In 1980, while traveling up the Indonesian peninsula from Bali to Bangkok, I was fortunate enough to be guided by a friendly Balinese to a semi-secret ceremony being conducted by a local priest/shaman at the mouth of a bat cave, just up from the shore of the Indian Ocean.
It was a stormy day, but during the ceremony the skies cleared, and I found myself sitting near the bamboo platform of the white-clad priest, as he rang his bell and chanted musical verses. About 300 worshipers sat together before the enormous maw of a cliff cave, coated all around with several feet of black dried guano, or bat droppings.
From a National Geographic/cultural anthropological perspective, it was fascinating, for sure, but even their artfully produced travel films can hardly communicate the visceral sense of spirit presence at this event, and Bali of course is the Island of the Spirits.
Spirit was embodied, for the participants in this ritual, by the thousands of giant bats that inhabited the cave, and who reflected all the worship going on outside with a responsiveness that could only be gleaned by one in sympathetic reverie with them, and so for that time we all became bat hearts.
Amidst such a hypnotic vibration, I turned at one point to the priest as he turned simultaneously to me, and with a beautiful sweeping motion he lifted the bell and gave it a slight ding. That was enough to flood my being with tears I could not account for, so lost was I in this Balinese bat bliss of chant and invocation to the Mystery. At the climax of the fervent chanting, there was a sudden explosive wave of winging black beauty which emerged from the cave mouth, as an immense colony of bats swooped and glided in synch along the cliff wall to the left, and then just as gracefully returned to the cave.
At that point, everybody seemed to agree that it had been a good day for church, and gathered themselves up and wandered off somewhere, leaving me sitting in the sand, listening as the sea washed in and out, and contemplating the relativity of all religious beliefs, and what they all are rooted in — the same sense of awe and mystery that I had been plunged into that day.