The general pattern of these myths show these cultures recognized that a Supreme Being existed before Creation. The Supreme Being, within this primordial realm, divided into “itself,” becoming “sky” and “earth.” Usually, the sky (the Creator), now a masculine being, and the Earth, a feminine being, through sexual interaction (marriage) populate the world with various beings. These beings are not fully “human,” they are incomplete beings that live in the wilderness, non-cultural space (or a liminal space). Next, the cultural hero appears and through conquest over these primordial beings, establishes culture and time. Often, rather than by conquest, the cultural hero through marriage to a female representative of the primal beings, establishes culture and himself as king. Through sexual intercourse with his wife, the king sustains a connection to the land. Next, the king performs sacrifices to the local earth-spirits to receive blessings of fertility.
Human marriages re-enact the mythical marriages of the Creator and Earth and of the cultural hero and the female representative of the primal beings. Each human child receives a “soul” from his mother, one from his father and one directly from the Supreme Being. Every society’s adults prepare its youth for adulthood through initiation rites. An assault on the body marks these rites. With their successful completion, the youth’s concerns shift from his self-centered world of childhood, to the adult world of communal responsibility and cultural history. Youth emerge as adults with a sense of divinity in themselves, but just as important, with a sense of divinity in the complementary sex.
This blog has presented an Afrikan initiation rite, the n'kanga of the Ndembu in some detail. It demonstrated the centrality of the human body as a symbol in a larger world of symbols. In yesterday's blog entitled, The Bamana Revisited, I showed that the Bamana spiritual orientation placed great emphasis on the body as well. Many of you familiar with Freemasonry, will recall its great emphasis placed on “bodily assaults.” Greek fraternities have kept these bodily assaults, most of them long having lost their significance, remaining simply as “hazing.” But Freemasonry borrowed many of it rites from Islamic mysticism, who in turn borrowed them from remnants of Greek mystery schools, who had originally borrowed them from the Kemetic initiation system. The point is that Kemetic spirituality, through it initiation system, place great importance on the human body.
Why do Afrikan systems place so much emphasis and importance on the body in terms of spiritual growth? Afrikan societies will generally divide the self into 5-7 components usually identified in the West as souls. Society develops the different aspects of the self through various vehicles of cultures, i.e., dancing, food preparation, mask making, weaving. (Similar to the way Zen Buddhism uses archery or garden arrangement, to center and develop the soul/person.) So much emphasis is placed on the body for spiritual growth in Afrikan systems because the Afrikan views the body and spirit as a unit—two aspects of the self: the total person. Afrikan societies acknowledge the body as one of the various souls that make up the self. Spiritual work begins with the body because it viewed as the foundation of the self. Spiritual growth is not possible until one’s foundation is correct, and this means the body. No matter how high a mer (“pyramid”) or tekhen (“obelisk”) ascends to the heavens, its earthly foundation had to be secure.
The body, breath and double (I am using the Western anthropological terms) are souls associated with animality, and constitute the “lower” or “junior” self. Hierarchically these souls are junior or lower to the ancestral and destiny souls, the latter being identified with "the spirit," and as coming directly from the Creator; Despite this, no “development” can happen without the lower souls. And the explanation is simple: the destiny soul’s direct link to the Creator makes it “perfect,” complete; hence all development must be on the less developed aspect of self such as the body, breath, and double. If would be foolish and a waste of time for a person to try and develop what is already perfect or complete; what one must develop is that which is closer to the foundation,closer to Creation. These aspects of the self or these souls are considered less mature" and interfere or disrupt the knowledge, the messages, or even the intuitive insight that emanates from the ancestral and especially the destiny soul. Therefore, it is only the lower self that can be developed, that must be disciplined in much the way one would an animal. That way the lower self is trained and enable to implement the impulses or directives from the higher self; that part of you that already knows, that is already developed. (What does development imply? That the body, breath, and double (along with the other souls) be aligned and brought under the direction of the destiny soul (the Yorùbá Ori, for example), enabling one to fulfill one's destiny.)
The above offers an understanding of the Afrikan spiritual orientation. It is not simply a “spiritual” or “mental” exercise or activity. It is an activity that must engage the body. It is a spiritual orientation designed to develop the human being, who through properly living can become self-mastered. Part of our dilemma is Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have relegated the body to an evil, worldly object, to be despised, degraded, belittled, and disrespected and having little or no role in spirtual growth and development; when in fact, in our traditional systems, the body had to be engaged in the process of becoming a human being. And this was only the beginning, for with everything properly aligned, one could become a "deity", neter, or orisha.