black magic: unlocking our ancestral power

October 31, 2018
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There’s something so mesmerizing about the idea of being able to say an incantation that can get someone to tell the truth or to see into the future. Can you imagine? Well, it turns out that Black folks come from a rich history of tapping into the supernatural, but there’s never really been much attention given to this idea in the Black mainstream. Think about it. If you’re a millennial like us, you grew up with Charmed, The Craft, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and reruns of Bewitched and I Dream of Genie in constant syndication. These were shows with no shortage of white women who could access other-worldly forces. So, why the lack of Black magic? Not the evil kind, but the lack of Black people at play in the realm of the supernatural. With Halloween right around the corner and anti-Black sentiment in the air, it was important to add some resistance to the status quo, and discover a bit more about Black people’s gloriously magical past.

“Every ritual is to help you connect to the ancestors — like vodou, activating your ancestral memory. Yoruba — you are working with ancestors all the the time to have them guide you through life. This allows us to move forward.” – Dalian Adofo

Dalian Adofo is a documentary film-maker and co-founder of Ancestral Voices, a UK-based educational organization that “provides a range of educational resources that covers the gamut of African spiritual cosmologies, philosophies and practices.” He’s spent seven years talking to traditional healers, spiritual workers and academic scholars throughout Africa and the Black Atlantic diaspora. Adolfo says the aim of Ancestral Voices is “to dispel the falsehoods propagated against these systems via colonial imposition, whose legacy still impacts it today.” Adofo believes that colonial propaganda has laid a foundation of resentment towards African spirituality, “shrouding it in mystique, fear and negativity, rather than presenting its ideologies in an accurate and objective light.”

The European imperialist agenda, and the birth of Christianity, powered the deconstruction of traditional African practices. What better way to control people than to disconnect them from their source of power? Adofo points to the Haitian Revolution as a display of ancestral power: “No one is entirely powerless. Africans found themselves in the middle of the worst treatment in Haiti. Using Vodou and physics, they were able to fight.” It’s all about having access to the systems. In fact, Adolfo believes that some of the world’s highest seats of authority have access to our ancestral knowledge and power and preach a new religion (Christianity) to control the people.

There is a heavy sense of irony that often escapes people of African heritage raised on Christianity, who were taught to “turn the other cheek” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” in the face of the most extreme anti-humane systems of oppression this world has ever known. To this day, the powerful people that use the Bible to set their agendas, continuously contradict the “good” book’s principles. Separation from home, family, and language are all an effort to strip power. Replacing the original, now-erased systems of tradition with pseudo-religion is a reprogramming that attacks the Black psyche with images of a white savior.

Anything good in Western society has been offered up in white-face. Webster’s dictionary defines “white” as free from moral impurity, not intended to cause harm, and innocent. “Black” is defined as thoroughly sinister or evil, indicative of condemnation or discredit and characterized by hostility or angry discontent. With the Bible offered up as the world’s most popular book of magic, the greatest example of acceptable power comes from a man portrayed as Caucasian and blue-eyed. Additionally, much of America’s legal and cultural history has seen pro-white propaganda matched by anti-African sentiment. Black people in the US have been overexposed to the sad, solemn images of Africa. Anything associated with the continent has been discredited and vilified, including our ancient practices.

“People believe what you tell them without doing research,” says Lamar James who practices Ifa, Santeria, and Christianity. Like many people of African descent, James has found comfort in remixing his spiritual foundation by taking aspects of various faith systems and using what works for him. The Ifa spiritual system is derived from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Santeria also has its roots in Yoruba culture. For many Afro-Cubans, there exists a duality in which they practice Catholicism publicly, and Santeria privately. At the heart of Ifa and Santeria are the Orishas, the deities of the religion whom are revered and known for their specific characteristics. Thanks to Beyonce, many of us now know a little something about Yoruba deities like Osun.

“We used ancestors to progress in life. When we went away from that…look at us globally. Look at where we are. You lose your power. We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that talking to our ancestors is evil. You can’t tell me talking to my deceased father is evil. I talk to my dad everyday. I cook for my ancestors. I give them food, drink.” – Keka Araujo, a Lucumi and Palo Mayombe practitioner

A huge part of many African traditional religions is the remembrance, celebration and guidance of ancestors. Keka Araujo has been initiated in both Lucumi and Palo Mayombe, and says that in order to practice Palo Mayombe, one must have lineage to the Congo. “Palo Mayombe is not a religion you find. It finds you.”

Araujo states that once she was initiated into the faith, she did a DNA test, and discovered 43% of her ancestry was from the Congo. Like many African religions, Palo Mayombe is nature-based, with deities found in nature, and given human attributes to make them more relatable and understandable. Just like Abrahamic religions, Palo Mayombe follows a code and set of rules, with one of its most important aspects the need to remember and respect one’s ancestors. Araujo believes by forgetting the ancient practice of speaking to ancestors, Black people have essentially lost our way. “We used our ancestors to progress in life. When we went away from that…look at us globally. Look at where we are. You lose your power. We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that talking to our ancestors is evil. You can’t tell me talking to my deceased father is evil. I talk to my dad everyday. I cook for my ancestors. I give them food, drink. Your ancestors only die when you stop speaking their name. They’re never dead. Black people globally, if we only knew the power we have through our ancestors…” Araujo also believes there are dark forces and evil spirits, stating simply that there are people who use dark forces to gain a result and that she doesn’t deal with them.

In the minds of many Westernized Black people, there’s no fighting back, with or against the supernatural. We lack a curiosity of things that are outside the scope of what we understand God to be. Historically, Black folks have had a hard time embracing power, having been without it for so long. It’s no wonder many of us avoid Halloween and “dark magic”. In fact, many Black millennials have never been allowed to celebrate Halloween, and instead participated in Church festivities like “Hallelujah Night,” on October 31st. Whether they were African American, Caribbean or African, the stories they were told of Halloween was that it is Evil, Satanic and demonic, with no real explanation offered, just an overall sentiment that a nefarious darkness surrounds the holiday. That same fear of Halloween has been extended by Black people to any spiritual theology that is not Christianity, including the African traditional religions. In Lamar’s experience, Black people are scared when he tells them about his faith, even though it’s from the Motherland. “We have built our culture around the oppressor’s culture,” he says. However, there is, perhaps, hope. Although many are scared, there is a percentage of Black people whose natural sense of curiosity is piqued when Lamar discusses Ifa and Santeria.

“The moon affects the ocean. It creates tides. Human beings are made up of 70 percent water. What makes us think the moon won’t affect us? When we bury a dead body, if you go back to the body over some time you will find that the body has become one with the earth. That tells us that we are nature. The body disappears, but the energy doesn’t go anywhere. When people die, the energy is released into the ethos. And so is the same for the spirit of our ancestors. There is no heaven or hell.”- Dalian Adofo

African spirituality is about liberation according to Adofo. It’s purpose is to  connect with the ancestors’ energy for guidance. Christianity, on the other hand, was used as a measure of control. In fact, Adolfo goes on to say that in African practices, there is no such thing as “The Devil,” a far cry from Christianity’s teachings.

“There is duality. Within you is a spark, a spirit. The physical body, plus the spiritual body equals YOU,” Adolfo says. “Each [of us] have a role to play which explains why we are in the physical realm.” He believes that the meaning of life is to essentially discover our purpose in a physical world that is like an “energy plant”, where we can have access to any energy at any time, if we know how. In Western cultures, accessing these supernatural energies is categorized as evil. Adofo believes that the same process can have two different outcomes. Using slavery as an example — one side believes that they are in the right, while the other obviously rejects the practice, though both sides rely on God for perseverance. Pretty fucked up, right? This supports the premise that the practice cannot be categorically evil, but that intent is the determining factor. It’s thus important to note that Black magic has been marketed as evil — just like us. Black people’s current disposition towards the magic within and for us, is a result of the systemic separation from anything that would safeguard us. This includes natural resources, education, tradition, language and spiritual practices.

We’ve been taught that no matter where we are globally — even on the African continent — we have no rights to anything. Only recently have we felt comfortable enough to rediscover our magic via hashtags and economic upward mobility. Ancestral Voices believes that creating educational resources which explore African concepts are useful for Black folks in the 21st century and paramount to regaining our power. It’s quite possible that the key to a better future is in the notes of our past. As we continue our quest to unveil our #blackboyjoy or harness our #blackgirlmagic, we would do well to remember that we come from a long line of folks that have accomplished the “impossible”. What we might look at as otherworldly or magical, is really a history so rich that it’s embedded in our blood. We may just need some assistance in connecting to it.

Araujo brought up a fascinating point when she asked us to watch someone catching the Holy Spirit in church, and to then to watch a video of someone experiencing deity possession in an African traditional religious ceremony. With the sound off, both look exactly the same. Similarly to how many African cultures pour libations for the deceased, we do the same in the states when we pour out liquor “for the homies who ain’t here.” We are connected and no matter how far off-course we may find ourselves, the truth is, the magic is within us.