Here are 10 interesting stumbling blocks that have put a halt on many well-intended seekers of African Traditional Religions (ATRs).
1. The community is pagan and thus understands all schools of thought in modern and ancient magical systems
2. The community will accept me and understand me
3. The entire ATR community is gay friendly
4. I will be treated fairly and equally.
5. I am entitled to learn and be trained
6. I am entitled to initiation
7. Everyone in the ATR communities is well read, stable and trustworthy
8. There are no secrets to be kept, all knowledge is shared and readily available on books and online
9. Nothing really bad can happen to me when entering an ATR
10. I can get out as easily as I can go in
Two perspectives, Kal as a Westerner and mine as a Hispanic will tackle 10 common assumptions related to African Traditional Religions. Over the next few days Kal and I will share with you some of the lessons we have accumulated from the perspective of both seekers and initiates with a combined experience of over two decades into two of the most popular African Traditional Religions: Orisha and Palo Mayombe.
If you carefully analyze the assumptions presented and the real-life examples we will shared with you, it is possible you will be able to navigate a possible induction into an ATR with relative ease and avoid pitfalls. To succeed, well, that requires much more than navigating through assumptions, it requires good godparents (please refer to “Selecting Outstanding Godparents”), perseverance, some language skills and loads of patience.
Assumption #1: The community is pagan and thus understands all schools of thought in modern and ancient magical systems
Huge NO. Most practitioners of ATRs would never define themselves as pagan. Take for example Palo Mayombe and Orisha practices. Both believe in a creator God by which all other spiritual entities were created. If you use the term Pagan for most of them would mean that you are referring to a cluster of gods all equivalent in stature and power. Likewise, not all Paleros and Orisha initiates have the same academic and religious understanding, and for that matter, the proper vocabulary to explain their personal understanding of the mechanisms of their religious convictions.
The same way that you find a Christian theologian, you also find average Christian worshipers who attend church. Their understanding of the Christian religion will vastly differ from one another. The same thing happens in ATRs.
Most Paleros and Orisha practitioners would be quick to dismiss a pagan religion because they would see it as foreign to their beliefs. This brings us to the second part of the assumption “…the community understands all schools of thoughts in modern and magical systems.”
Let us illustrate the level of knowledge of the average Orisha initiate with regards to the Ordo Templis Orientis (O.T.O). We remember inviting our godfather-to-be to see a Gnostic Mass. José B. had a good 20 years under his belt as a priest of Yemaya and he was curious about the O.T.O. because Kal and I mentioned it repeatedly, to test how much he understood of what back then was part of our then magical background and training. The O.T.O. concepts were to him foreign gibberish both in concept and practice.
The Gnostic Mass was one of the best we had seen. But to him, it was a ridiculous theatrical play complete with a half-naked woman sitting on an altar. He was completely scandalized by the partial nudity and by the concept of having a woman sitting on a place reserved for ritual as he understood it due to his early Catholic education.
After the mass he and his wife were able to mingle with folks from different magical perspectives, Wiccans, Ceremonial magicians, Chaos magicians and more. He was even more lost than before the mass started because he could not relate to their systems, terminology and practices. He was completely bewildered and was still thinking we were part of some sort elaborate group joke at his and his wife’s expense. On the way back home, he stated, “I am sorry, but there was no spiritual presence in that room. They said during the Mass ‘There is no part of me that is not of the gods,’ what gods where they referring to?”
It was obvious to us back then that our prior engagements in other magical systems would have to come to a halt if we wanted to enter into his Orisha house. Involvement in other practices was quickly discouraged by him and we gladly boxed all of our tools and books for nearly a decade. This was not an order; it was a condition to enter the household.
For us, there was wisdom in such condition. No one can drink coffee from a cup half filled with orange juice. Our cup was to be emptied to allow a full experience. José B’s cup never emptied up to understand our background with all of our prior spiritual knowledge and involvements.
As you can see, not all ATR practitioners are willing to learn from you. In their point of view, if you are knocking the door to their house, you are the one who must be willing to adapt. For us, the godparent-godchild bond needs more than a one-way commitment. It requires a patient ear willing to learn where the godchild comes from and what has helped him or her to shape their past and future needs. However, acceptance in most cases is not a two-way street, but we shall talk about that one, in the next post.
Kal & Omimelli
Olo Obatalá & Oní Yemayá