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Why are more Westerners drawn to African Traditional Religions?

The Lure of the Orishas

Orisha, Ifá, Voodoo, Umbanda, Candomble, Kimbisa, Kimbanda, 21 Divisions, Sanse, 7 Divisions, Kumina, Obeah, Hoodoo, Palo Mayombe and the list keeps growing. What is it that is making followers of Western magic and other traditional religions become the new practitioners of African Traditional religions (ATRs)?

It is certainly not because they are thrilled to have to learn in many cases a foreign language, or because the practitioners of these spiritual traditions are very open to accept people outside their communities and culture. No, as a matter of fact, there are many shifts that a newcomer to these religions would have to make to accommodate and understand fully any of these systems. So, if the path is not particularly rosy, what keeps making Jane and John Doe want to become an Houngan, a Tata, a Babalosha, an Hounsi, a Yaya, an Iyalosha and to claim in due legitimacy any of these hard earned and until rather recent times hard to get titles?

The answer is as complicated as the question itself.

There are lots of Western magicians who have confessed to me of having a feeling of profound dissatisfaction with how watered down their practices are. Some tell me they no longer feel a sense of true community, a strong underlying current of magic, or for that matter, they no longer feel a connection with pagan deities. Some others come to ATRs because they know there is a sense of vibrancy and strength untouched and untamed thanks to centuries of live practices handed down unbroken, generation after generation.

People loath and fear, respect and covet the raw power the ATRs practitioners command and that of the growing houses where these religions are practiced. Call them what you will, Terreiros, Ilés, Hounfors, Munansos, the houses gather and play hard, these are no conglomerates of armchair magicians. We feast and elevate spirits in more sense than one. We keep our spirits alive through blood ritual, rituals that resonate at a gut level with anyone who comes across them. Repelled or attracted by our practices, the fact is that no one that comes near them can stay a neutral observant. The forces that live in stones and shells, in sticks and herbs, in large receptacles filled with a myriad elements bound to form a small universe of power will always impact the observer and mark the experience as a once in a lifetime ordeal.

Thus, more and more venture to test their limited Spanish, shake off the rust that covered their high school French and even pick up a few phrases in Portuguese to venture into a brave new world of spirits. How fascinating that practices came to the Americas through the darkest days of slavery, now steal the hearts of the great grand children of the ones that were masters. The color of the skin is no longer relevant. Many come to ATRs captive of an unfathomable love and passion that only these religions can elicit. Furthermore, more are coming because they feel a call, a need, an emptiness, a desire to be rooted. In ATRs they find themselves again, they start to ask all sorts of questions and eventually the right questions. A discovery of ties to their own ancestry begins. A new dimension to the world of spirits opens like Aladin’s cave, in it glistening spiritual jewels await, spirits linked by blood or inherited, a world of spiritual marche ensemble, a cuadro espiritual that had been walking with them as silent travelers now find eager ears and eyes to notice them, now they too have a voice.

The world of African Traditional Religions is filled with unsung heroes, with dedicated practitioners that sacrifice for their spiritual families. But likewise it is not one without perils, it is littered with charlatans, with power and money hungry babalawos, santeros, paleros and houngans that will do and say whatever to secure followers, money and power. Not all is glitter. If you are searching, beware. A word to the wise: observe. If you are dying to be initiated, be patient. These are not pathways to walk in a hurry, each step has meaning, each link brings you closer to a larger commitment, thus steady progress is preferred and time is required to assimilate the impact of each initiation.

I mentioned that great adjustments are required to truly be successful in the practice of an ATR. One of the things that draws people in, also tends to stall their acculturation process and can fill them with great stress and social anxiety. Westerners come seeking community ties, but seldom take the time to understand the culture in which they seek to be acculturated. Worse yet, the ones with the house keys, the door keepers are sometimes just as guilty of not wanting to walk a mile in the shoes of the newcomers and to understand their cultural and religious perspective. Cultural clashes will emerge, they always do; godparents will separate from godchildren that can’t adapt or can’t understand cultural rules outside their own, rules that if they would have been raised in that culture would be unspoken norms, but since they are outsider can become rocks in the path to religious acculturation.

How to navigate cultural differences, language barriers and unspoken etiquette and behavioral rules?

It all depends which ATR you have selected, but chances are, if you ask, I can guide you and help you come out with flying colors.

The floor is open for questions.

Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá

Responses to Why are more Westerners drawn to African Traditional Religions?

  1. Ayodele says:August 25, 2010 at 3:03 pmI came into the ATR as an Apetebii when I married an Ifa priest. Studying Yoruba, Merindinlogun and Ifa opened up a whole new world of spirituality, access to my Ori, the concept of Iwa Pele, and a community of practitioners who inevitably Loved me, although they were often less than enamored with my pale skin and red hair. Still I have pursued the truth the oral traditions handed down since the beginnings of time. Thank You for you very informative and enlightening article! Ire oooooo Ayodele

  2. Kjerstin says:August 25, 2010 at 5:40 pmThank you for the Excellent article! I am of Celtic ancestry and have been working with a lovely group of people of Hmong ancestry for several years. Through time spent together, and daily life experiences shared in common, we have overcome many of the culture differences. This experience has caused me to look over my own, unspoken acculturation – which ultimately, is a good thing! There is much to be said about simply getting to know a person, each person, on an individual basis.

  3. Omimelli says:August 26, 2010 at 9:24 amAyodele, Thank you for reading and for sharing a glimpse of your story. I am sure there is much more you could share about the lessons learned on acculturation. You were indeed lucky to have Ifá speak to your soul and find sanctuary by marriage into the community. It is wonderful to have apetebiis who are natural red heads! Orisha gets what orisha wants, it is impossible to fathom their love for their children. Do come and share as often as you want, I am sure you have interesting stories for us. Ashe o, iré o! Omimelli

  4. Omimelli says:August 26, 2010 at 9:27 amKjerstin, Acculturation can be the most fascinating experience. Funny how so very much we are alike, when we peel a few layers of the societal and ethnocentric conditioning that surround us. Spirit is all we are, and we are all one. I look foward to hearing again from you. Omimelli

  5. Tata Nkisi Lucero Vira Mundo says:August 26, 2010 at 5:10 pmPalo opened the doors to my happiness and stability more than anything else in my life. It has cultivated a strength in my that i can’t describe, and i am one grateful cracker.

  6. Omimelli says:August 28, 2010 at 10:20 pmTata, Palo is one of my passions and it has had a very similar effect in my life. When we properly play Palo, the wave of energy is out of this world. Thank you for participating. Feel free to share more of your experiences as you wish. Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá

  7. Kjerstin says:August 31, 2010 at 7:30 pmOmimelli I have, through visions and dreams these last couple of years, been drawn to learn more and understand more of the Orisha and the Lwa. I am a clairvoyant so the experiences have been very powerful and very Real. My difficulty lies in two things, First, I, personally, know of very few people who have had similar experiences with whom I could even have a discussion about what has happened. I accept the fact that the Spirits have come to me, rather than my seeking them, and I have also accepted the requests and instruction that has been given to me by the Spirits. Secondly, I am a complete Klutz when it comes to anything cultural, I have no idea how to ask the questions, not even sure What Questions I ought to be asking. I only know that each time I have been able to sucessfully identify one of the Lwa that has visited me, then I can study and learn and better follow through on, and understand the spiritual message. I would be very grateful for anything you could tell me about an appropriate way to ask. Thanks Love Kjerstin

  8. Omimelli says:August 31, 2010 at 8:33 pmKjerstin, Having experiences in dreams is actually not to unusual. Perhaps the issue is that some people forget about their dreams or do not understand the relevance of what seem to be ‘weird’ dreams. Here are my recommendations: 1. Before you go into dreamland, light up a candle to your spirit guides, offer a well a glass of water and ask them to show you that which you need to learn/see. Chances are, those guides are the ones working with you on the realm of dreams. 2. Have a notepad and a pen/pencil by your bed. Train yourself to write down anything you remember from your dreams immediately after you wake up. 3. If you don’t like to write, use your computer for notes or record on a digital/cassette player. 4. Do not sensor your dreams, record every detail even the most absurd. 5. Each night ask guides to help you clarify details from the dream or to take you into a progression. 6. Read the blog posted on Daily Spiritual practices Then the other thing is separate Lwa from Orisha. Those are different currents, so you need to sort out what is predominant in the dreams. Is there a recurrent figure? What does she look like? What are you being shown? There is more to be done/discussed, but this is a good start. Keep notes on what you eat, weather conditions, your general wellness, mood and other factors that may influence your dream work. Let’s see where this leads you. If you want to take any subject off line, drop me a note on Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá

  9. Kjerstin says:September 2, 2010 at 6:59 amThank you Omimelli I have sent you more on the subject. Much Love KjerstinReply

  10. Hijo de Lucero says:October 17, 2011 at 2:35 amSala Malecom to all, Yet another helpful and super insightful blog post. I really can relate to some of the things mentioned here as I was brought up as a Catholic as a child. I never was too close to it, from a “religious” practictioner. I actually moved away from it completely as a kid. But held God in my heart the whole time. I just could never connect to it. Nor the people. And i felt very limited spiritually by it. You cant do this, you cant do that. I knew there was more to it, and slowly i understood my spiritually as i grew. I was around Palo for more than a decade, and finally got initiated. And honeslty have changed for the best. I stopped doing things that would hold me back and had the potential to harm to. But as a newbie, i must admit sometimes when i come across western thinking (which were surrounding me as a kid), i sometimes feel a little weak. But it doesnt last very long. All they do is strengthen me. but i just wonder all the time, why is it they say Palo and other ATRs are “Evil”? sometimes i want to blame the white man and their controling ways. But my guides always pull me back from that, as i am always reminded, we are all brothers and sisters. butcan anyone please shed some light on the issue of people deeming Palo as “Evil”? And i know their are people who explout our religion, but why would the muertos allow it?

    • Omimelli says:October 17, 2011 at 6:08 pmHijo de Lucero, Thanks for your note. I don’t think it is a matter of the ‘muertos’ allowing or not to have the reputation of Palo tarnished. This has all to do with the living who allow for it to go on unchecked when articles are published in the media, when folks talk about it in social media or for that matter over coffee face to face. I want to remind you of a very important detail. Even though the muertos are very important to Palo. Palo is not centered around muertos, it is centered around the Npungos and on concepts that are deeper than the serviteurs or the muertos. Do not forget that, if you do, then you will not be able to service Palo by properly expressing its cosmology and cosmogony. Understanding the roots of the Palo and its history serves us when having to explain it to outsiders who would like to undermine its importance and value. Yaya 7 Nkele

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1 Comment

Papa Pimenta
Papa Pimenta
Jul 18, 2018

Very well said. In my own experience it was finding a place where I belonged. As a kid I was "different." I felt things other kids didn't, had a connection to the forest, and psychic gifts run in our family. As a redhead in rural Appalachia you get called "devil's child" and "witch" often enough for it to sting, and occasionally sting for real at the fists of Christian bullies. I never felt welcome in any of the churches we went to. Lo and behold, I found Kimbanda and it was right. Yes, I'm a witch and the tradition of Brazilian witchcraft fits me perfectly. Thank you for writing this.

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