Among the dead from Tuesday's eruption was an 83-year-old man named Maridjan, who was entrusted by a late king from the nearby city of Yogyakarta to watch over the mountain's unpredictable spirits. He had refused to leave his house high on its slopes.

The discovery Wednesday of his ash-covered body, reportedly found in a position of Islamic prayer, kneeling face-down on the floor, rattled residents who for years joined his ceremonies to appease the rumbling giant by throwing rice, clothes and chickens into the crater.

Many Indonesians paid tribute to Maridjan on Facebook and Twitter.

"I'm more afraid than ever," said Prapto Wiyono, a 60-year-old farmer from the mountain village of Pangukrejo. "Who's going to tell us what's going on with Merapi?"