Question for the Vodoun/ Obeah folks

I’m kicking around an idea for a documentary, but wanted to gain a little insight as I hash out the premise.

This slightly ties into a documentary I saw regarding vodoun and it’s impact on music, but I wanted to go deeper into more of the spiritual aspect. Combine that with my interest in understanding Obeah, Vodoun, and various other Caribbean/ African paths, a topic came to mind that I really want to dig more into.

When it comes to those in the black community seeking to get back to their roots, why is it that much of the African culture is reabsorbed by those of African-American descent, but yet much of the spiritual/ religious practices are ignored or demonized? Why the willingness to hold on to religious beliefs that were forced upon them?

This is not a political post and I have no interest in discussing the current events, but rather… gain some insight to figure out a direction to take this idea to obtain clarity on a topic that leaves more questions than answers.

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I think if I read it up correctly, Christianity was heavily infused during slavery times, it stopped many of them committing suicide. People tend to hold onto things that have significance to them, this probably helped them get through those times as they band together with the same faith in mind.

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Because many African Americans have been absorbed into Christianity, just like a lot of our ancestors who were beaten and forced into it. However, those African Americans who are actually serious about going to their roots tend to for a moment but the Christianize aspects to the side, that is if they can find resources that don’t deeply intertwine it into it.

My grandma acknowledged Christianity but she did follow the Loa Gods, her husband was christian. On my mother’s side my great great great(?) grandfather was the first pastor of a church, I do agree with Whitehowlite, it was used to stay alive.

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Understand that. However, why do so many still cling to it now and are vehemently opposed to the spiritual roots of their ancestors?

Just as we have seen a major resurgence in indo-European belief systems over the past 20 years, why have we not seen the same type of increase in African based belief systems in modern day?

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Fear based I assume. My family knows of our Voodoo roots, but we’re also mixed so there Irish, Scandinavian, etc too. But fear keeps a lot of them from doing so as it was ingrained in African American households for the most part as children.

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Because we have no tie to it. We have it ingrained since children that our Ancestors sold our other Ancestors into slavery. Whenever info was spread to try to link us to our roots, we were told that it wasn’t our history. It can be very confusing for Americans of Afrakan descent. We in America are essentially the landless unwanted. We came from nowhere and return to nowhere.
At least that’s what I learned in school. Christianity gives us something. And as many of us are deeply spiritual, so we just translate it to Christianity.

Some have heard the call and stepped away. But there’s the fear. Also, America tries very hard to foster a hatred between Afrakan Americans and Afrakans. To keep us in the loop.

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Exactly. After having witnessed the amount of energy produced at places like AME churches and the like, I learned at an early age that spirituality runs deep.

Expand on this, please. Interesting perspective. America specifically, or the Abrahamic religious underpinnings of the American culture?

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I’m only assuming you’re an AA as well? But I think it’s pretty clear how Christianity in itself is imbedded into black culture. I think it’s also pretty noticeable the differences how AA (Africans as well) typically worship in contrast to white people. Some have argued that even though colonization and slavery has forced Christianity onto many Africans, some syncretism with their indigenous traditions has definitely occurred. It’s more noticeable in ATRs like Santeria/Luccmi and Haitian Vodou, but it’s definitely still there in the Christian sects. Now, with your original question, it’s only because slave owners had instilled the idea that anything African spirituality was terrible and would send you straight to hell. This was even more strongly enforced by whippings/beatings (even lynchings) when the Hatian Revolution began considering the large part Hatian Vodou played in it. Even then, actual Africans would consider their own indigenous beliefs as “demonic” so it’s not as just AA being a hostile towards the traditions. And again Christianity and church was one of the few chances the enslaved had to come together and not be beaten/enslaved so (using basic psychology) it was seen as freedom so some. So it’s not that AA hold on to their beliefs, they just honestly don’t know any better but to see ATRs as wicked, demonic, and ungodly.

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I think some of it has to do with what was taught in school. There’s a disconnect between Afrakans and Afrakan Americans because of the idea that “they” sold “us” into slavery for beads and baubles.

Afrakans that I’ve met and befriended have told me that they are encouraged not to associate with Afrakan Americans when they come here for various reasons. So I think there’s a definite attempt at keep us isolated and separated.

I’ve never personally met any Afrakan American family that’s been here for generations coming from slavery that has a tie to anything but Christianity or Islam. I never heard about Yoruba until I searched it out. I had no clue that Santeria was brought to South America by enslaved Yorubans and the name changed, but many of the practices are the same. I’m not saying that there were 0 families with ties to these spiritual practices though. I’ve just personally never met any.

Anything having to do with Afrakan spirituality has been demonized in America. Christianity teaches that occult(which has been treated like it means evil) knowledge is evil and if you search i out, it’s a first class ticket to hell.

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I am not.

Yes, as previously mentioned. However, I am more curious as to why those in modern-day who are seeking to embrace their roots shun their ancestral spirituality in exchange for the perpetuation of a religion that was forced upon them? Why are we not seeing a similar type of growth in the indigenous African spiritual paths as we are seeing in the indigenous European paths?

Yes, as previously stated.

Correct, that much I do know. Some used Christianity as a cover-up to continue practicing which is brilliant. The Celts did something slightly similar.

I am aware of the history. The question on the table is why, 150 to 200 years later (as Great Britian banned slavery in 1807, the US in 1865, and France did it twice in 1794 and 1848), modern-day members of the community lack the interest in reconnecting with their spiritual roots and still adopt Christianity?

The prevailing input is fear, which is valid. But why? What are they scared of now?

Yes. Haitian history is very interesting. Actually, the history of the Caribbean nations is quite interesting, especially Jamaica and Haiti.

That’s fair.

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Interesting. East Africa, West Africa, or just Africa in general? That’s a good angle to look at. Thanks.

The church is quick to demonize anything pagan, shamanic, or occultic in nature regardless of location. Raised Southern Baptist myself and everything was demonic.

Right. I’ve been trying to find a credible practitioner of Obeah for about a year now and it seems even to this day, if it is practiced, no one likes to talk about it to people outside. So, you may have met someone, they just keep it under wraps.

If I ever get back to Jamaica, I hope to find one now that the criminalization of Obeah is being less enforced.

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Since I know now that you’re not AA/Black it does clear up some things… Now, what exactly do you mean by those who are seeking to embrace their roots? Because bare in mind we as a people are so far-removed from our African identities. And even then we don’t have the proper documents and trails to really trace things back because we were given new names and especially a brand new identity. So I think a clarification on what exactly you’re talking about would be better. From what I’ve noticed one of the first ways many AA do in get in touch with their ancestors is to actually be apart of these traditions, and set up altars, etc. And their is a tremendous amount of growth with ATRs as it’s even becoming more mainstream with artists even mentioning the Orisha in songs. Then to you’re next point, Slavery might have been abolished in 1865 (in the US) but things weren’t exactly peaches and cream right after that. Even then segregation didn’t end until the late 1960s (really until the 1980s according to my grandmother). Even then things today in 2020 isn’t the best either. So it’s not AA not having the urge to reconnect with their indigenous spiritual systems, we just haven’t really finished the original battle. But again, even then, Christianity is really the root as to why we’re not all (as a community) running for ATRs. It’s really not about people being scared (which they still are, I mean animal sacrifice is common in most and I can understand how that be a bit off-putting) it’s about our people being comfortable within their Christian Practices. Again, Christianity is literally within our culture, Gospel music is even. It’s just too embedded within most to even look outside of the system, especially something like ATRs which has been screamed as demonic, vile, and just ungodly. Plus you have to really research and understand a lot of things before most of this stuff actually makes sense to a Christian mind so some just honestly don’t care to put in the work.

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Both East and West Afraka, but I’ve met more West Afrakans than East I believe.

Back in the 90s, we saw a large adoption of various aspect of African culture to include music and attire as well as more people began to be interested in celebrating Kwanzaa (which was originally a return to Arfircan religious practice and was anti-Christian in nature which soon changed to be more secularized). Much of the African traditions were being resurrected or implemented, except the religious/ spiritual aspect that remained largely Christian in practice.

As an outsider looking in, this confuses me, as if there is a conscious disassociation from showing appreciation of the tradition of various cultures sans the spiritual aspect. Almost an intentional arms-length relationship.

So are you saying that even over the past 60 years, the community hasn’t had the opportunity to shed their attachment to the religion of those who kept them in slavery, even with the past 30 years being a boon for pagan/ traditional spiritualism growth among other demographics?

Yeah, that’s where my head is at as well. But again, I’m curious as to the deeper why. What is the root cause that keeps people attached to a system that supported and advocated for physical and spiritual slavery?

The documentary I watched called “The United States of Hoodoo” (great watch) left more questions than it answered. It grazed your point a bit, but didn’t explore the question deeper.

18 years in the Southern Baptist church. Pretty well versed.

What inspired and led you down the path you are on?

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Gotcha.

What inspired you to go down the path you are on?

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I wasn’t born in the 90s so I can’t personally attest to that, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. I would personally say that African culture didn’t truly make his way into U.S, let alone the black community, until Black Panther (I am young, so I could’ve just noticed that within my generation). But again, that could be just me. 60 years isn’t that long. Especially when discussing the power religion can hold over a group of people. I do think now more and more people are starting to wake up and convert but even then ATRs aren’t meant for everybody. During divination it can be casted down that ifa,Orisha, loa, etc isn’t meant for you. But today I am seeing a general wake up amongst the black community because everyday more and more people are talking about their ancestors and looking for information to start their own journey. And for me I was never Christian necessarily (i did go to church and all of that though) and I’ve always been interested in this stuff. I might’ve took some detours (my Hinduism phase lmao) but I’m right where I needed to be. Plus Christianity in itself isn’t completely terrible, might not be right for us, but it does some good for others. I do feel like the world would be a lot different if a large portion of black people practiced an ATR. But with the way artists are just starting to openly say it in the media, it’s really only a matter of time.

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Christianity never felt right to me. This works never felt right if we’re being honest. Fantasy books and magick always seemed like the path to follow. But I couldn’t have any actual books about witchcraft or anything like that in my house.

I had a spiritual awakening in 2010 and ran back to church but it felt wrong. I had questions but you’re not supposed to question. Just have faith. I was never one to just blindly obey. I question everything and try to see the hidden layers. Then I watched a YouTube video that told me to flock to the weirdest and strangest things I could find. Especially anything about the occult or mysticism or esoteric knowledge.

That was the beginning for me. Learning that my people were and are more then the descendants of slaves and that’s it. Learning about the melanin conferences the doctors have every year. Learning what 666 represents and the science of myself. It’s been extremely interesting and exciting.

Personally I think there’s been huge effort to keep Afrakan Americans from reconnecting with this knowledge.

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Completely understand that. I’d love to learn more about what caused that awakening, but that is highly personal.

I don’t doubt it. From your perspective, would a documentary that has an element of focus on members of the community returning to occultic/ tradition spiritual practices and discusses their journey be a net positive?

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Fair. That is a bit more noticed than 30 years ago.

From your perspective, would a documentary that has an element of focus on members of the community returning to occultic/ tradition spiritual practices and discusses their journey be a net positive?

I think if you frame the info in the right way it could be great. @jbreeze4040 made a great point when bringing up how the mainstream artists are speaking more about it. (Made quite a few great points imo) I’ve noticed a huge surge in Afrakan Americans returning to their roots over the past 5 years or so. I just heard a snippet of a Beyonce’ song that she mentions charging her crystals in the moonlight and she calls out to Yemaya. So it is becoming more acceptable to some. The younger generation definitely.

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