THE belief in witchcraft is very real to the present day among the Santals. All untimely deaths and illness which does not yield to treatment are attributed to the machinations of witches, and women are not unfrequently murdered in revenge for deaths which they are supposed to have caused, or to prevent the continuance of illness for which they are believed to be responsible.
The Santal writer in spite of his education is a firm believer in witchcraft, and details his own experiences. He has justification for his belief, for as was the case in Mediaeval Europe, women sometimes plead guilty to having caused death by witchcraft when there appears to be no adequate motive for a confession, which must involve them in the severest penalties.
Mr. Bodding is aware that Santal women do actually hold meetings at night at which mantras and songs are repeated, and at which they may believe they acquire uncanny powers; the exercise of such powers may also on occasion be assisted by the knowledge of vegetable poisons.
The witch may either herself cause death by 'eating,' or eating the liver of, her victim, or may cause her familiar "bonga" to attack the unfortunate. That witches eat the liver is an old idea in India mentioned by the Mughal historians.
The Jan guru is employed to detect who is the woman responsible for any particular misfortune. His usual method is to gaze on a leaf smeared with oil, in which as in a crystal he can doubtless imagine that shapes present themselves. The witch having been detected, she is liable to be beaten and maltreated until she withdraws her spells, and if this does not lead to the desired result she may be put to death.