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Book: Roots of Wisdom, Branches of Devotion

Chapter: 7. The Herbal Arsenal and Fetid Food: The Power of Plants in Early Tantric Exorcism Rituals

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30834


This chapter discusses early medieval Bhūta and Bāla Tantras. On the basis of unedited manuscript sources, the author describes the role played by plants in religion and life as seen through the lens of exorcism rituals. Datura, red oleander, mustard seeds,
rice, sesame, garlic, fig, Flame of the forest, wood-apple: these and many
more formed the basis of tantric exorcisms. Plants were used to attract,
feed and repel demons. They were made into incense, oil, and weapons, as
well as cakes, mannequins and medicines. Auspicious and noxious qualities
of sacred plants and trees were infused into water, milk and cooling ointments,
or made into sweet fragrances or foul-smelling fires. In short, the
universe of early tantric exorcism ritual was suffused with plants whose
powers resonate in contemporary exorcist practice across South Asia.

Chapter Contributors

  • Michael Slouber ( - mslouber) 'Western Washington University, USA'