The Cultural-Religious Community
The Yoruba, the Akan, and the Vodun (Haitian) communities are the three primary groups, with a more recent infusion of Kemetic centered worship such as the Ausar-Auset Society, that comprise the cultural-religious community. All of these groups suffer from a lack of formal institutions and bodies empowered to develop and implement a social agenda or a tangible economic base for empowering their individual communities locally or internationally. With few community owned facilities, formal places of worship, or sustainable programs to enable them to meet their economic, social and cultural development goals, this community is unable to provide leadership and direction within its own community let alone help provide leadership for Afrikan people as a whole. All this has to change and this community must become more organized than other religious communities. (The Ausar-Auset at one point appeared to be establishing many of the above elements, but efforts have seemed to have stalled.)
Since the early sixties, even earlier, there has been a growing community of Afrikan people in the US that have embraced traditional spiritual ideas, often referring to these practices as traditional religion. In other areas of the Afrikan Diaspora, like Cuba and Brazil, these spiritual traditions have a longer history. When my former wife was initiated in the Akan tradition, I became part of this community. Initially I served as my wife's okyeame or spokesperson (for the obosom or deity).
I made many observations and learned quite a bit during this new period in my life. I came to realize that the obosom were not to be fear but welcomed and loved. Many of our people fear the obosom because of their passionate and something exuberant, even seemingly capricious expression. But we mostly fear them because we fear our own emotions and passions. (Our Westernization had made us an emotionally uptight, sexually-frustrated people—Afrikan versions of the white man, LOL!) I also learned that the two primary gifts the obosom/deities bring are prophecy and healing. These were two of the primary gifts they always bring whether they are being venerated by the San or the Kemeyu (ancient Egyptians). After becoming a member of this community (we called ourselves, Afrikan traditionalists or just traditionalists), I thought the circle was completed.
I quickly came to realize that personal and even spiritual chaos often accompanied the persons engaged in these spiritual traditions. I once spoke with Baba Ishangi about the confusion in our communities. I said it was spiritual chaos—he corrected me and said it was spiritual madness. Why such confusion? This is perhaps for a couple of reasons. First, there is a the lack of a unified hierarchy or revealed cosmology that guides the leadership; and second, a lack of personal development in the leadership and community in general. In traditional society a number of specifically designed initiations, not simply being initiated into the shrine house, would have occurred. Initiation is a life long process—life itself is an initiation. The type of person that Master Butler said was missing from our communities is also missing in the cultural-religious community. This naturally affected the leadership because if the general pool that we drew from was lacking, then where were the people with discipline and character that we needed to raise to the level of leadership suppose to come from?
In Afrikan societies, the various shrines house are unified within the houses but not between them. Though there is no single structure that unites them, they are all given place and order in the cosmology (in some cases via the preeminent divination system). The mythology of the divination system establishes order and relation among the deities that then extend into society. An examination of the Dogon and Bambara cosmologies would reveal these systems mirrored their divination systems. The divination systems (and deities are actually part of divination systems, particularly in terms of the prophecy they provide), were localized in the various villages but unified through the divination system that the kingdom or society as a whole sanctioned. This is usually the divination system ruled by the deity who is considered the messenger of the Supreme Being. It was a male-female complimentary system based on 16 core symbols, which proliferated into 256 symbols. In West Afrika, Ifa is perhaps the oldest, and it gave birth of Fa, Efa, and other cognate divination systems among various kingdoms. In East Afrika, there is the Hakata dice, and Basket divination that act as universal divination systems.
Many folks that joined this community migrated there from the historical-political group. Many felt that this was a vanguard or revolutionary move and took great pride in it. It was a clear and undeniable break with European religious thought. But something happened. Other people who were less political also joined this community. This had the effect of fracturing the community into political and non-political or “religious” components. Many rather than become expansive in their outlook, began to turn inward and sectarianism began to pervade a number of members of this community. This sectarianism apart from giving the air of elitism, snobbery, and condescension, it created an insular community, closed to the ideas of the wholistic health-self development community, and even abandoning political struggle. As a result, this community, like religious communities in general, began only to serve itself. Moreover, they have become the authorities on what is and what is not Afrikan. This is regrettable because many of them see Afrikan traditions as a closed system, when they never were. Afrikan systems are simply designed for “evolutionary” rather than “revolutionary” change.
But in term of healing or health (vitality), an area the deities excel in, one of their greatest gifts, this group, again like other religious groups appears clueless. (They have forgotten that the deities govern health as all foods, herbs, and much of the sustenance we receive are ultimately connected to them.) Their diets are based on habit and not on an understanding of how the body works. Is it that they have become Christian-like believing that prayer and devotion is all that's needed? Ironically, though they have abandoned the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, they are dying at the same rate and from the same diseases as them. This is preventable and thus entirely unacceptable. They need to borrow some of the habits and disciplines from the wholistic health-self development community.
Another exercise that could greatly aid this community especially the priesthood is the practice of sexual yoga. Exercises that increase life force and at the same time develop discipline should be staples among priest and priestesses. The greater the life force one possesses, the greater service one can be to the community. Things like yoga, and various breathing exercises can assist in the process. (A study of Western anthropology would reveal that Afrikans like Indians are known for having various breathing techniques.) These same folks will often think that yoga is un-Afrikan, even though they had seen pictures of Afrikans in postures that they could have only gotten into using some advance training and practice. Yogic perhaps? Yet they still insist yoga is un-Afrikan. They also forget the drawings of the Kemeyu in various physical (yogic) postures. (Oh I forgot, many of the people in this community don't use Kemet as a reference.) Yoga is in fact a system designed to put one in contact with his or her ancestors.
Though I have pointed out a few of the issues this community shares with religious groups in general, it has a number of advantages over them, such as the following: it embraces an Afrikan spiritual system, which is inherently a more therapeutic system; it has brought the feminine principle back into worship; has created a largely matrifocal worship structure; and it actively venerates the forces or powers of Nature, and mostly importantly, the ancestors. Hence, in embracing Afrikan spirituality this group has made a tremendous break with our slave-colonial past, and can potentially be the force/power that propels us forward. But it will not happen unless this group develops a sense of historical purpose, mission even, move front and center in our communities in the battle for the souls of our people, and serve the healing and health of their community and our people at large.
My last point concerning this community (but actually this concern is probably best directed at the historical-political group), is their use of possession. Possession trance allows us access to healing modalities and prophecy. But prophecy also includes “scientific” knowing and even inquiry. In other words, we need to use some of these powerful mediums to gain knowledge that we can use to build a better world for Afrikan people. They need to discover ways of producing and using the Earth to improve the material existence of our people. Possession trance has greater applications than we are presently using it for. How do you think they knew what they did in Kemet? It was through the deities of course. To study Nature was to study the deities. Let's get to studying and rebuilding an existence for our selves as a powerful and productive people!!!