Malaysians are a culturally diverse lot but one common thread is their fascination with the supernatural. Whether you are Chinese, Indian or Malay, stories of ghostly encounters are part and parcel of the Malaysian experience.
While our spooks look nothing like the Twilight films' vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen, the local spirits, ghosts and ghouls are, indeed, hauntingly real for some.
Weighing in on the subject of Malaysians' fascination with the supernatural, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) associate professor Dr Muhammad Azizan Sabjan from the School of Humanities (philosophy and civilisation section), explains that from an Islamic perspective, jinns do exist.
“The main difference between them and us is that they are invisible. Only those bestowed special skills or talent' by God can see them,” he explains.
“So, the belief in the existence of jinns in modern times is not superstitious but the way one conducts certain ceremonies to appease them, is,” he adds.
But ghosts have been unfairly blamed whenever something goes wrong, Xiao En Cultural Endowment chief executive officer Dr Ong Seng Huat opines.
Dr Ong, who is also a Taoist high priest and a visiting professor to China's National Overseas Chinese University (faculty of religious and cultural studies), says the supernatural is a convenient excuse and one that is widely accepted even today.
“For instance, mass hysteria happens when one loses coordination, consciousness of identity, feeling and body movement. You read about it happening in schools a lot lately. Is it the doing of a spirit or are pressure and stress really the culprits?
“People sympathise when you tell them that you are disturbed' by a ghost or someone has placed a hex on you; but admit to being mentally ill and you will be shunned. So mental illness is often passed off as a ghostly encounter,” he explains.
However, ghostly encounters are not to be dismissed, he says.
For the Chinese, there are ancient textbooks that list down symptoms of patients' ailments based on the type of ghosts they encountered.
“The old Chinese physicians were learned people who addressed all these problems. They didn't just blame it on the supernatural,” says Dr Ong.
In ancient China, he says, the ashes of paper talisman with Chinese writings actually had medicinal properties. The paper dispensed to patients who claimed to have been afflicted by ghosts was made from plants like ginger and bamboo leaves.
“And jossticks in the old days had aromatherapy benefits. These days, the talisman handed out may cause more harm than good. I don't even know what they are made of.”
Dr Ong says society's belief in the supernatural has its pros: “When you believe in the realm of the ghosts and gods, you will be more inclined to do good for fear of the repercussions.” - By Christina Chin