut. A Bhut may havebeen a very good person in life; in death, they are frustrated and resentful. (As Bhuts tend to linger near the scene of their deaths, they may also be lingering near their killers or those who failed to help them.)
At their most malignant, Bhuts are vampires who drain the life-force from the living. Bhuts cause fatal illness, even epidemics. Targets tend to be children and women, especially brides and the visibly pregnant. Bhuts unable to feed off the living will lurk near cemeteries, feeding on intestines and excrement of new corpses. A Bhut can also enter a corpse and reanimate it.
While less publicized, other Bhuts are venerated ancestral spirits who are invited to possess mediums in order to deliver oracles during all-night rituals featuring dance and drumming. This type of Bhut derives from India’s ancient tribal spiritual traditions and was not integrated into Hinduism. Thus they are considered subversive and may be lumped together with malignant Bhuts. Ancestral Bhuts may not be anonymous: many possess names and personal identities and are familiar to their devotees.
If propitiated on a regular basis, even an initially malignant Bhut may become a protective guardian spirit. Because they are powerful and do not love anyone other than the family or individual they serve, Bhuts are coveted as dangerous protective patrons and spirit bodyguards. Alternatively those perceiving themselves as vulnerable to malevolent Bhuts, especially households with pregnant women or nursing babies, may make regular offerings just to divert the Bhut from its primary target.
• The scent of burning turmeric repels Bhuts. Throw a pinch into a fire or burn fresh turmeric in copper bowls.
Manifestations: Bhuts are shape-shifters; they can take any form. They are generally experienced as shadowy figures lurking in cemeteries, ruins, or lonely, remote places. They are most active at night when they draw nearer to human habitations.
Some Bhuts travel in the entourage of Shiva, who may enforce their good behavior.
Altars: Special shrines called Bhandara or Bhutastans, created so that the Bhut can rest, be sheltered, and eat, are built outside on stilts. Offerings are placed on the shrine. Brass or terracotta images of the Bhut may also be included on the altar.
Ritual: The Kola is the festival held to honor Bhuts.
Offerings: Bhuts crave milk; they attack babies in order to suck out the mother’s milk the baby has consumed; Bhuts are propitiated and redirected with offerings like coconut milk or rice balls cooked in milk. Offer flowers, fragrant incense, coconuts. (Break the coconut and place it on the altar for the Bhut.) Treat the Bhut as you would treat a beloved, respected family member.
Also known as: Bhuta; feminine: Bhutini
See also: Ancestor; Ghost; Shiva; Vampire; and the Glossary entry for Possession
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
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