Mito/Phanis: An Uncanny Character in Mythical Cosmology

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Mito/Phanis: An Uncanny Character in Mythical Cosmology

Although the mythical cosmology of Gilgit-Baltistan is populated with beautiful, good spirits and amicable creatures, it also populated by creatures and spirits that are deemed evil, ugly and vile. Among the evil creatures of mythical cosmology, witch is the most prominent. In the whole sociology of witchcraft, a male character enacts an important role in functioning of rituals associated with witches. He is called Mito in Shina and Phanis in Brushaskhi language. The word Mito in Shina language is derived from word miti, which means chopping board. Whereas all the witches are female, all the Mitos are male.

Mito is a kind of consort for the nefarious activities and rituals carried out in witchcraft. Unlike some of the mythical creatures, Mito is human but he at the same time contains special traits that makes him different from other members of society. These traits include his uncanny ability to know the intention of witch to hunt her prey in the shape of man, woman or child, foreknowledge of death of a person and his special penchant for womenfolk. These traits make his identity, character and role at odds with the majority people in society.

Gilgit region is full of folktales about witches and associated character of Mito/Phanis. When a witch or a coterie of witches intends to hunt its prey, Mito feels unease for the whole day. Witches invite him for the hunting party while he is asleep. So, he joins the company of witches in the sleep. Culturally, sleep is considered a state where a person is in the most vulnerable position for the attacks from enemies and evil forces. It is in the sleeping hours that evil spirit of witch penetrates into Mito’s unconscious to control his consciousness. Therefore, it can be surmised that Mito is an embodied manifestation of suppressed primal urges, and instinct to break the bounds of society and libidinal thoughts bursting into the social domain in the form of evil acts and rituals. Mito joins the hunting posse of witches in an unconscious state. After hunting their prey, all the witches in the valley take their hunt to a particular place. They ask their respective consort (Mito/Phanis) to slaughter their hunt. Mito fulfills their request. When he takes the neck of prey for slaughtering in his hands, he sees a ram before him. Once he severs the head of ram from the body, he suddenly finds a human head in his hand. At this point he realizes that the premonition he had was about the death of a person he just slaughtered. He then puts blood of the victim in the dimple between wrist and thumb of witches who drink it with great relish and become ecstatic. Thereafter, he dismembers the hunt into pieces and distribute their share among the witches. According to popular myths, the person slaughtered in the somnolent state does not die at the sport. This act is enacted psychologically. It may be assumed that the coterie of witches and their consorts may tend to share their wild imagination and wishes in unrestrained manner without the fear of human judgement.

There are different oral lores about the particular place where witches slaughter and distribute their prey. Normally, it is considered to be a place where there is no human presence, jungle, cave or a desolate place. In Mayoun village of Hunza Shinaki, there is a valley called Rui Bar (the valley of witch). The valley is called witch valley because a witch is said to be tied to a mountain by a holy man. In that valley there is a huge slab called bitali. Locals deem it as a chopping board of Mito/Phanis. It is here where Mito/Phanis slaughters, chops and distributes blood and pieces of flesh among witches. In some anecdotes it is narrated that it is on this chopping slab the witches dance with Mito/Phanis in ecstasy. In their ecstatic mood they also make love with Mito/Phanis. It is important to note that the number of Mito/Phanis to witches is small. Normally there is only one Mito/Phanis to a group of 6 or 8 witches.

Normally, in society the Mito/Phanis is considered an enticer or sorcerer of the women.  He can beguile women through his cunning sorcery. In the male subculture of Gilgit, a womaniser is labelled as Mito/Phanis. Mito is not as discriminated as the witch in society. Generally, an association with a witch is a stigma in society because it tarnishes the reputation, whereas in the case of Mito/Phanis no such stigma is attached. At times the male folk of society take pride in having a Mito/Phanis in the family. It is a standard procedure for the witch to hide her identity when she goes out at night for hunting by hiding her hair in the woolen cap of man and applying soot on her face. Mito/Phanis on the other hand does not hide his identity. He is said to be seen running wildly at a pitch-black night in the state of delirium. According to the men with the traits of Mito/Phanis, all the evil acts associated with them take place in the state of sleep. In other words, it is a psychic phenomenon. Only after undergoing this psychological state they realise what has happened inside their mind is happening in the world outside their mind. In other words, their visions in the dream comes true when they wake up.

Owing to their eerie explanation and behavior people suspect Mito/Phanis of taking lives of people by helping witches. When a Mito/Phanis falls ill, people have premonition of death of a person in the village or locality.  Mito/Phanis’s own behavior confirms their suspicion as he avoids going to home of a deceased person, for he claims that it has disturbing influence on his mind.

Sometimes Mito/Phanis becomes restive in his body when a witch in his circle feels strange urge within her. Both Mito/Phanis and witches are able to make this para-psychic connection because both are inhabited by same evil spirit. It is the commonality of the evil spirit that makes them to indulge in uncanny and nocturnal activities, which are deemed vile and evil in the society of Gilgit. With the passage of time the evil spirit completely captures the soul of Mito/Phanis. As a result, his behavior becomes even more eerie and indulgence in nocturnal activity. In the traditional society of Gilgit, the act of living outside home after the sunset is judged as evil act because only the evils spirits and creature roam outside during the nighttime.

The apogee of Mito/Phanis state comes in the shape of his metamorphosis into a consort witch – Rui Mito. Thereafter, his being combines the traits of witch and Mito/Phanis. It means that he can feel what women feel in addition to his manly feelings. It is because of his being inside the feeling of women, he can easily read the heart and mind of women and entice them. There is this story of a male witch (Rui Mito/Hir Bilas) who has become master in alluring women. Once he developed liking for a woman, but her husband was the great impediment because he was a good hunter. Her husband is protected by his guardian goddesses (Rahchaali). Mito/Phanis can take soul only at nighttime or high noon which is called pisheen in local language. The high noon time in summer is scary for people because the scorching sun in the mountains force people to take refuge in homes or under the trees. Normally, during this time no human activity takes place. Parents in Gilgit still prohibit children never to venture out alone during high noontime (Pisheen). Knowing that the Mito/Phanis is in his search at nighttime, the husband avoids staying outside home after evening. Once he was coming to the village from the hunt deep in the mountains. Because of the scorching heat and exhaustion, he takes nap under a tree besides the rivulet. Mito/Phanis finds him and goes close to his body without awakening him from slumber. Then he inhales heat of his body and leaves the scene silently. After few days, the husband dies.

Soon after the death of husband, Mito/Phanis takes his young wife into his marriage. After sometimes, the wife accuses him of holding evil ceremonies by summoning famous witches of the valley. Story has it that in one night when witches along with Mito/Phanis were holding an evil ceremony, the wife escaped from house into darkness outside. It is a popular belief in Gilgit that the witch flies on the plank of wood made for flour storage (tonn) inside traditional house. Hearsays say that when witches came to know about her escape, they flew with a lightning speed and captured her while she was crossing the bridge. Then they took her to slaughter slab in the deep valleys of mountains and made her husband dismembered her.

It is said that seeds of Mito/Phanis is sown into man’s heart when he copulates with the evil spirit. In this case it is the witch. Once, the seeds are sown they burst forth in the shape of unrestrained wickedness. Such wickedness cannot be satiated within the parameters of normal society and rituals. Hence, Mito/Phanis appears to be a metaphor of human urge for unbridled passion and devil within that tries to devour every normal behavior and human.

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