African Spirituality Gets No Respite From Slander
I gave up watching CSI when Gary Dourdan’s character Warrick Brown was murdered off. All the other characters that left the show can be brought back at a moment’s notice. They simply decided to quit the CSI service and take early retirement so it will be nothing to bring them back. But they had to kill Warrick Brown. I didn’t even wait until his last episode. The moment it was announced that he was leaving the show I made the choice to turn the channel. Although my favorite character by far was Gil Grissom played by William Peterson, Warrick Brown was the character I identified with the most. The show instantly lost my interest.
But the Misses continued to be a CSI devotee. That was until she saw last night’s episode named Mascara. There was a scene where detective Nick Stokes, played by George Eads, and Captain Jim Brass, played by Paul Guilfoyle, went to a house and knocked on the door. They are about to leave when there is a scream from inside. An old woman answers the door. They walked into a tribal ritual with drums and religious statues and dancing and chanting based on a variation of the ancient African traditions. Images of something sinister are flashed on the screen as the drums beat and people contort their bodies to the rhythm. Something is happening. But the audience isn’t sure what. The episode plays out and eventually they find their perpetrator for a series of rapes and murders. But the perpetrator says he didn’t do it. It was Ogun, the Orisa of war. The man was spiritually possessed and therefore innocent of the acts. Somebody says something about the only evil is the evil in the man’s heart. The episode ends.
Now, many people who practice ancient African spiritualities believe in possession. I’ve seen a few myself. But I believe that most of the alleged possessions I’ve witnessed were simply devotees crying out desperately for a little attention. But I must admit that I have yet to see anybody do anything even remotely harmful to another. Not to say that it doesn’t happen. But people being possessed and carrying on like demon driven hellions is no more a product of these spiritual traditions than a women drowning her children because Jesus told her to do it through the toaster is a product of Christianity. But because the vast majority of us are familiar with Christianity, we know how incongruous the murdered children phenomenon is to the Christian philosophy.
Few of us take the time to truly understand the African spiritual traditions. Therefore, African spirituality is easily susceptible to conjecture and downright fabrication. Even people who practice the variations of this tradition don’t put enough effort into truly learning the meaning of what’s happening. It’s too easy to just pay someone else to perform the necessary rote rituals and it’s too easy to buy spiritually charged trinkets that are supposed to ward off evil. Unfortunately, there are people who practice this tradition that would be quick to blame possession by Orisa or ancestors for the poor choices they make. But that’s just a cop out. If someone wants to do wrong then they will do wrong. It is akin to the Christian blaming the devil for the evil he or she does.
However, what is most upsetting is the fact that we never see the wizened Orisa devotee that dispels the orthodox or popular myths of our tradition. Most people never get to see a balanced view of African spirituality in these fictional accountings. We only see the deep end version filled with bloody rituals that border on the sadistic. It would have been a first to see the spiritual community depicted in this show come forth to set the record straight and condemn the evil doer. But instead, it is always someone outside the tradition that sets things right and becomes the voice of reason. It’s as if to say that the only balance to people who practice this African voodoo is people who don’t. And that’s some real bullshit.
Like most spiritual communities, the ancient African spirituality runs the gamut of human experience and participation. There are low lives that practice this tradition only for personal gain and there are people who treat this spirituality with respect and who should be respected for their spirituality. In reality, in many ways it is no different from its Christian counterpart. But because we do not get a realistic picture of the ancient African traditions, only the grotesquely distorted evil version, we seldom see the flip side of the tradition that offers people something positive to actually believe in. Not all of us believe that we need the theatrics of masquerades or cigar smoke laden rituals or spiritual possession at the drop of a hat or chanting or divination tools that are little different than dice in a casino.
Someday we might see a more balanced and evenhanded depiction of African spirituality. Unfortunately, it won’t be any time soon. The fiction is strongly against it. And because most people have never witness any other interpretation, most people believe the voodoo rituals often played in the media with colors of pure wickedness are simply par for the course.
If Orisa like Ogun really were evil and wanted to kill we would all be in trouble. If Orisas thought about killing they probably wouldn’t think about doing a couple of people here and there. They wouldn’t possess people and use them to kill one or two. In the African tradition, we believe Orisas are aspects of nature and can harness the energy of nature to do unspeakable things on a global scale. We’re talking hurricanes and earthquakes and other natural disasters on a magnitude that would boggle the human mind. Think more along the lines of a tidal wave strong enough to reach the driest desert. If the Orisas were all evil and truly wanted humans dead most of us would be dead already.