Jari-Mari is a fiery spirit of fever. She is associated with all illnesses that feature elevated temperatures, but especially smallpox, perhaps because it is the most dreaded. Fevers are understood as a sign of visitation from the goddess or even as spirit possession.
Do not react with dismay, anger, or displeasure at her arrival. It makes matters worse. The goal is not to antagonize her but to appease and propitiate her. If she is challenged, the results may be fatal: she is a killer spirit, but she does not lack mercy and can be persuaded to do no harm and go away, especially if her victim is a child.
Jari-Mari’s mercy, blessings and favor are invoked when someone burns with fever, especially children. (It is understood that someone else will perform invocations and rituals on behalf of theone suffering Jari-Mari’s fiery touch.) Her name is a euphemism for a word translated as “Evil Force.” She sometimes resembles sister smallpox spirit, Sitala. Jari-Mari, too, roams the countryside riding a donkey, but their propitiatory offerings are very different. Sitala has transcended the status of disease Demon, bestowing gifts and blessings on those she favors. Jari-Mari is almost exclusively identified with illness: her blessing is not killing you or not causing long-lasting harm. If she leaves quickly with no damage done, her victims are understood to have received her blessings and mercy. It is traditional, in this circumstance, to wear or carry talismans honoring her as a sign of respect, gratitude, and acknowledgment.
Manifestation: Jari-Mari appears as a woman riding a donkey, its saddlebags laden with illness. She may walk through urban areas on her own feet, carrying a big shoulder bag or backpack. Without a pack animal’s help, she may be particularly inclined to dump the contents.
Iconography: No need to bring her into your home willingly. Should the need arise, a stone smeared with paste made from powdered vermilion and turmeric serves as her image.
Altar: Permanent altars to Jari-Mari are not placed in the home. Erect a temporary one after she has arrived. Altars to keep her away if threat is imminent are placed outside, ideally beneath neem or banyan trees.
Spirit ally: Jari-Mari is frequently accompanied by the fever Demon, Jvarasura.
Ritual: Jari-Mari is a raging hot, wrathful spirit. Sing to her to calm her down. Songs are directed to the afflicted person, as that’s where Jari-Mari is to be found. You’ll know when she’s calmed down because the fever will diminish or break. If the fever spikes, you’re singing the wrong song.
Sacred tree: Neem
Offerings: Red flowers, turmeric powder, vermilion powder, candy, and sweets; cinnamon candy like Red Hots; red sari; red silk fabric or other luxurious crimson cloth; bridal finery (Hindu brides traditionally wear red, not white, which is perceived as a color of death and mourning); cinnabar is not traditional but, as it is red, sacred, and used in Chinese and Himalayan folk magic to reduce heat, it may be worth a shot.
See also: Babalu Ayé; Daruma; Mariamman; Sitala
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.