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Mystical Bali | Spiritual Destinations for your Eat Pray Love era

28th October 2022


If you’re looking for a soulful journey through Bali, this is the guide for you.

From ‘Dolce Far Niente’ to ‘Smiling With Your Liver’

Balinese Rice Terraces: Film still from Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts.


Euro Summer 2022 was saturated with TikToks and Reels about dolce far niente –  the Italian phrase meaning the sweetness of doing nothing – nurturing our travel envy with montages of glittering blue oceans and colourful seaside towns (oh, how I’d love to visit Portofino!), wine glasses set on balconies overlooking sunny Tuscan vineyards, boat rides through Lake Como (half for the stunning natural scenery, half to see the architectural marvel that is George Clooney’s mansion), and decadent gelato eaten by marble fountains and cobbled streets.

It's dreamy and romantic, and it’s easy to understand how people fell in love with the concept of la dolce far niente – popularised by the film adaption of Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous and iconic Eat Pray Love.

However, we’re going to focus on the third and final destination of Liz’s self-discovery expedition: the lush green island of Bali, Indonesia.

The Island of Gods – A Brief Guide to Balinese Spirituality

Canang Sari Offering: Royalty-free photograph.

Spirituality is deeply entwined within the Balinese way of life; it’s the cultural heart of the lush green island. 

For example, everywhere you go in Bali you’ll see vibrantly colourful little offerings outside homes and shops. Called canang sari, these offerings are decorated with flowers, fruits, incense, money, and even cigarettes, placed carefully inside a basket of woven coconut palm leaves.

These offerings are a selfless act of devotion and gratitude for the peace and balance in the world, given to the gods each morning and renewed each day; with the ritual sealed with a prayer carried to the gods on incense smoke.

It’s but a small part of the ritual-rich traditions and cultural customs of Bali, but one that truly captures the spirit of the smiling Balinese people.

Religion in Bali

From left to right: Holy Water at Tegenungan Waterfall, Pura Tirta Empul Temple, Saraswati Temple. Photography by Gemma Edwards.

While Indonesia is a predominately Muslim country, Bali is a rare Hindu enclave – and it’s important to note that Balinese Hinduism is its own distinct religion with many differences to Indian Hinduism.

Balinese Hinduism is a blend of the Shiva Sect of Hinduism with Mahayana Buddhism from India, mixed with Malay customs for reverence of the ancestors, and at its core has animistic beliefs such as the worship for dewa (ancestral gods and local gods of mountains, fertility, love, rice, etc).

There’s a belief in karma and reincarnation, and worship of both gods and demons - the most important being the trimurti (trinity) of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector), and Shiva (the Destroyer); who together, are a manifestation of the highest god Sanghyang Widhi Wasa.

Brahma the Creator:

Dewa Brahma is worshipped as creator of both the physical and spiritual universe, and together with his wife Dewi Saraswati (the goddess of wisdom), brought creativity and knowledge to the world. He is depicted with four faces and rides on a white swan, and he is linked with the colour red and the southern direction.

Dewa Brahma’s primary temple of worship is known as Pura Desa. Pura Desa in Ubud is a minute’s walk from Sarasvati Temple.

Vishnu the Protector:

Dewa Vishnu is the protector and preserver of life. He is depicted riding the Garuda (an eagle-like god, also the symbol of Garuda Indonesia Airlines!), and is known to be perhaps the most merciful of all gods. Dewa Vishnu appears in many incarnations to help mankind in times of great need. Together with his wife is Dewa Lakshmi, (goddess of joy, wealth and happiness) he rules the North and is associated with the colour black.

Dewa Vishnu’s primary temple of worship is Pura Puseh in Batuan.

Shiva the Destroyer:

While the West might have negative connotations of destruction, the Balinese have a very balanced view of the world – and for the Balinese, destruction is also great cleansing and coming back to the state of origin. In this way, Dewa Shiva is also The Renewer. Like Dewa Vishnu, Dewa Shiva often appears in various forms including the god of the holy mountain Gunung Agung, the sun god Surya, and the Bhatara Guru. His wife, Dewa Parwati, like Shiva has both a nurturing and destructive manifestation (as Durga or Kali).

Dewa Shiva’s primary temple of worship is Pura Dalem. The Pura Dalem Ubud is also known as the Great Temple of Death, and located in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud.

The Balinese Calendar – Festivities and Ceremonies in Bali

Balinese Festival Ceremony. Photography by Gemma Edwards.

Did you know that Bali has its own calendar system?

There is the Saka Calendar, based on the lunar cycles, as well as the Pawukon Calendar, which is rumoured to have originated from rice growing cycles.

Saka - The Moon Calendar: Based around the moon, the year is divided into 12 months of 30 days, with each month beginning after the new moon. To keep aligned with the solar calendar, every 30 months an extra month is added. This calendar determines Balinese New Year.

Pawukon – The Rice Calendar: This complex calendar has 10 different week cycles that run simultaneously, and the weeks each have a unique set of names for the weekdays. This calendar determines many of the sacred days, holidays and festivals.

As such, you’ll have to look up when certain festivals are on, as it’ll change every year.


Major Balinese Celebrations


Balinese culture is very festive, with multiple religious ceremonies, village festivals, pilgrimages, dances, purification rites and more.

Below are a few of the major events…

Nyepi Day: This “day of silence” is Balinese New Year, and during the whole day, the whole of Bali stops. By law, no one is allowed to go out in the streets, and all the lights are off. It’s a day of soul purification. The day before is a big parade with large offerings placed at every street crossing.

Galungan and Kuningan: This ten-day religious holiday occurs twice a year, celebrating the creation of the universe and the victory of Good against Evil. It’s believed the spirits of the ancestors return to earth in temples and their former houses, so the Balinese welcome them with prayers and offerings.

Saraswati and Pagerwesi: There’s a special day dedicated to Dewi Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge. The Goddess is said to give divine inspiration to the Balinese people, to help them with Pagerwesi - a self-introspective day celebrated a few days later to strengthen the mind’s fortitude against malevolent forces.

Odalan: The celebration of temple anniversaries. These are grand celebrations with magnificent offerings, prayers, and music to worship the honoured deities. These are the celebrations you’ll most likely be able to witness during your holiday in Bali, as there are several thousand temples dotted around the island.

Tumpek: Throughout the year, there are several Tumpek celebrations honouring specific deities – for example the Tumpek Uduh (Green Festival) celebrates the God of Plants and Food, Sanghyang Sangakkara, with offerings of trees, plants and coconuts to express gratitude for a good harvest. Each Tumpek festival is abundant in expressions and offerings of gratitude.

Life Cycle Ceremonies: Balinese culture is rich in ritual, and there are also 13 Manusa Yadnya life-cycle rituals celebrated throughout a person’s lifetime.

Balinese Mystics and Healers

Elizabeth Gilbert and Ketut Liyer: Film still from Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts.


“To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver… Too serious, you make you sick. You can call in the good energy with a smile.” – Ketut Liyer, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Of course, two of the central characters in Eat Pray Love are Ketut Liyer, (the Medicine Man who inspired Liz Gilbert’s return to Bali), and Wayan, (the traditional healer for whom Liz raises money for a beautiful, blue-tiled house). Both Ketut and Wayan are wise and mystical figures, healing Liz in body, mind, heart, and soul.

This glimpse into the world of holistic folk medicine and fortune-telling inspired millions of people across the globe to journey to Bali for their own spiritual quest.

They came to the right place: Mystics and healers are integral to Balinese culture, a place where superstition, religion, and medicine a blurred.

Both White Magic and Black Magic are practised in Bali, and traditional healers are believed to both perform healing spells and break curses; curing ailments on the physical plane with herbal remedies and massage, and on the spiritual plane with mantras and meditations; because a balance of both is integral to Balinese holistic health.

Balians: Traditional Balinese Healers

Left: Google Images of Wayan's real-life clinic. Right: Film still of Balian healer Wayan and daughter Tutti from Eat Pray Love.


Traditional healers in Bali are known as Balians.

There are about 8,000 Balians practising in Bali today, (almost quadruple the figure of doctors), and they are at the forefront of community health; healing everything from broken bones to broken hearts.

Often, Balians are the first port of call before visiting a conventional doctor, however the two disciplines are linked – Balians may refer clients to doctors, pharmacies or the hospital, and likewise, when mainstream medical treatment isn’t effective, doctors might discreetly suggest a patient see a Balian.

Balians are called to heal others, either by ancestral lineage passing down generations of knowledge, or through wahyu - divine inspiration – which may happen with near-death experiences. Balians study ancient scriptures known as lontar – books filled with knowledge of Usada (healing), carved onto the lontar palm leaves with a knife – to attain a vast knowledge of esoteric matters, traditional herbs, anatomy, tantras, yoga, mantras, meditations, and more.


Types of Balians

Balian Usada – Balians who help heal the sick. They usually have many lontars describing natural medicines and therapies, typically growing their own medicinal herbs too, so they can create potions known as Loloh (herbal leaves crushed and mixed with water, which is ingested), or Baboreh (a paste made of ground herbs and roots applied topically).

Balian Paica – Similar to a Balian Usada, but rather than natural remedies, these healers use sacred family relics, perform rituals, and chant mantras and prayers.

Balian Tulang Tulang is Balinese for bone, and as such, you can expect bone healing and repair from a Balian Tulang.

Balian Apun or Urat – healers specialising in internal organ issues and blood flow.

Balian ManakManak means to give birth, and Balian Manak act as a midwife. They are especially important in remote communities far from hospitals and clinics.

Balian Taksu and Ketakson  – Balians who are mediums. The Balian Taksu creates medicine with holy water, flowers and plants while drawing power from nature and spirits, while the Balian Ketakson is a medium who communicates spirits to seek insight into illnesses and healing. They can also use trance to invoke spirits into their body to commune with passed loved ones as well as to heal.

Balian Kebal – These Balians specialise in providing magical charms, amulets, talismans, or spells to protect against Black Magic hexes, curses, and spiritual attacks.

Balian Tenung – These practitioners are gifted in prophesy, reading the future. They are often clairvoyant, and are said to also help locate lost objects or reveal crimes.

Balian Terang – Balians who can influence the weather, in particular rain, to make sure events stay dry and sunny (which is important when Bali has so many celebrations!).


What does a healing look like?


Balian healing is very holistic, so the healer will use a range of techniques to decipher the cause and treatment of your ailment.

Depending on their modality and speciality, they may read your palm, your aura, study your name, or poke and prod different pressure points around your body.

They might use trance and meditation to see what significant life events (be it this life or a past one) or traumas may contribute to your affliction. They might also warn you of future events.

Balians most likely won’t sugarcoat any less-desirable findings, nor the medicines (for example, loloh) which can have a very bitter herbal taste, so it can be a “difficult pill to swallow,” so to speak.

The Balian may use magic, use mudras, apply scented oils, poke you with sharp sticks or use deep tissue massage - which can be quite painful (not the luxurious massage you might be used to) according to a handful of anecdotes, but they all said the pain gave way to greater healing.

You should also know that the treatments are performed publicly, with other waiting clients watching intently.


Should you see a Balian?

Eat Pray Love brought Balinese healing to the main stage.

The late Ubud Balian and priest, Pak Ketut Liyer, was brought to fame by Elizabeth Gilbert’s book and subsequent movie, and his home became a tourist destination.

However, a visit to the Balian shouldn’t be just a box to check on your itinerary.

Balians are committed to their community as an instrument of divine healing, and cannot turn anyone away.

There are genuinely ill people needing attending to, so if your desire to visit a Balian is more curiosity than healing based, consider joining a tour and making an appointment rather than just showing up.

However, if you are in need of some deep healing, then you can ask the locals!


To find a Balian or Healer

It’s very much word of mouth. You’ll want to talk to the locals, like your hotel staff, about what you’re looking for, and they will be able to help you find the right Balian for you.

They might also be able to make the appointment and supply the offering. You’ll also want to take a translator with you, as many Balians don’t speak English.

You can also ask for local tours that specialise in Balinese healing!

For example this Healing Arts Tour by Pak Made Surya, an authority studying Balinese healing for 15+ years. Surya has worked with National Geographic and published several works on the subject.


Seeking Ketut and Wayan from Eat Pray Love?


Wayan still has her clinic in Ubud which you can visit for a healing session!

You can find her Traditional Balinese Healing Centre here

Ketut passed away in 2016, however you can still visit is house and see his son, who is also a medicine man.

Spiritual Places in Bali to Visit


Not looking for a healing, but still seeking spiritual revival?

Here’s a roundup of the most spiritual destinations in Bali.


Mount Agung


There are four primary sacred mountains in Bali, and Mount Agung is the tallest of them.

This majestic volcano is honoured by the Balinese as the dwelling place of the gods. In particular, Mahadewa, the supreme manifestation of Dewa Shiva.

Mount Agung is also believed to represent Mount Meru – Mahameru – which is a sacred five-peaked mountain at the centre of the physical and spiritual universe.

Due to the mystical properties of Mount Agung, you should take a local guide with you, and pray for safety and guidance before ascending the mountain.


Besakih Temple



This is regarded as the holiest temple for the Balinese Hindu.

It is the largest temple complex in Bali, comprising of 18 temples dotted on the slopes of Mount Agung, and has been a place of worship since 1284.

Every year, 70 ceremonies take place in Besakih Temple.



Mount Batur



Mount Batur is known as both for its spectacular views of the sunrise, and for being the smallest of the sacred mountains.

It is the most active volcano, and due to this, it is believed to be the dwelling place of Dewa Brahma.

Locals bring offerings to this mountain to purify the area and keep balance.



Lake Batur


At the foot of Mount Batur is also a crescent-shaped lake, which is also revered as sacred.

The water is rich in minerals and the nearby rice fields flourish.

The lake is associated with Dewi Danu, goddess of water, and so the water springs originating from this lake are considered to be sacred and have healing powers.

Nearby is also Pura Ulun Danu Batur, a holy temple.



Trunyan Village



On the eastern shore of Lake Batur is Trunyan Village, known for their distinct burial rituals and skulls.

Most of Bali cremates their dead, however, in this particular village, locals keep their dead openly on the ground, covered with cloth and bamboo canopies to decompose, the scent neutralised by the scent of the ancient Banyan tree, known as Taru Menyan.

Nowhere else in Bali has this funeral rite. 


Lempuyang Luhur Temple


The Gates of Heaven.

One of the oldest and most revered temples in Bali, the Lempuyang Luhur Temple rests on the Peak of Mount Lempuyang in East Bali.

There are 1,700 steps to climb to reach the temple, and devotees embark on pilgrimages on holy days and full moons to seek blessings and holy water.

Legend has it, if you complain on your journey, you will never reach the top.


Tirta Empul



Famed for its holy mountain spring and purification pools, this important temple is a spiritual destination for cleansing the spirit with a purification ritual known as melukat.




Ubud Monkey Forest



Perhaps the most famous place in all of Bali, this lush jungle full of monkeys also houses three holy temples:

One for Dewa Shiva, one for the goddess Gangga, and a cremation temple serving Dewa Brahma.




Waterfalls and Nature


All of nature is sacred to those with animist beliefs, and so the abundant beauty of Bali’s natural world is deeply revered.

For example, the 40m tall twin falls of Gitgit Waterfall in North Bali is loved as a scenic natural attraction and spiritual destination.

Nearby, through a cacao tree forest, is Jembong Waterfall, known as a place for spiritual healing and purification.

You can ask a local guide to take you to waterfalls and tell you about their histories and properties.


Kecak Dance


Ceremonies in Bali are always linked with music and dance. One particular dance is the Kecak Dance performed in Uluwatu at sunset, telling the Sankrit Epic of Ramayana.

This dance is held in an open-air theatre by seaside cliff, nearby the beautiful Uluwatu Beaches, and is filled with fire and passion.

Dance is one of the storytelling mediums of traditional Hindu tales, transcending language barriers, and so it’s highly recommended that you see a few of these performances when in Bali.

Blessings from High Priests and High Priestesses

Ida Resi Alit, High Priestess of Bali, Indonesia. Image from:

Most  temples welcome, you if you wear customary attire and follow the codes of conduct, to have a prayer and blessing from a Balinese Priest (Mangku) or High Priestess, sprinkling floral-infused holy water.

The Balinese believe this is a way to spread kindness and peacefulness, and so accept and welcome all respectful people to take part in these rituals.

You can also visit Ida Panditha Mpu Budha Maharsi Alit Parama Daksa, one of Bali’s youngest High Priestesses. Her ashram Griya Agung Buddha Salahin is located in Bangli Village.

Here, you can ask for a melukat purification ritual and mantra blessing.

Location: Griya Agung Buddha Salahin, Susut, Demulih, Bangli, Bali 80661, Indonesia. Find the official website here.

Being Respectful for Healings and Temple Visits

Tegenungan Waterfall, Bali. Photographs by Gemma Edwards.


As the sign says: "Don't worry, be sexy. But not naked." 

Make sure to dress modestly, with arms, shoulders, chest, knees, and legs covered. You can use sarong to wrap around your waist, and a selandang, traditional scarf, for your shoulders.

Never point your feet toward a person, especially a healer, priest or priestess. Feet are the most ritually unclean part of the body in Balinese culture, (even babies are carried without touching the ground until they have a special ceremony), and so it is disrespectful to point them towards a Balinese person.

On the topic of ritual cleanliness, people also aren’t permitted to enter temples or receive healings while menstruating.

You should also make sure money is tucked into an offering (canang sari) and never hand it directly to the Balian or Priest/Priestess.

Advice for your travels through Bali

From left to right: Rice terraces in Ubud, Kecak Fire Dance in Uluwatu, View overlooking Mount Agung and Lake Batur. Photographs by Gemma Edwards.

From one traveller to another, I thought I’d impart some wisdom from my own adventures through this lush island of gods.

I would recommend you go on multiple tours led by local guides – they know more than you ever could research yourself, and point out amazing details.

My tour guide was the first person to introduce me to the concept of Balinese black magic, how the five colours of offerings correspond to five gods and directions, why the Balinese honk when crossing rivers for permission from river spirits, and more.

It’s also important to support locals when travelling, and engaging with local businesses and tours is one of the best ways to do so.

Travel Money for your trip to Bali

Travelling to Bali? Get Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) at Travel Money Oz.

Bali is, of course, part of Indonesia and so uses the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR).

The conversion can be pretty confusing at first, because with a little more than $100 Aussie Dollars (AUD), you’d be considered a Balinese millionaire!

Luckily for you, we have a guide breaking down just How Much Money You Need to Travel Bali

You can also find our Indonesia Currency Guide here!

All the advice, info and inspo you need for your next adventure!


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Balinese Religion

Bali Spiritual Tours

Balians (Balinese Healers)

Destinations and Experiences

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