Edward Hower, a skeptical American, visits a “witch temple” in rural India, where Indians bring their possessed loved ones to be delivered from pretas (demons). This is a riveting read that takes you far from the safe and the familiar. He concludes:
I pictured some of those pretas swooping and diving in the air like a flock of red-eyed crows; they settled in cackling clusters all over the temple roof. Closer up, many had the curved fangs and horns of demons I’d seen painted on the backs of trucks. All were creatures of the dark side of the religion I’d thought so gentle and welcoming, the raw underside of the folktales whose heroic princes and beautiful princesses I’d admired so much. In earlier times, the faith I’d been born into, Christianity, had inspired great literature but also preyed on the weak and the deranged, too. Its priests, like the man with the gold watch upstairs, had enriched themselves by periodically scouring witches from the land. If I wanted to open myself to the peace I’d felt radiating through Jaipur’s temples, I also had to choke on the gritty sanctified smoke that India’s most wretched people offered here to the fearsome god Balaji. I’d been enchanted by folklore’s magical beings; now I had some idea of what it felt like to be cursed by them as well—not as characters in stories, but as forces as real and capricious as illness, insanity, and other inexplicable tragedies of life.