Halfway to the Mountain [Jirel]

pp. 1, 3 geographic location; ethnogenesis

p. 1

"The Jirels inhabit the Jiri-Sikri Valleys, located in the Janakpur Zone of the Dolakha District, in eastern Nepal."

p. 3

"the Jirels came from Simraungadh, in the eastern Terai ... . ... During religious rites (puja), the Jirel priest, called a Phombo, beckons the clan god ... to come from ... Simraungadh".

pp. 72-75 sacred book; beckoning the dead; sacred chicken; dragon-god

p. 72

"A different text is used by the Jirels, called Dawa Kundu, while

the Sherpa use the Lama Doma."

p. 73

"In the final rites, held 40 days after a person has died, called Gewa, the Jirel Lamas conduct a procedure known as Sensing, during which they beckon the spirit of the deceased to possess one of the relatives and relay any final messages for departing to the other world ... . This is absent in the Sherpa funeral rites."

p. 74

"all Jirels worship the "New God," called Naya. {cf. Platonic dedication of a chicken to Asklepios} Each house has an altar, devoted to Naya, comprising a box that is attached to the outside wall of the house. ... In Naya’s box, the Jirels put ... one chicken egg ... . ... Each family keeps one chicken dedicated and named for this god. Another way the healing powers of Naya may be tapped is to anoint the dedicated live chicken with water, and use the water to bless the patient."

p. 75

"The Jirels also worship the snake god, known as Loo {this is Bodish /kLU/ ‘dragon’} : this is probably the same as Naaga, the Hindu serpent god. {Skt. /naga/ is ‘dragon’, rather than ‘snake’} There are particular sites at the base of trees where altars to Loo are constructed."

pp. 76-7, 81-82, 85, 92 activities of phombo; kula puja for Lha [Bodish for ‘god’]

p. 76

"The Phombo incarnates the spirits and deities, but is able to control and restrain them. Once possessed, the Phombo begins to shake and shiver. This is the tangible manifestation that the gods or spirits have entered into his body. He can then communicate with these gods, who may speak through him, thereby obtaining information necessary to heal patients or to amend any distresses affecting the community. ...

p. 77

In their ability to physically incarnate the spirits of the ancestors and gods, the Phombos are central to the kul devata, or clan god worship".

p. 81

"The worshippers (called naksung) collectively beckon their god and the spirits of their ancestors from their "original homeland" in Simraungadh to come to them ... . ... It is said that Lha, who is in the company of the clan’s ancestral spirits, stops at every Deppa village during his journey, travelling along a spiritual pathway. The naksung ask him to come through every gate and over each boundary

and name these specific places along the spiritual trail ... . Deppa say that. once the god and his spirit

p. 82

companions arrive everything "appears golden," and the people ... throw rice and flour at the altar. ... A black goat is sacrificed for the sun {in Codex Borgia pp. is a "black sun god" (CT&M, p. 197a), believed in by the Miwok (NIB); various North American Indians "had also seen the Black Sun." (BS)} {I also saw it once in an afternoon, watching it until sunset.} and a white goat is offered to the moon."

p. 85

"The Phombo ... begins to pound on his drum, called Nga, and invokes Chen and the clan ancestors to come from Simraungadh, naming each location they must pass through, until they reach the lashing. The Phombo ... starts to tremble when Chen is nearby.

p. 92

"the Phombo begins is performance beating on his drum ... . He calls on the goddess and ancestor spirits to come from Simraungadh. When the goddess and ancestor spirits arrive, he shivers and shakes ... . ... After asking for good fortune ..., the Phombo cuts the torma into small pieces and distributes these ... . These are eaten along with a large amount of chyang." {eucharist of 2 kinds}

CT&M = Elizabeth Hill Boone : Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate. U of TX Pr, 2007. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=WnEvi8fu0kwC&pg=PA197&lpg=PA197&dq=hummingbird+myth+OR+legend+OR+tale+%22black+sun+%22&source=bl&ots=DZcLnUUmyf&sig=wjDuMmT5lnLi-C5GyITNX9PgogQ&hl=en&ei=-GkiTMCYJYT7lwfh09neBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CC0Q6AEwBzgK#v=onepage&q=hummingbird%20myth%20OR%20legend%20OR%20tale%20%22black%20sun%20%22&f=false

NIB = http://www.nativebooks.com/catalogue.html citing :- Black Sun of the Miwok, by Jack Burrows. New Mexico 2000.

BS = http://www.greatdreams.com/solar/black-sun.htm

pp. 117, 119, 124-128 funebrial rites




[funeral procession :] "The procession is led by a man wielding a thue (Khukuri) knife ... . ... Whenever, the procession reaches a crossroad, someone will place a plate containing unhusked rice ... on the ground. ... The rice is intended to mark the route for his spirit to follow."


[during cremation :] A musician "plays his flute and turns".

[after cremation :] "the deceased skull ... is ground into dust {cf. grinding of a human skull into powder for the "abominable Tachikawa skull" rite} and sprinkled into the water."


"The spirit of the dead is called upon during a specific period of the Gewa ritual, known as Sensing. ... During this time the lamas will ring their bells, and play their ... cymbals. ... The departed soul is called upon to enter into the body of one of a family[’s] members and convey his wishes and reveal whether or not he is satisfied with all the arrangements made for his departure. ... both male and female relatives can become possessed, however, ... [most commonly] the possessed individuals were females. . ... No one can say prior to the event as to whom will become possessed, but suddenly one of the relatives begins to shiver and enters a trance-like state and becomes "senseless." The relatives gather around her and hold her and she begins to speak."


[an instance of this :] "As the music played one of the women in the group began to shake and shiver. The relatives congregated around her and asked her to speak".


[written name-tag for the dead :] "one of the son-in-laws brings a doko (woven basket carried on the back) ... . ... Then they insert a stick with a paper ... . The name of the deceased is inscribed on this paper."


[memorial architectural structure :] "members of the deceased’s family ... will go to the clan burial ground. Here they will construct a chourten, as a final resting-place for ... the departed."


"As a final act, the family may construct a chautara, a palce along a frequented path or roadside, for travelers or porters to rest, in honor of the deceased."

pp. 139, 142 helping-spirits of phombo

p. 139

"Phombos ... function very much like shamans in having ... the ability to call spirits or gods, allow the supernatural beings to take possession of their bodies, and then use the powers of those beings in controlled and restrained ways. ... The term Phombo is reminiscent of the name of the Tibetan oracle-priests, the Bon-po, who also used drums, became possessed by gods, practiced exorcisms". [/Bon-po/ hath a closer similarity "with the Tamang word Bonpu, used to refer to Jhankris." (p. 155, fn. xi)]

p. 142

"The Phombo ... master/disciple relationships ... may last ... when a ... guru ... possesses some special knowledge. Others deny that they have any gurus at all, claiming that their knowledge is obtained directly from their helping spirits."

pp. 143-144 magic charms

p. 143

"One Jirel Lama, ... dispenses charms, called buti and jantar (a small packet containing magical substances or sacred words inscribed on paper worn around the patient’s neck) ... . These are identical to those used by Jirel Phombos as ingredients to be placed inside the buti. They include human bones, wolf bones (phara), bear claws (thome), paerts of a musk deer (kasturi), tiger skulls (chen), rhino bones (gaida), mongoose bodies (neuri-musa), python skin (rulbo), dried wasps (yuwa), pieces of rope with which someone committed suicide ..., grasshopper cocoons (abiganga), and a "yeti" skull".

p. 144

Another "item is found among the medicines of the Phombo, and is the skull of the Ri Phombo, or "forest Phombo," called "Ban Jhankri" in Nepali. These are beings that are said to live in the forest, steal children and train them to become Phombos".

pp. 144-145 vocation of phombo




"A person becomes a Phombo ... when a god, goddess, or spirit of an ancestor enters into his body compelling him to take up the profession. The physical manifestation of such spirit possession is the characteristic shivering or trembling. The shivering is at first uncontrollable, but the Phombo eventually learns to bring this trembling under control. On several occasions, while observing Phombo performances, we noted certain


individuals in the audience shivering uncontrollably, their condition being induced by ... the presence of the spirits beckoned by the Phombo. Their shaking was so unmanageable that they were unable to stand or walk. Later we found that these were students studying for the profession, but as yet had not mastered the ability to control the shaking and shivering characteristic of spirit possession."

"The Phombo from the Serba clan noted that it was the spirit of his grandfather {or rather, the guiding-spirit which had served his grandfather}, himself a practitioner of great renown, that first entered into his body and thus caused his shivering. When this happened, he said : "I was senseless like a madman. I also lost my power of speech. After five years I could speak again, and realized that I was to become a Phombo. ..."

Once a possessed individual is able to control the shivering, he gains divine powers and can assume the role of a Phombo. Such control is achieved either as a result of the tutelage of the spirits or gods, or more frequently, through instructions from an existing practitioner."

p. 146 self-description of spirit-possession experience; quaffing of mustard-oil

"One informant described his subjective impressions when possessed : "this state is like a dream. We can see what is good and what is bad; we can see gods, goddesses, the spirits of our ancestors, and demons. We feel brave and strong ... ." While possessed, the Phombos will speak with the voice of the spirits inside of them. They say that they are aware of what people ... ask of them ... .

One of the "miracles" that these practitioners sometimes perform while "possessed" is to drink flaming mustard oil in small metal cups (dupati). ... The first time a Phombo drinks dupati is when his teacher is convinced that he has mastered the spirits ... . As a test of his disciple’s powers, the teacher asks the student to drink seven cups of burning oil. If the student succeeds without being burned, he then becomes a professional practitioner."

pp. 146-147 deities of the phombo




"Each Phombo has his own particular gods and goddesses, whom he specially reveres. {is.t.a-devata} For example, the Phombo of the Serba clan worships the goddess Papachernji {Papaghni?}, in addition to his own clan god, Chyomu ... . Furthermore, all Phombos worship Mahadi (Mahadev ...) and the goddess Bhagabati. ...


"... It was Mahadi who also created the Ri Phombo, or Ban Jhankri, ... to cure the God when he himself became ill. But now, in this present age, the gods have turned into stone statues and so their spirits must now enter into the body of humans. What Mahadi used to do, is now done by humans, whose bodies become the receptacle for the spirit of the god. As for Bhagabati, she is a powerful goddess and she sometimes appears in our dreams and instructs us to perform certain tasks. ... When she is in our body she will speak with her own voice.""

pp. 149-151 categories of evil spirits


evil spirits


"Bir Masan ... are demons. Bir Masans frequent cremation grounds and riverbanks, sometimes taking on the shape of horses, pigs, or humans who lack faces. {"Ainu ghosts ... have no faces." (EEWAC, p. 156)} In this form, they are called Murkutta. ...


The Bir Masans ... roam at night through the villages, galloping on horses. They throw stones at people’s dwellings ... . There are numerous types of Bir Masan ... . Some are black – while others are green."


"The restless ghosts of individuals who were not given proper burial comprise other types of harmful supernatural beings, called Pichas {Pis`aca?}, Chorla, and Bayu {Vayu?}, depending on their castes. ... Only Phombos can see these beings, and only after midnight, because that is when evil spirits become active. This is why Phombos always perform their healing rituals at night."

EEWAC = Kirsten Refsing (ed.) : Early European Writings on Ainu Culture. 2000. http://books.google.com/books?id=JMpjKMp1NlMC&pg=PA156&lpg=PA156&dq=ghosts+cemetery+%22have+no+faces%22&source=bl&ots=2_GGLDd2Vv&sig=1HoKYI4r9hQztqWg2DqXaD6fSPA&hl=en&ei=mJEjTOprg4LyBvfw3a4F&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=ghosts%20cemetery%20%22have%20no%20faces%22&f=false

pp. 153-154 musical instruments for ritual




"The nga (dhyangro in Nepali) is a double-headed drum with a single handle carved with images of various gods. ...

Chimes (jhaurta), which resemble small cymbals, are used to let the spirits know that the Phombo is present. ...


Finally, the Phombo wears ... a belt of bells. When the Phombo is shivering, the bells ring constantly and are said to ward off evil spirits."

pp. 154-156 a phombo ritual performance




"The Phombo’s assistant heats the drum over a central hearth to make the skin taut ... . ... The Phombo then ... sets up an altar, which includes human bones, crystals, ... deer horns, and a special vessel called a bumbo. The bumbo is a


receptacle that contains holy water and flowers. ... Then the Phombo offers chyang to the gods and begins to pound his drum and prays to the clan god ... and to his own god ..., while chanting in a high-pitched voice. His assistant plays the chimes. All the while the Phombo pounds his drum with an increasing tempo. He begins to shiver and tremble violently, making the bells he wears ring loudly. Now in a deep trance-like state, and sweating profusely, the Phombo is ... possessed possessed by supernatural beings, ancestral spirits, or particular deities. ... The Phombo incarnates the spirits and deities, but he is also able to control and restrain them. He then communicates with these gods, who may speak through him, and compels the noxious spirits to reveal their identity and the reasons why they are afflicting the patient.

The Phombo then rises up and starts to dance still beating his drum and moving around the room in a counter-clockwise fashion. {counter-clockwise circumambulation is likewise characteristic of Bon ritual} ...


Then the Phombo makes the patient drink some of the holy water from the bumbo, which, after removing his headdress, he then places upon his own head. Standing up, he again dances around the room for another hour or so, ... balancing the vessel on his head. ... He then magically transfers the essence of the supernatural cause into this vessel, and thus effects the cure."

H. Sidky; Janardan Subedi; James Hamill : Halfway to the Mountain : the Jirels of Eastern Nepal. Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur (Kathmandu, Nepal), 2002.