In the religion of the Yoruba people, Obatala is the king of the white cloth. This Orisa must love chlorine bleach and Mr. Clean because his white clothing is always unblemished and pristine. He is often depicted as a wizened elder dressed in his white cloth from head to toe. His great age is simply a manifestation of his wisdom. And if he is illustrated with hair it is always the peppered or white that indicates significant age. He is the one Orisa with the responsibility to create land over the water. Baba Obatala’s realm is the mountains, especially the ones with snow capped peaks. He is the old man that rarely moves and when he does, it is slowly and with a purpose. But when he does move, pay close attention because its significance is as great as a massive earthquake.
His energy is the essence of clarity. It is clarity that allows humans to make the right decisions and to differentiate right from wrong and perhaps most importantly, to see things as they truly are. And it is because of this energy that Obatala is the Orisa of the courthouse and of all things judicial. White forms a perfect background for correctly seeing and identifying that which is around you. His association with the color white is also viewed as a sign of purity in the ability to discern and to make judgments. His energy gives us the ability to see the complete picture for any issue needing to be judged and weighed despite the complexity. For the children of Obatala the world is seen in black and white and there is no gray area. With Obatala help, we can see things as either right or wrong and there is rarely any middle ground.
Obatala can only help us do our jobs to find clarity and seek the truth when we make the honest search for truth our goal. But when our law enforcers are not honest and use their position as arbitrator to push a particular outcome based on personal bias and prejudice, Baba Obatala has no choice but to wash his hands of the matter and leave people to their own devices void of any clarity or righteousness. And the result is chaos and mistrust and nothing that even remotely resembles justice.
Ever since people of African descent set foot in America we have been forced to deal with the painful backhand of America’s justice system. It is this alleged justice system that judged black people as less than human. An honest look at what it means to be human would have recognized black people as people with a different skin color and heritage. But people had an agenda when the question was asked if it was right to consider the children of Africa the equal of the Caucasian. White people would lose their source of cheap labor if the question was answered honestly. And therefore, from the beginning black people were judged a lesser form of life void of any hope of justice. And the lack of true justice that was established then is the same pattern of justice that we continue to follow today.
Today, the prejudice against black people is thick. Despite the legal presumption that a defendant is innocent until he or she is actually proven to be guilty, our justice system regularly operates under the presumption that black people are in fact guilty and a trial in a court of law is just a formal, drawn out process full of legalese to reach a foregone conclusion. Statistics show that black people are more inclined to commit crime and so we can dispense with any real determination of facts and just run with our racially tainted prejudice. Never mind the fact that the circular logic that black people are more likely to be guilty therefore we can find them guilty without really looking for truth. The chance for real justice is lost, or at the very least unfairly far more difficult to obtain. It is very unfortunately that our national collective has decided to stumble down this path of mistrust and fear.
Just like all of our other social systems, the judicial system is heavily biased and heavily weighted against the well being of people in the black community. We like to promote the idea that our courtroom is a place where people are judged by the merits of their case. But all too often the baggage of our learned social orthodoxies is just as much a part of standard courtroom procedure as a gavel or the black judge’s robe. Color that robe black and give your honor a matching pointy hat and nobody would know the difference. Give that same modified uniform to a lot of people who work to keep the wheels of justice moving, if only at a snail’s pace, and you would have a much more precise image of our justice and legal system.
It’s time people wake up to the fact that the United States judicial system was never meant to be a place where black people would be treated fairly. When it comes to black people America’s special brand of justice is about as blind as the Hubble space telescope. There is no clarity. There is no truth. There is nothing to make sure the process is fair for people in the black community. That’s the way it was founded. That’s the way it exists today. Hopefully, we will come to the realization that this injustice needs some kind of attention. And just like when the mountain moves things will be shaken up to such a point our national community will have no choice but to sit up and take notice. And maybe then Baba Obatala will take his rightful place in our courtroom and we will have true clarity for a change.
I had a dream last night. In the dream I was standing outside a thrift store and I was totally naked. The building looked like one of the typical second hand stores you’ll see in a very urbanized area. It was an old white building, a bit on the dingy side. Weeds were growing through the cracks of the foundation in various spots around the structure. I walked inside.
As I walked through the door there were a series of steps that take people down to the store floor. There was a huge, homemade counter at the bottom of the steps. People were milling all around. I walked my naked self about halfway down the steps and sat down on them, trying to hide my nakedness.
I sat there for a while. No one seemed to notice me in my birthday suit. I was thankful for that. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some oversized terrycloth towels. I grabbed a burgundy one and wrapped it around me. The towel was as big as a bed sheet. With my nakedness now under wraps, I thought I could do my own milling about to find something a little more appropriate to wear. All the people I saw before had disappeared. The store was virtually empty. Wrapped in my towel I ventured into the rows of clothes.
Like some thrift stores I’ve been to, this store wasn’t just one large open area. It was an older building partitioned into separate rooms. I walked through a doorway into a room that was filled with clothes made of the finest leather. There were fine leather jackets with fur around the collar. There were fine leather belts and leather shoes. There were rows of pants made of the finest cloths. I marveled at the unexpected, and rather out of place, clothing.
As I stepped into the room, I noticed a couple looking at the clothing. It was a man and a woman. All I saw was the back of their heads. I never saw their faces. They were doing their best to stay anonymous. I stepped around them and went about my business trying to find something to wear.
In the corner of this room I saw some toys. That was unexpected. There was a ten pack of Matchbox cars sitting on a shelf. I don’t remember what cars were in the pack with the exception of one. At the very top of the pack was a green Matchbox station wagon. I wanted the cars. But I had to find clothing first. I put the box of cars down and went back to finding something to wear. This room was not for me.
As I walked out back into the main part of the store I looked down at my feet. I was surprised to see that I had on a pair of gray bell bottoms. The fabric didn’t feel very nice. Around the zipper there were some weird decorative buttons. These pants were clearly out of date and fashionably hopeless. But at least my bottom was covered. I felt a sense of relief.
When I got back to the front counter, a black woman told me that we had a problem. I hadn’t been keeping my appointments. I apologized, but then I said that I didn’t think that the counseling was mandatory. I talked like I knew what she was talking about. I know many thrift stores have counseling programs to help people. I was thinking that I had been enrolled into such a program. I just didn’t remember signing up for it. The woman laughed and asked if I wanted to drop out. I told her no. I needed the counseling and would like to continue. I promised to do better.
The woman then told me that I shouldn’t worry. The store had an opening coming up. If I wanted, I would have a job by the end of the week. I smiled a sense of relief.
But then she looked at me. My burgundy towel was gone and all I had were the gray bell bottom pants. She said that I needed a haircut and she reached into a cabinet and pulled out a set of hair clippers. I was instantly horrified. I took a step back and told her with my most authoritative voice that she would not touch my locks. She ignored me and told me to stay still. I did as I was told and she put the clippers against my chest and shaved what little chest hair I had off.
Another woman suddenly appeared out of the clothes racks and made a beeline to the counter. She was carrying a baby. She walked up to me and told me that she heard that I was in a three way relationship and asked if it was true. I said no ma’am. I cheated on my significant other. The woman laughed. It wasn’t a mocking laugh. It was the type of laugh an elder would give if her protégé was tested and passed.
And at that point, the woman behind the counter gave me a brightly colored jacket with a multitude of blues, pinks, yellows, and greens. It looked like the kind of jacket someone would buy for a child or a baby. I woke up right after that and started putting my dream to paper. If I had to guess, whatever test I may have been given, I’d have to say that I passed with flying colors
I was reminded recently of the sacrifice a student of Ifa needs to make in his or her life when they make the decision to be initiated into tradition. An initiation is a ritual that is intended to recognize the spiritual entity that is supposedly the greatest influence on an individual’s life. It is believed that everyone has at least one Orisa that influences his or her life, whether that Orisa is ever acknowledged through an initiation ritual or not. The initiation ritual, for all practical purposes, is like a wedding ceremony. A marriage actually takes place in a state office. People sign documents and the marriage will be recognized by the state government. The wedding ceremony is a ritual intended for the most part to celebrate the marriage. Like the wedding ritual, the initiation ritual is intended to celebrate a relationship that already exists.
When I went through my initiation five years ago, my elders required me to sacrifice my hair. At the time, I did it gladly. I was all caught up in the ancient African pomp and circumstance of ritual and tradition and didn’t even see me losing my hair as a sacrifice. It was just part of the procedure. But after I became a little older and a little wiser with my spiritual development, I realized, among a great many things, that the sacrifice of hair isn’t really necessary for the initiation process. It is merely tradition enforced by elders with a blind adherence for tradition for the sake of tradition.
Now I’ve heard a log of theories from a lot of people. Somebody tried to explain that the hair is a receptor of negative energies and it is helpful for positive character development to get rid of the hair. But if the hair is a negative energy receptor before the initiation, would it not be a negative receptor after the initiation process as well? For this theory to hold water, wouldn’t we require everybody who is working for spiritual development to keep their body hair to the bare minimum regardless of where they are in their spiritual development? But we don’t. Why? Because just saying that hair picks up negative energy doesn’t make it so. Hair picks up on negative energy about as well as fingernails. And yet, you don’t see anyone yanking somebody’s fingernails during a ritual.
The shaving of the head is a symbol of spiritual rebirth. The bald head is a quickly recognized symbol selected for its ability to help the recently spiritually initiated standout in a crowd. But like a lot of symbols, the shaving of the head has no real impact on people’s lives other than being an easy confirmation of some kind of sacrifice to appease our teachers and other elders in our spiritual community.
But what if the spiritual sacrifice that initiates are supposed to make during the initiation ceremony was something real? What if initiates could make a sacrifice that could actually lead to a better understanding of their own individual spiritual development?
Five years ago, when I was initiated and walking around with a bald head, for whatever reason, I lost contact with my spiritual community. Without the influence of my elders, without the traditional spiritual persuasion from elders that could have made me just another devotee toeing the traditional line that adheres strongly to hierarchy and ritual and ceremony and materialism and a lot of things that actually have very little to do spirituality, my spiritual result would have been something much different and much closer to what passes for orthodox thinking in this ancient African tradition. And if the elders are able to control my spiritual development, could it really be my own spiritual development?
What if the spiritual sacrifice we are supposed to make is the relationship we have with our spiritual elders? Our elders might mean well. More often than not, I’m sure our elders want the next generation of teachers to learn the ways of spiritual development the way they learned spiritual development. But all too often the spiritual development that is being taught these days is the type of spirituality that is more concerned with the spiritual chain of command and tight control of what is and isn’t considered spiritual. And when someone has control of other people’s spirituality, there is the potential for abuse with elders who prey on devotees with rather silly and self serving superstitions.
If somebody tells me that people who are about to go through the initiation process should cut their hair for fear of picking up negative energy, I’d have to ask based on what. What evidence is there that our hair picks up negative energy other than somebody, more than likely someone with hair, saying so? I’m pretty sure the answer is nothing.
Hair is no threat to people developing a sense of spirituality. Having a person shave his or her head for his or her initiation is a sacrifice without much meaning other than giving the initiate the ability to say, “Hey look what I did!” If a sacrifice needs to be made for a spiritual initiation, if we want to make sure our spiritual development is truly our own and not the product of elder’s interpretation of what spirituality means, then maybe we ought to be telling people to kick that elder relationship to the curb and go out on a limb and let the spirituality grow without the contamination of somebody else’s interpretation of what it means to be spiritual.
We are quickly approaching the end of the third month since the manmade disaster fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana in the middle of the gulf. Everyday, more and more toxic oil spews into the gulf from the well where the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. With reports of oil and tar appearing on the beaches of Galveston Island, Texas, every gulf state is now directly impacted and we are still weeks away from any permanent form of containment. Everyday we tap into British Petroleum’s underwater cameras to see the cloud of oil spewing a mile under water. Everyday we see images of birds doing their best to cope with their oil soaked wings and failing miserably. But it is only today that I bother to think about this disaster from Yemonja’s and Olokun’s perspective. And I call myself an Orisa devotee.
For those of you who may not remember, and for those of you who never cared to take note, my spiritual belief system is partially built on the ancient African spiritual traditions of the Yoruba people. In this belief system, Olokun and Yemonja are the spiritual entities who are best known for, and are mostly associated with, life in the ocean and deep water. Think of Olokun as the forebear to Neptune or Poseidon or even Aquaman. And Yemonja is often depicted as a mermaid. Olokun is associated with the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean. Yemonja is associated with the top waters and the shoreline. The two work hand in hand with each other as well as with other Orisas.
Yemonja is often referred to as the mother of life and with good reason. While there are some people who believe in creative design theories that surmise that the Supreme Being started snapping his fingers on the fifth day and animal life just started popping out of thin air, a lot of people are aware of more scientific theories that promote the belief that life started in the ocean. If the ocean is the source of life, the ocean is the mother of life, and Yemonja is associated with the ocean, one might conclude that Yemonja is the mother of life.
The ocean is the spiritual realm of these two Orisas, and others, and we are doing our best to screw it up. We might give a rat’s ass about the globs of oil and tar that are appearing along the gulf shores. British Petroleum promises to do everything possible to restore shorelines and beaches. But is anybody really thinking about the vast parts of the waters that are not so heavily influenced by tourists’ dollars? I remember BP CEO Tony Hayward doing his best to convince people that there was nothing to worry about in the deep waters in the middle of the gulf because all the oil is lighter than water and so all the oil will simply rise to the top. But the reality is a lot more complex. Water is heavier than air but somehow enough moisture gets sucked up into the atmosphere to produce torrential rainstorms.
Like the rain in the air, plumes of oil droplets are floating in the middle of the gulf like underwater clouds. But, unlike the clouds of water in the atmosphere that have to release the moisture to impact us here on the ground, the underwater clouds of oil don’t have to release anything. The underwater oil clouds can maintain their integrity and still impact the life of all those sea creatures. And what effort will be made to remove these plumes and restore the ocean back to its oil-less condition? While British Petroleum is hiring people to clean beaches and make a good show of trying to look like somebody with that outfit cares, it’s a pretty safe bet that nothing will be done to set the middle of the gulf back to its original condition.
Imagine how you would feel if somebody came to your house, started digging in your living room, struck oil and let it spewed all over your house. And then, to add insult to injury, the only part of this disaster that will get cleaned up is the part of your property along the perimeter. You probably wouldn’t appreciate it very much. I know I wouldn’t appreciate it if something like that were to happen to me. I’d be thinking I’d want whoever did it to clean the whole place or at least try.
One thing I can say about nature, it can take care of itself. As members of the Orisa community, Yemonja and Olokun have nothing if they do not have time on their side. Given enough time, the constant scrubbing of the water on the shore will clean even the biggest tar ball. The plumes of oil in the gulf will eventually dissipate. One day, the waters in the gulf will be restored. It wouldn’t matter if we managed to fill the entire gulf with our Texas crude, we simply cannot out last nature.
What we can do is impact nature’s ability to sustain us. We might think all we have to do is clean the beach so that the damage to our tourist industries is minimized. But there might be a long term impact to this as well. What would be the entire magnitude of impact if we actually managed to contaminate the source of life and a major food source? Yemonja and Olokun work together to provide a lot for us. You’d think we’d be more careful with the way we interact with nature. But it looks like just the converse is true. As humans who are part of the ecological chain of nature, we should never so callously pollute the hands that feed us. You’d think we’d have more respect for the cradle of life.
You know what? I didn’t even ask Baba Orunmila about a reading for the year when 2010 rolled around. What’s the point? Baba always says be patient, it’s coming. And so I’ll be patient. The next thing you know it’s a couple months later. It happened in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. I figured this year I’ll do something a little different. Straight off the bat, I waited. And I waited. And I waited. But it’s hard to out wait an Orisa.
When March rolled around I figured enough time has passed and Baba is going to wait for me to ask no matter what. I can understand. He’s a busy guy. The assistant to the Supreme Being of our universe is simply doing other things waiting for me to simply ask. No biggie really. Baba is a busy spiritual entity. When it comes to being busy, he’s probably number two throughout the universe, at least according to the Yoruba spiritual belief system. So figuring that all I had to do is ask, I waited for him to show up and I asked. He said he’ll get back to me. It was the same thing who would’ve said if I asked like clock work when the New Year rolled around.
Baba was toying with me. Either he was in an extremely good mood or he was about to slap some education on me or a little bit of both or a lot of bit of both. Okay Baba, we’ve gone without it this long, I guess we can go without it little longer. Baba asked me if I really needed the reading. I told him that if he’s not giving it to me then I guess I’d have to say that I really don’t need it. I mean, we’ve been going this long without any reading. I imagine we can always go longer. Baba just nodded.
But I couldn’t leave the subject alone. Obviously, somewhere along the way, somebody decided that there was going to be an annual ritual of year reading where people would receive instructions for how they should live for the next year. I wanted to know how the yearly reading became an annual tradition.
This sparked a conversation I had serious difficulty following. Baba peppered me with a series of rhetorical questions. Who is to say when the time comes for a reading? What does the time stops? When does the next phase begins? Isn’t it just a reading? Can’t you get a reading any time of the year? Why is there a need to hold fast to tradition and allow rituals from the past from people unknown to dictate the path of the people today?
Yes it is true that I got the yearly readings in the past. But that was because I wasn’t ready for the next step from a spiritual perspective. I was still caught up in the tradition of getting that annual reading with community wide implications. Now that I’m a little older and a little wiser, I shouldn’t feel the need for getting that yearly reading for everyone, especially when so few are listening or are listening elsewhere.
There are some people, way too many people who follow the Ifa spiritual belief system, who are still too caught up in traditional rituals to do anything else. A yearly reading here means nothing because there is nothing being asked in return. Other people will give a reading telling people to give the babalawo five thousand dollars and throw ten cowry shells into the ocean and people will do whatever they can to make it happen. What have I done to impact such an arrangement? Giving a yearly reading for everyone to read at will isn’t enough to dissuade somebody from being led where they want to go instead of where they need to go or should be going.
The lesson is that people will do what people want to do. People who are looking for the yearly reading are people who are still looking for something to believe in. Ritualistic ruts are not something people should be looking forward to. But nevertheless, it happens. It’s nice if people develop the spiritual maturity to look beyond the ritual and the rote. But that takes a healthy willingness to grow. And all too often, people prefer the intellectually lazy approach of letting someone else take responsibility for their spiritual guidance. All too often, people don’t want the responsibility that comes with growth. It’s easier to just pay someone else. And like everything else in this level of tangible existence that comes with a price tag, you get what you pay for. Things that come for free cannot possibly compete with things with high sticker prices. That’s just the way it is.
Essentially, if people are looking for answers they will find them. It is easier to see the folly if there is someone to help you. People who see the flaws and want to do what they can to change things will find their way. If people want to change, change will come. Don’t wait for the yearly reading for your answers. That’s letting somebody else dictate the terms of your growth. Do what you can when you can. That will demonstrate real spiritual responsibility. This is the last yearly reading.
I just had my fifth anniversary as an initiate of the ancient African tradition known as Ifa. It was five years ago I paid the fee to be just a little closer to god on what I believed at the time was the true path to enlightenment. It was five years ago that I paid good hard earned money for someone who had access to the Orisa’s inner sanctum to put in a good word for me and let me join the club. One night five years ago, there was a ceremony and a ritual and a party ensued on my behalf. It was five years ago that I woke up one morning changed for the world.
When I was initiated, the priestess who I selected to lead and guide me in my spiritual endeavors assured me that my relationship with the world had changed. I felt like Neo in The Matrix when Morpheus offered him the red pill for true enlightenment, or the blue pill. The blue pill was never an option. With my heart pounding and without any experience on what was expected of me or what I could expect of an initiation ceremony, I swallowed the red pill and jumped into the unknown with both feet.
Now that I look back to that time with the hindsight of five years of personal development, I have to confess that I anticipated things that the people in the ile couldn’t really deliver. When I was ready to discuss issues pertaining to spirituality, they wanted to discuss issues of the hierarchal order of the initiates, strict adherence to protocol, and unwavering conformity to the traditional ways that Ifa is practiced. My first year as an initiate was full of disappointment.
But with each disappointment came true enlightenment. In the first few months of my new initiate life, when I felt like my spiritual elders were neglecting my spiritual development, my spiritual understanding was allowed to take a divergent path. While a typical initiate would spend their year learning rote prayers and ceremonies and how to conform to the traditional way of thinking under the careful tutelage of an elder quick to correct an unorthodox thought, my conscious was free to develop without the interference of the traditional way of thinking.
The more time I spent with my spiritual elders and the rest of the family the more I realized that we were growing apart. It seemed like I was always breaking protocol. The house had rules that during any official activity, initiates had to sit in a specific order in a separate line away from non-initiates. And despite my attempts to sit where I wanted away from people’s focused attention, people would pull me back into the thick of things. It got to the point I really hated going there and putting up with such trifling issues like whether or not somebody wore an authentic African outfit to one of the official ile sanctioned events.
Eventually, one day I realized I was wasting my time. While the initiation itself was all that some devotees were after, I realized I needed something else. There were some initiates who were more than happy to simply gain the inherited enhanced hierarchal status that comes with initiation. Such focus on personal social gain couldn’t be very good for the development of spirituality. And it was my personal understanding that elders of any belief system who placed such emphasis on using a promise of enhanced spirituality for their own personal gain are no different than the average con man using snake oil to make a fast buck.
In the past five years I learned that there should be no such thing as paying someone to perform a ritual or ceremony to enhance somebody’s sense of spiritual strength. There’s no such thing. A flesh and blood human being cannot improve another’s spirituality. At our current plane of existence the human brain is incapable of understanding the true depth of nature’s spirituality. No dollar amount can change that fact.
But something else I learned in the past five years is that there are a lot of people who are looking for a quick fix to their real problems and are willing to pay good money for a spiritual solution. A lot of people are willing to pay a lot of good money for spiritual enlightenment from someone else. We will be willing to give our money to somebody in an authentic looking African outfit to tell us what we want most to hear. But that’s not spirituality. That’s more like making a wish and expecting magic to happen.
If I have learned one thing in the past five years it is that spirituality isn’t magic. It isn’t something that comes from someone else. Spirituality is something that comes from its own personal journey. People can’t buy spirituality. It is something that must be developed and nurtured on our own. We can pay others to help us on our journey. That’s totally logical. We should be willing to show gratitude to our teachers. But make no mistake, the journey is ours to make and it never ends.
*** WARNING: This post may contain spoilers! ***
As the movie started, I wondered what Orisa would manifest. I saw the images of Eli shooting people with a bow and arrow and I thought Ochosi. But his hunting was only for survival or defense on an apocalyptic Earth where food was scarce. He was not a serious hunter. I saw images of him wielding a machete where he was facing several opponents at once and thought Ogun. But he was not a man of technology. He used what he had for protection and survival but didn’t do any building or creating in a MacGyver like style. I thought he might be a manifestation of Sango. There was one scene with the lightening in the background. But Eli was not interested in being a ladies man or being charismatic. He kept his interaction with others to a minimum and seemed to be more at ease by himself, reading his book.
When it was revealed that he was delivering his book, when it was obvious he was delivering a message, I settled on Esu, the Orisa of communication among other things. Embracing Baba Esu is often considered the first step towards spiritual enlightenment. He opens the door for spiritual learning. The fact that his book was a Christian bible pretty much sealed the deal for me. Eli was a manifestation of Baba Esu, only far more serious than the always laughing, smiling Esu so many of us have been introduced to in such movies as Crossroads featuring Ralph Macchio as Eugene Martone, and Joe Seneca as Willie Brown. Esu went by the name ‘Legba in the movie and was always smiling his way into causing mischief for anyone. This manifestation of Esu was far different. Although his deception was never intended to cause mischief for anyone, he played his fair share of tricks on the other characters in the movie.
The movie appears as a remake of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It is set on an Earth trying to recover from a nuclear war in the future. Just take Mel Gibson’s Max and replace him with Denzel Washington’s Eli and then take Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity and replace her with Gary Oldman’s Carnegie and you have ninety percent of the film. The last piece of the new formulation is Eli’s book, referred to as the last surviving copy of the Christian bible. Eli is on a quest to take his bible somewhere where it will be safe from the likes of people like Carnegie who would use the good book as a tool to control other people.
The movie says more about our rather confusing relationship with our spirituality than with anything else. Carnegie is old school. He remembers the days prior to the nuclear exchange when people live and died by the words found in the bible. He remembers how a bible could disguise a man of hate. A bible can make some of the most obscene devils look like appealing angels as long as they held a copy of god’s alleged word in their hands. A man can feel like he has god’s favor as long as he kept his hands on god’s book. A man can feel like he can cast judgment on an entire country of people trying to recover from an earthquake as long as he is alleged to have a reputation for doing god’s work. A man of god can control people and Carnegie is looking for absolute control in a town where he already controls everything. And when Carnegie discovers that Eli has a bible, he must have it at any and all cost.
Eli has his own spiritual mission. If I didn’t know better I’d say he was a Shoalin Monk with a bit of an attitude. He easily trounces his adversaries with his martial art moves and his machete. Eli is using his faith to guide him across the country, traveling west as he searches for a place of redemption for himself and god’s word. He knows that Carnegie has plans to corrupt the word of god for his own personal benefit. The word of god isn’t safe with such a man. And the paths of these two men are on a collision course with the future of what’s left of the world at stake.
I found this movie smart and well thought out. There were some discrepancies. I wondered what happened to the children who would have been born disfigured and deformed in a future so bleak and bound to be suffering from radioactive fallout. But other than that, the film is smartly done. The monotonous grey tone throughout the film lends itself well to the bleakness of the future and the loss of humanity. The world is a much more dangerous place where people fight and kill each other over things that are much less than what we throw away. This movie comes with a commentary about gluttony and a reminder about everything we choose to casually waste.
If there is one overriding characteristic of Baba Esu for me to point to is his ability of presenting us with opportunities to show the true nature of our character. When we believe that things are truly at their toughest, what decisions do we make? Do we think long term about the social ramifications of our choices or do we simply dwell on the immediate gratification aspects? Somebody made the choice to stockpile nuclear weapons and when that choice was made it gave other people choices to eventually use them. And it was just a matter of time before we collectively give somebody the opportunity to make the wrong choice for everybody. There is a lesson about choice here. And that has got to be Baba Esu’s domain.
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.
Not too long ago I was driving down the highway during a particularly strong thunderstorm. The rain stopped for a brief moment and the sun managed to find a break in the deep, dark, rolling clouds. But on the other end of the horizon, I saw the most intense rainbows I’ve seen in my life. Not only did the ends touch the ground, the typical arch going from ground arcing through the air and returning back to the ground was matched with a faint opposite that started way in the clouds, arced down and then went back into the clouds. I had never seen such a setup before. And didn’t think a rainbow with a mirrored image floating in the sky above was even possible.
The clouds gathered once again and the sunlight’s contribution to the rainbow disappeared. But five minutes later the clouds dissipated once again, the sunlight came back, and the rainbow came back, stronger than ever, with its mirror image in the clouds. I started to get suspicious. A couple minutes later the sun went away again. But a few minutes after that the rainbows came back for a second encore. I got the message. It was time to do a little something about Oshumare.
To listen to some people describe Orisa you’d swear they were more human than anything else. Orisa are supernatural beings that cannot be described in human terms. Even terms like Iya and Baba, mother and father respectively, really don’t do the Orisas justice because many of us have a tendency to take such terms too literally. Many people want to think of Iya and Baba in terms of sexuality and little else. Most people will use vague terms like paternal energies and maternal energies and other vague sounding nonsense to try and put these things into perspective. But really, to try and wrap human consciousness around the meaning of sexuality for an Orisa is a fool’s game.
Nowhere does the misapplication of sexuality is more evident than when we try to describe the Orisa Oshumare. Some describe him as androgynous and others might go so far as to say that he is bisexual. What the hell? Bisexuality refers to a biological condition where sexual behaviors manifest as an attraction to both genders, male and female. People who have a bisexual orientation will have an attraction to both people of their own sex and people of the opposite sex. But what does that mean for an Orisa? Is there such a thing as a homosexual Orisas as well?
Like most of the things we’ve been we’re taught about Orisa and the rest of Ifa, the ancient African spiritual tradition rooted in the Yoruba people, we simply accept what we’ve been told about Oshumare without really thinking about what we’re being taught.
The rainbow is a manifestation of Oshumare. He’s often referred to as the serpent and the rainbow, but he is no serpent. Caring and attentive he’s the messenger that carries communications back and forth between our plane of existence and olorun, or heaven. When people need some assistance getting their messages to any Orisa, Baba Oshumare will be there to help facilitate a dialogue. However, more often than not these days, people are ready to send a message but all too often have deaf ears to hear the response. These days, business is pretty slow for Baba Oshumare. The number of people who are ready to listen as well as they are ready to talk dwindles almost on an hourly basis.
These days, more people see the rainbow in the sky and the last thing they think of is an Orisa let alone Oshumare, and the children of Ifa are no exception. If it is not one of the most popular Orisas such as the Babas Ogun, Sango, Obatala, Orunmila, or Esu or one of the Iyas Yemonja, Oya, or Osun then most people don’t know much of anybody else. Oshumare is part of that obscure majority of Orisa. And if people think they do know him it is as an example of some spiritual sexual perversion.
Baba Oshumare is the Orisa recognized as a manifestation of the rainbow. It’s not to be interpreted as a judgment of his masculinity, at least not in our basic human terms. Orisas aren’t so limited and we really should learn not to transfer our ideas and experiences to them. Baba Oshumare is as prime an example as any Orisa for how we as humans misinterpret nature’s manifestations into the most incorrect terms. And some of us wonder why we’re out of touch with our spirituality. We experience the rainbow and yet we still do not see.
“Peace, Peace, Peace… I guess it’s ok when we speak of things we don’t know or understand. Peace is one of those vague thoughts that sound great until we try to define it. Then wow, we have war. Well all of you new age gurus managed to obtain that fuzzy feeling of peace again (smug and somewhat tantalizing to the intellect, but void of any reality). What is interesting in this article is how far off base the writer really is. The Christian God is not as you inaccurately promote, mans attempt to fantasize a religion that strokes his incredible ego, it is God humbling Himself to rescue men who could not make it on their own. This Christian religion in reality doesn’t bode well for mans ego. Wow! This may not register with squishy, feely, check out your brain at the counter folks. The same ones who speak of peace and then slam a religion their intelect is truly incapable of understanding. Even the basics.” – Randy Koch
Thanks for the feedback Randy Koch,
And of course you know everything about your religion. Your god is so simple and that’s why you’ve got him figured out so easily. If I’m a new age guru then you must be one of those old fart gurus. And it’s not the principles of Christianity that makes it inappropriate but the way the majority of Christians put their beliefs to practice. Talk about people checking their brains at the counter. The Christian bible teaches that Jesus threw the money changers out of the church. And yet, mega churches are popping up everywhere telling people god wants them to be rich and bless everyone with material wealth and riches beyond our wildest dreams. All you have to do is give up the minimum ten percent of your gross income and give god his cut by cutting a check to the mega church. But of course, old fart gurus like your self see nothing wrong with this practice.
Old fart gurus say things like Christianity “is God humbling Himself to rescue men who cannot make it on their own.” Now that’s a real “don’t make sense” thought if I ever heard one. Why is god humbling himself to rescue men? To get man’s approval? If that’s the case, why isn’t god doing more to save all men? Why is the Supreme Being, creator of the universe, wasting his time and energy humbling his self trying to save men he made too weak in the first place? And this is the major flaw of people who practice Christianity. All too often the Christian concepts that people speak of only lead to more questions and it’s only a matter of time before it all boils down to “you just got to have faith”. If that’s your idea of understanding then you can keep it.
I’m not pretending to understand the Supreme Being. I wouldn’t be so egotistical to think that I can understand why he does what he does or why he doesn’t do what I think he should do. But the way some Christians tell the story you would think that they’ve studied god in a lab somewhere and did their thesis on the subject. Their only real “proof” is what’s written in the bible by somebody thousands of years ago who thought that the Earth was flat and the center of the universe. That was old fart thinking. Who knew it would endure for so long? God wants to save man? Why doesn’t he do it the easy way and just snap his fingers and make it so? Better yet, why did god make man so weak in the first place? Why doesn’t he just come out with a better model that is more resistant to our current plague of weaknesses?
By the way, Peacemaker is my name. That’s why I end my comments with “Peace”. Sort of like you putting your name at the end of a letter as Randy even though your name might be Randolph. Peace can mean more than just the absence of war. Expand your thought processes for a moment and you might be able to see things from a different perspective once in a while.
And while it is true that I mostly enjoy the double meaning of “Peace” at the end of a comment, some times it is just my name. As egotistical as you are, I could not care less about you achieving some sense of peace. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if you spent every waking moment of your life in turmoil. That way, when you do obtain some sense of peace, you might really appreciate it.