Bernard Madoff Would Have Made An Excellent Orisa Priest
Bernard Madoff is accused of perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in history by losing somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty billion dollars of investors’ money. Like just about anyone who works as an executive on Wall Street or simply wants to be one of the big money pushers and shakers, he was an intensely competitive person with a need to prove to the world that he was somebody who was powerful, intelligent, and clever. Mr. Madoff began legitimately enough by building a securities trading firm that by the mid nineties had become the envy of many in his business. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities was an innovative and imaginative, technically cutting edge operation that matched small buy and sell orders from retail investors.
Mr. Madoff’s business model was actually winning a good share of the volume from the New York Stock Exchange by trading many of its listed stocks. Mr. Madoff had anticipated that the buying and selling of stocks would become computerized, and his systems provided better prices and services and eventually attracted big name clientele. When so called trading experts visited Mr. Madoff’s high tech office at Manhattan’s Lipstick Building, they were impressed. He sold people on the idea that here was a very intelligent man who knew his business really well and was very driven to succeed. He had managed to sell himself as a major player and a force to be reckoned with on the frontline.
Mr. Madoff’s success had come through a lot of hard work in the trenches of Wall Street. Matching buy and sell orders has never been glamorous work, not like managing other people’s money. He had earned Wall Street credibility.
He bolstered his reputation through activism in industry organizations. He eventually became a non-executive chairman of the NASDAQ. At that point, Mr. Madoff was earning tens of millions of dollars. Here was a man who didn’t need to start a scam to become a multimillionaire many times over. Yet, there was some flaw in his personality that led him into the mess he made and to dig himself deeper and deeper until the fraud that started out a relatively paltry tens of million ballooned into a fifty billion dollar fraud.
He created an aura of exclusivity by selectively choosing whose money he would manage. In wealthy circles Bernard Madoff’s reputation as a financial wizard grew. And no one could touch him. He was an emperor in fancy duds that only those pure of heart who trusted him completely could reap the benefits of profit from. That’s how he suckered people in and it was an excellent job of image marketing. People had to write personal letters to do business with Mr. Madoff. It wasn’t meant as something for everyone. The image was that you were very fortunate to be part of Madoff’s circle. In all honesty, like many things exclusive, the fortunate were the ones who were kept on the outside.
Under the weight of the collapsing stock market where more and more investors began to demand the withdrawal of their money, Mr. Madoff had to admit to that his investment management setup was nothing but a fraud. It was nothing but a giant Ponzi scheme where profitability was nothing but fiction and any cash paid to older investors was nothing but the cash received from newer investors. What began as an honest investment business had mutated into an ugly financial fraud of epic proportions.
Mr. Madoff managed to create a religion around himself. He sold people an idea about what he could do for them and used it for his personal benefit. While people around the nation and potentially around the globe are discovering the impact to their financial portfolios, Mr. Madoff made like a bandit, pun intended. He lived in a posh Manhattan apartment and a Hampton estate that dwarfed the homes of many of his investors.
I look at what happened between Mr. Madoff and his investors and I cannot help but see a parallel between people and their spiritual leadership. I think of my experiences with my early Ifa teachers and communities and see some harsh resemblances. The leadership of the Orisa houses I’ve visited as a young practitioner always kept an air of exclusivity that made you feel special just to be accepted. Not just anyone can walk off the street and participate in Orisa ceremonies. It was a privilege to have an Orisa priest do a reading and be told that a way must be cleared so that you could join their Orisa house. And the fees you paid to have spiritual work done on your behalf were an investment in your spiritual development.
As individuals developed their credibility within the house, through the development of superficial manifestations such as reciting prayers, memorizing songs of praise, dancing and contorting in traditionally African techniques or other talents that will impress peers but in all honesty do little in the development of a true sense of spirituality. But the investment of time and money in the development of spiritual credibility with our peers will allow up and coming priest to develop a similar investment pyramid that will allow them to exploit even younger practitioners.
No where is this violation of trust more evident than when an Orisa priest makes a conscious decision to use the ritual of divination to manipulate others for their own personal benefit. Unfortunately, for most practitioners, there is no spiritual stock market to come crashing down to expose the charlatans. There is no commission of holiness ready to pounce on those that have traded their spiritual integrity for personal benefit. While Mr. Madoff is simply stealing people’s money, other people are actually blocking people’s spiritual development and taking their money in the process. And that’s a true tragedy.