One of the most frightening things about the old African traditions is its association with voodoo. The word voodoo here is not a reference to the many variations of the African based religions that developed throughout both American continents and throughout the Caribbean islands among African slaves and their descendants. Indeed, as a practitioner of a Yoruba based belief system, I have to confess that technically my family and I participate in this spirituality.
The voodoo I refer to is the more superficial based on silly superstitions without much in the way of facts to support such beliefs. This bastardized and overly dramatized version of the African belief system gets played in Hollywood with such films such as the Believers, Eve’s Bayou, Serpent and the Rainbow, Skeleton Key, and the James Bond film Live and Let Die. Playing on people’s fears of African spirituality, many people are quick to prey on our collective superstitious and are quick to portray African traditions as something evil and better left alone. As a young Christian in Sunday school I was taught that anything African was to be avoided if you wanted to stay in god’s good graces.
As I grew older I began to realize that a lot of what I was hearing was just plain silly superstition. But that was back in the early stages of me questioning what I was being told to believe and my relationship with Christianity began to wane. As I started to grow in my African based spirituality, I began to earn a better understanding of how the honest reality of African traditions can be manipulated into the silly superstitions that became so popular. While I may not believe the superstition that laying a broom at the door of your house will keep spirits out at night, I do believe that there are spirits.
I have to admit that there are things that I do not fully understand and yet I believe. But it’s not fully necessary for me to understand how things work to believe in them. I don’t understand how microwave ovens work but I believe that they will heat my food when I push that little button. I have faith that someone else understands how they work and my personal experience with microwave ovens gives me faith that I can take to the bank. The same thing is true with my beliefs in the Orisa based spirituality.
Now, with all of that said, I had to laugh the other day when I saw my old landlord driving a rental car. It seems the woman had an accident and her relatively brand new car was in the shop being repaired. My first thought was karma. We moved out of her apartment building at the beginning of September. Because of a post office mix up, despite how many change of address forms will fill out, our mail continues to go to her apartment building. The woman occasionally calls and tells us we have mail waiting for us to pick up. Whenever she calls, we apologize and go pick up our mail. Her house is practically in our backyard so we see each other often.
Well, last month we were expecting one piece of mail that was pretty crucial. It was a notice regarding my son’s health benefits that needed immediate attention and quick reply. We were trying to beat a deadline. Instead of forwarding the mail to us as usual my landlord sent it back to the sender. She said she thought it was too important to forward. By the time we found out what happened we had missed the deadline. Now, for the next year at least, we are paying an extra two hundred fifty dollars a month out of our pocket to replace his lost benefit. That’s an extra three thousand dollars that we need. The misses was upset. I said she’ll get hers.
But the misses wasn’t content just knowing that karma would address the issue. She took the case to Baba Esu and asked for some tangible justice. She didn’t want anything drastic. Just something that would make her life just as inconvenient as she had made ours. Just a couple weeks later, we now see her driving her rental.
The misses felt bad. I continued to laugh. She said that she asked for something bad in a fit of anger and now regrets it. I advised her in the future to make sure she’s calm and rational whenever she asks for such things. She asked me if I ever wished for something to happen to somebody. I said of course. And if whatever I asked for comes to past I will simply say thank you. If somebody pisses me off to the point that I’m asking Orisa to step in on my behalf and take somebody to the tool shed, then chances are pretty good that I felt that they deserved it.
Besides, there is nothing to support the fact that what happened to our landlord has anything to do with us. It’s not like our old landlord has never wrecked a car before. I think in the year and a half since we’ve been here she’s already had a couple fender benders. This is just the latest. Besides, I’ve been asking Baba to help us win the lottery and that never happens. I’m pretty sure that asking for something bad to happen to somebody in a fit of anger doesn’t work either.
But nevertheless, I think I’ll buy Baba Esu something nice today. You never know how the spiritual realm operates. And I’d rather err on the side of caution. Wouldn’t want to piss Baba off, even if I do think it might be nothing more than silly superstition. I might want to do some more superstitious stuff sometime in the future and I would like to stay on Baba’s good side.