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.
I see a crime and a sin as two starkly different things. A sin is a matter of conscience. I shouldn’t be having those thoughts about my wife’s new best friend or I shouldn’t have cheated on my final exam. Yes if I got caught there would’ve been hell to pay. The wife would probably get a new diamond necklace or I would’ve been expelled from school or automatically flunk the class. But there are ways to fix things that doesn’t really impact our ability to recover and keep on with our lives. These violations are more of a failure of ethics or morality.
On the other hand, a crime is a violation of law and some government agency will probably get involved in order to set things straight. A crime might include a fine or some jail time or both for the perpetrator. But make no mistake, if a crime is proven to have been committed without any mitigating circumstances to justify the act, or a good pricey lawyer to come to the perp’s defense, somebody’s going to pay.
Recently there’s been a lot of discussion regarding the pedophiles that have become all but synonymous with the Catholic Church. The public press has been pretty harsh against Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican. There have been a number of high profile accusations concerning the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests in Wisconsin, Germany, and Ireland. All the stories make the suggestion that the church leadership has been criminally negligent in handling the many charges of abuse brought to its attention. There has even been some accusation that the Vatican has been an accomplice in covering up crucial details in some of the cases.
The New York Times reported that from 1950 to 1974, Reverend Lawrence Murphy worked as a counselor at an acclaimed school for deaf children in Wisconsin, where he molested at least two hundred boys. Church bishops alerted the Vatican that Mr. Murphy had been accused of molesting children at the school, though his behavior was never brought to the attention of local law enforcement. Instead of allowing the investigation to come to its natural conclusion and allowing Mr. Murphy to face potential criminal prosecution, he was quietly transferred to another parish.
From 1981 to 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was later elected to become Pope Benedict XVI, headed the Vatican department responsible for investigating and acting on such allegations, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the bishops in Wisconsin finally initiated disciplinary action against Mr. Murphy, the accused priest wrote a letter of protest to Cardinal Ratzinger citing his failing health and his earlier repentance for his actions. Shortly after Cardinal Ratzinger received the letter, the trial was halted by one of his subordinates. Mr. Murphy died in 1998 as a fully decorated priest.
In response to this accusation and similar ones from Europe and the United Kingdom, the Vatican has gone on the attack accusing the media of an attempt to smear the Catholic Church. The fact that there is a paper trail that implicates Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican in a cover up of monumental proportions within the church is inconsequential. The real crime is the smear campaign from people who simply refuse to let all the dust flying around this story settle down and eventually die.
Like many fraternal organizations, priests are sworn to secrecy. And so any investigation by government authorities is seriously compromised by the mentality of the church authorities who want to take care of the matter quietly on their own. Breaking the priestly code of silence that prevents a more open discussion of the implications surrounding these scandals is a critical first step to breaking the far deeper conspiracy of silence that permitted these heinous acts and their subsequent cover up to happen in the first place.
To add insult to injury, some people actually feel, or at least at one time felt, that priests were above reproach simply because of their occupation. No priest would ever abuse anyone. You couldn’t possibly get the job if your character was that immoral. We simply trusted the church to do the job of policing their own. To some, the whole affair is something for the church to handle. We view these acts as if they were nothing more than sins easily rectified with a rote recital of a rosary or something similarly trite.
But these aren’t sins. What we are talking about are crimes. And when we take into consideration that these were crimes against children, you damn skippy the law needs to get involved. If a priest is accused of assaulting someone then that priest may have committed a crime. And if a crime has been committed then there’s a chance that there were accomplices to that crime. No where else would we be willing to make the sin of leaving an accomplice to the crime determine the punishment of the main perpetrator of the crime.
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.
*** 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.
“You could not be more right. I was a little put off by your remark about the Christian god being a bigot, but unfortunately that’s the sort of god these people are portraying. This small elite is giving the rest of the world that we are a bunch of knuckle dragging fundamentalists. Rush, Robertson, and the Bush family all make Christianity look bad, and they make America look bad. Bad? Okay that’s an understatement, but I will refrain from profanity.” – Andrew
Thanks for the feedback Andrew,
Please make no mistake. I believe the Supreme Being to be the ultimate in compassion and understanding. But that is not the same entity that somebody like Pat Robertson talks about when he makes the suggestion that god is punishing the people of Haiti for their past deeds. Mr. Robertson believes the people of Haiti made a deal with the devil to stop being the slaves of white people. And the devil granted their wish. It seems that Pat Robertson’s god wants black people to be white people’s slaves. Mr. Robertson has the mental reasoning of a superstitious bigot goading the crowd into burning witches back in Salem. You can just imagine him yelling in the cobblestone street that god wants us to burn the witches! He has the type of god that lives in a volcano and needs annual appeasement with a virgin. If this is the type of god that we have to look forward to in the afterlife then I’ll take hell any day of the week.
But of course, the Supreme Being isn’t so petty. We all have a tendency to create god in our own image. Mr. Robertson created his god in his own somewhat unique combination of bigotry, judgment, and loathing for black people.
It is unfortunate that conservatives take such a hard line when it comes to the black community. We are not valued as people of equals, only pawns in their political games. It might be true that liberals don’t really care about the black community either. But at least they don’t wear their bigotry and hatred on their sleeves in bold bright colors like these conservatives do.
I’ve had an assignment for a few months now. It was right after I saw the movie The Haunting In Connecticut. The story is a work of fiction about the Campbell family’s encounter with the battle between good and evil from the supernatural realm. Trying to cope with the cancer ravaging their teenage son, in order to be closer to the clinic where he is receiving treatment, the family winds up moving to an abandoned funeral parlor that they did not realize was once used for séances and as a laboratory to study aspects of the dead and the supernatural many decades ago. The son struggling with his health is clairvoyant and starts to serve as a kind of homing beacon for spiritual entities to crossover into our reality.
Back in the day, the previous resident of the house would dig up bodies from the nearby cemetery and conduct experiments to communicate with the dead. I don’t remember the complete line of reasoning, but some how, cutting the eyelids off of a human carcass and cutting long phrases, perhaps prayers into the skin, prevents the spirit from moving on to the next realm of existence and forever leaving it trapped in the house. The trapped spirits would enhance the abilities of his clairvoyant young assistant and his skill would be used to conduct séances for a handsome fee and notoriety. The Campbell family finds a box full of dried eyelids under the floor boards indicating that dozens of bodies may have been mutilated. Predictably, the climax comes when all of the spirits, angry at being manipulated, manifest in their mummified bodies for a final show down with the innocent Campbell family.
While the movie is not meant for anything more than entertainment for people who enjoy horror flicks, it is yet another example of how we can allow ourselves to be programmed to fear elements of the supernatural. Dead bodies are little more than bags of flesh. It doesn’t matter if eyelids or any other body parts are cut off or how many or what words are carved into mummified skin, dead bodies cannot become anchors to our spiritual souls. If such was the case, cows and chickens would be haunting butcher shops and slaughter houses. It just doesn’t happen.
For some of us, when the lights go out at night, we can imagine all kinds of unspeakable horrors waiting for us in the dark because of the fictional spiritual drama we like to see and hear. Many of us love our ghost stories and want to be scared to death. But these ghost stories are to the supernatural what Michael Myers and Friday the Thirteenth films are to the suburbs. An abomination on the screen doesn’t necessarily translate into reality. A lot of us can watch a slasher film and keep what we see in perspective. We don’t go around thinking somebody in a spray painted Captain Kirk mask is going to pop out from behind the next tree and start kicking our ass to death.
But let it be something about some ghost that lurks in the closet. That stuff will start to haunt some of us the moment the lights go out, even though we may be safe and sound in our own home in our own bed. Add what will be our first line of defense against the supernatural that lurks in the shadows? Covers and bed sheets. That’ll keep those evil ghosts away.
We need to develop a more sophisticated sense of appreciation and perspective for all things supernatural. If somebody came to me with a movie script about how some doctor a century ago who dug up bodies and cut off eyelids to enhance the powers of a psychic, I’d probably give it back to them and ask them to make it a little more realistic. What’s the basis for such a hypothesis other than somebody’s vivid imagination about the relationship between our spirit and our body. I would give them back their script and suggest that they develop a little more respect for our ancestors.
A long time ago I would’ve been more than ready to believe our ancestors could be captured and controlled to do our bidding. But now I understand that such movies have as much realism as movies like Ghostbusters. And like Ghostbusters with its ectoplasmic slime, these movies are little more than comedy waiting to be appreciated for their silliness and their ability to distort and little more. I thought as much when I saw the movie so many months ago. When it comes to drama and thrills based on the supernatural, The Haunting In Connecticut misses the mark entirely.
The tag line to this movie says that some things cannot be explained. I guess what they were referring to was people’s attraction to a film like this and the resulting irrational response to and fear of all things supernatural. And then they have the nerve to say that the movie was based on true events. So was Alice In Wonderland. It was based on a real trip by Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth who rowed three little girls up the River Thames. That doesn’t mean any of us are going to fall down a rabbit hole anytime soon.
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.
My two year old son loves the Nick Jr. show The Backyardigans. The show is a computer generated animation about five neighborhood kids who play in the backyards of their house. There’s Tasha the yellow hippo, Tyrone the orange moose, Pablo the blue penguin, Austin the purple marsupial, and Uniqua the pink spotted little girl with a couple of antennas on her head. Whenever this series comes on, baby boy stops what he’s doing and gives the show his full attention. If he doesn’t watch, something’s seriously wrong. Each episode runs about thirty minutes. I think he can go through about three episodes before he gets ready for something else. So the Backyardigans are good for about ninety minutes of distraction.
Not too long ago there was a new Backyardigans episode titled It’s Great To Be A Ghost. In this episode, Uniqua, Pablo, and Tyrone are pretending to be ghost and do their best to try and scare each other and Tasha, who is not a ghost. Tasha has no fear of ghost and the others are challenged to scare her with tricks of haunting. One turns invisible and wave things in the air. Another pops out of a painting. They imagine themselves floating through the air and going in and out of objects. But Tasha is true to her word and remains unfazed. Tyrone plays the most inept ghost. He’s running around trying to find something to scare Tasha with when he accidentally winds up under a sheet. He looks and sees himself in the mirror and finds the image pretty scary. He then has the idea to use his new look to scare Tasha. He sneaks up to her and says, boo. Tasha turns, sees the floating sheet, and screams. She runs away and Tyrone is right behind her taunting her with an occasional boo. Each time Tyrone goes boo, Tasha lets out a little scream.
I watched my son as he watched this particular episode. And while he loves the Backyardigans, this one episode has a unique affect on him. While he will watch the other episodes without much of any reaction, when watching this ancestor themed episode, he’ll watch it from the comfort of the reassuring arms of one of his parents. When Tyrone starts going boo, he starts to try and climb into our laps. He’s not comfortable at all with what he’s seeing. And I notice the subtle programming that is taking place.
When Tasha reacts with fear to the sight of a ghost in a sheet, she is teaching my son to react with fear to supernatural manifestations and unnatural aberrations. This is troubling to me. As a practitioner of Ifa, the ancient African spirituality that embraces the supernatural, this is a potential conflict. The ghostly characters in the show have only one concern and that is to be as scary as possible. But the African tradition teaches that our enlightened ancestors, the people who have passed on from this plane of existence, are part of our lives to help guide us and develop our spirituality so that when we can become enlightened and when we pass on we will help lead our descendants to true enlightenment. When we respond to our ancestors with fear and suspicion, we cut ourselves off from their assistance thereby making it much more difficult for ourselves to get through this thing called life.
In order to counter the messages this particular program is giving my son, we started our own little game of ghost. Baby boy will come up to us and say, boo. But instead of reacting with outright fear, his mother and I act with surprise. Instead of a little scream of fear, we’ll respond with an exaggerated, Oh! And right after our dramatic surprise we will smile and reach down and give him a big hug. We’re trying to teach him that it’s okay to be surprised when we see something that we don’t know or didn’t expect or didn’t recognize. But we shouldn’t respond with fear. It is a subtle difference and it might be a little too nuanced to be picked up by a two year old. But we have to start somewhere.
We like The Backyardigans. Although I really appreciate the fact that the show can grab my son’s attention for a few minutes, I have to admit that I find the episodes pretty entertaining myself. The episodes feature music and some very imaginative songs expertly executed by some very professional musicians. My all time favorite episode is Pirate Camp. I don’t know who the drummer is when they do the song titled the Scalawag. But if you ever get a chance to see it or hear it, you’ll understand when I say he or she really earned his or her pay that day.
And I like the way the show teaches lessons of cooperation and listening from the perspective of five unique youngsters without making it so obvious that it’s trying to teach cooperation and listening. There is no race. Everybody is a unique color and shape and nobody is associated with any race, although it is pretty hard not to notice that Tyrone and Uniqua are indeed voiced by black people. And with a name Pablo it’s a sure fire bet that he’s Hispanic or Latino. They do an excellent job of not putting one type of person or race ahead of the other.
But even the people who develop this show can slip every now and then. When it comes to showing how we should interact with the supernatural I think they missed the boat on this one. It isn’t helpful to teach children to fear that which we might not fully understand. And one thing that is easy to misunderstand is our relationship with our ancestors and other spiritual entities. It’s not something we should automatically fear. Hopefully, this will be one lesson from this program that my boy won’t learn. Regardless, I still love those Backyardigans. Those animated characters are allowed to get it wrong every now and then. Although they look like colorful animal characters, in all honesty they are only human.