DEC the Jungle Trader has a wry but respectful post about the persistence of the supernatural in the modern world. Something of an enigma himself, DEC is a frequent commenter at Tigerhawk but his own highly entertaining blog is a "read only" affair, filled with glimpses of exotic animals, snippets of tribal justice and an occasional whiff of black magic. What distinguishes his blog from devolving into a Little Shop of Horrors is the evenhanded way in which the proprietor treats his material and his willingness to take superstition on its own terms. Perhaps this reflects a pragmatism learned over the years as an international businessman working to win clients from vastly different cultural backgrounds, or maybe he has seen enough to give the supernatural its due. Either way, DEC's dry wit and unique perspective can make for a very entertaining read.
It brought to mind a night in Windhoek, Namibia, watching heat lighting flash over the city. A party was winding down at one of the better residences on the south side of town. Our host was a genial Irishman in the foreign service who had tried all night without success to score with one of the lovely "host country nationals" in attendance. The other guests had departed, and he and I sat alone on the veranda nursing our drinks (and perhaps his wounded pride). As we watched the scudding clouds he told me that there were only two places on earth where he felt he belonged - Botswana and Fiji - and yet he was never at peace in either of them. When he was in Fiji the island lost its luster and he yearned for the Kalahari; when in Botswana nothing would do but the coral sands of the South Pacific. I commented that Namibia must be purgatory for him, so close to Botswana, but he replied that it made no difference as his soul would never find peace, for it had been taken from him long ago by a Fiji muti man.
One gets accustomed to hearing to all sorts of barstool confessions, especially when traveling abroad where ex-pats gather, but this was something outside my experience and I waited for the tale to unfold. It seems that my host had once been hired to train Peace Corps volunteers in Fiji, and although it was against policy he became romantically involved with a beautiful young volunteer. She was a free spirit and just the balm for his battered heart, and so he let it lead him astray, for he was an old Fiji hand and knew that there are laws more unforgiving than those of the United States Peace Corps that apply without mercy to all transgressors. One of these, known to native Fijians, is that it is mortal peril to swim at sea on a night with a high tide and full moon. At these times the spirit world overlaps this plane of existence, and if those supernatural beings that inhabit the sea do not devour you, a Muti man may come down the beach, speak your name and take your soul.
Love surely makes fools of us all, and so on a night where phosphorescence set the sea afire and the moon cast the light of its full, pale face on the waters, these star-crossed lovers shed their clothes and walked hand in hand into the waves. In this ecstatic moment a light flickered on the strand, and to his horror my Irish friend saw a demon incarnate: a Muti man, a black magician and shaman of great power, masked with a candle on his head.
Muti in Southern and East Africa means the practice of traditional medicine. The term was known to me and my host, though he used it now in reference to the shamans of Fiji. Black magicians in Africa and Oceania are feared for their trade in body parts, but on these nights in Fiji they had another purpose. My host knew that if the figure on the beach touched one of the swimmers and spoke their name, their soul would be taken. He stood transfixed between his companion and his doom as the masked figure with the eldritch light came closer. The Muti man walked silently into the water, fingers extended to touch the beating heart caged beneath the breastbone. My host heard his name uttered from the shadows of the mask and just like that it was done. The Muti man withdrew and the swimmers stumbled to the shore.
My host explained that this supernatural event caused him to lose the thread of his life, becoming in an instant a shiftless shade without a center, hopelessly astray. It is one of the best rationalizations of a mid-life crisis I have ever heard, but my companion was absolutely convinced that his soul had been snatched.
While there is therapy for the rest of us, those damned by dark magic require more powerful muti to break the spell and that, too, has its cost. While he spoke of returning to Fiji to barter for his soul, I doubted my Irish companion would attempt it. What was taken so freely may not be returned without price, and even the damned prefer limbo to the abyss. We felt the hot African wind stirring in the valley while the Southern Cross swung across the heavens and after a moment of silence we spoke of other things.