Thelema, the occult system and philosophy developed by Aleister Crowley, incorporated the concept of Obeah, as well as that of Wanga (of Vodoun, similar to Obeah) into his system. There is truly only brief mention, but it is an interesting example of a Caribbean tradition influencing a Western tradition. From The Book Of The Law (AL I:37):
Also the mantras and spells; the obeah and the wanga; the work of the wand and the work of the sword; these he shall learn and teach.
The only time Crowley commented further on what he meant by this, after much speculation on if he had begun to incorporate Caribbean or African traditions, was in his Commentaries:
The obeah is the magick of the Secret Light with special reference to acts; the wanga is the verbal or mental correspondence of the same.
The “obeah” being the acts, and the “wanga” the words, proper to Magick, the two cover the whole world of external expression.
Obeah, to Aleister Crowley, was therefore the action portion of performing a spell or ritual. The wanga was in fact the expression of the act. Tracing a pattern to Eshu would thus be obeah and the incantation to Eshu would be wanga. Similarly, the intent of the spell alone would be wanga. Obeah and Wanga are thus the two elemental aspects of magic when used in the Thelemic context.
Obeah, although most frequently associated with Triniad or Jamaica, is found throughout the Caribbean. In Guyana Obeah is also called Obeah and practiced widely. A Guyanese student at the City College of New York wrote about his experience of Obeah in Guyana:
There are many names for this type of religion in Brazil they call it Umbanda, Condomble de Congo or Angola. In Caribbean countries such as Guyana where I am from they call it Obeah and in Jamaica they call it Kumina.
In Guyana you will find Muslims, Hindus, and Christians who use Obeah and their religious books such as the Quran to perform powerful magic with the help of Jinn’s and Angels. Those who practice Obeah help people with problems concerning their work, romance, domestic life, and health, but they can also do harm to those who they want revenge on or is jealous of. In other words they are good and bad Obeah man. Some people are given charms to protect them from evil or harm.’
Guyana has unique religious demographics with sizable portions of Hindus, Christians and Muslims. Obeah is practiced across religious lines:
In order to make my research effective I interviewed six Guyanese people, in which three were women and three were men. All of which are either Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. I had two Muslims, two Christian, and two Hindu’s. The age’s ranged from 22-56. Four of the interviewees had college degrees, and the other two had high school diplomas. Two of the interviewees were born in America, but is highly influenced by the Guyanese culture. The other four were born in Guyana.
All of the interviewees agreed that they knew someone that has practiced Obeah and tried to harm someone. All of my interviewees didn’t practice any type of Obeah. One of my interviewee’s was actually affected by Obeah, she said that one of her family members was jealous of her so they put a spell on her. She said that weird things were happening to her and she was feeling sick. She went to doctors and they couldn’t find out what was wrong with her, so she saw an obeah man who gave her a charm to protect her from the evil that had been done to her.
The Book Of Obeah, by Sandra Carrington-Smith, received international recognition when it received the International Book Award.
‘The Book of Obeah,’ released in June 2010, is a spiritual thriller set in post-Katrina New Orleans, where the heroine, Melody Bennet, is plunged into the clandestine world of an ancient West African religion — via the Louisiana bayou. In unearthing a mysterious religious manuscript, Melody collides with those seeking powers believed to be contained within the text, from The Vatican to individuals claiming it as their legacy. As her knowledge grows and perceptions shift, Melody’s path is fused with that of the sacred book and an esoteric, divine prophecy.
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Voodoos and Obeahs – Phases of West Indies Witchcraft, an ethnography concerning Voodoo and Obeah released in 1932. Origins on Obeah begin on Chapter 4 and the Development of Obeah begins in Chapter 5, with discussion intermittent in both the preceding and concluding chapters. An important text in understanding the perceived history of Obeah in Jamaica and the West Indies similar to the Malleus Maleficarum’s depictions of witchery in the 15th century.You will not learn Obeah from this book but you will learn what was believed about Obeah by some.
The Jamaica Gleaner reports on Joseph the Obeah Man, one of the most famous Scientists in Jamaica today:
He’s perhaps the most famous, feared and at the same time most sought after man in all of Manchester. Joseph the obeah man has developed quite a following among townsfolk in his quiet community of Walderston and at the same time is well known among diplomats and bureaucrats from more elegant upper St. Andrew addresses.
There have been many tales of Joseph sprouting fire from his fingertips and healing his clients of the most deadly diseases known to man with just a snap of his fingers and the chanting of a few psalms. One woman said she witnessed him levitating one sunny Sunday afternoon.
Excerpt from An address to the graduating class of 2012, Harambee House Senior Reception, Wellesley College, May 24, 2012.
Developing this sense of discernment is important. It should be accompanied by what I will call a capacity for self-knowing. In fact, as you go along the course of your life, you will discover that the things you learn on your own will be more valuable than what you learned in schools; that is, your ability to leave the beaten path; trust in your abilities; and lean upon those self-discovered truths. Some people call it intuition; others call it that little voice within you. I call it obeah. But once you uncover the ability to listen to those finer stirrings within you, then you will be on the way to discover your own freedom.
Many religious communities settled in the Caribbean, among them Hindu and Muslim believers who brought along with them their own unique mystical practices. If you have ever wondered why D.E. Lawrence placed such a heavy emphasis on Indian spirituality in Obeah, here is an excerpt from Among The Believers:
Trancing, he says, is done by devotees to transcend themselves or mobilise these forms of cosmic energy (which are called ashé on the African side and Shakti on the Hindu side) to do something beneficial to others—to heal, to care for, even to reprimand. The two are related in that spiritual affliction—such as possession or some other malady—brings the person to the Orisha yard or Kali temple. Having found relief—through the transformation of the healing process—many feel an awakening of new energies, and they interpret it as Shango’s or Kali’s calling them to service. The ritual of trancing and manifesting deities, which was labelled as “obeah” by colonial authorities, has also been misunderstood by polite society. In fact, McNeal pointed out, anything African or seemingly African in those days was dismissed as obeah, which, technically, refers to herbal-oriented healing to solve specific problems. African drumming, with its awesome, almost mystical power to energise and mobilise, was seen as very dangerous by British colonials and the plantocracy—and justifiably so. It is the heartbeat of all African expression across time and space, from reggae to soca to nyabinghi. And it is the key to opening the door between this world and the next. In Kali worship, tappu drums are used. Western secularists might say these rituals and belief in spirits and gods are a way of dealing with psychological issues, but then all religion, as McNeal pointed out, is our way of dealing with the “imperfections and difficulties and suffering of being human. It gives us a cosmic matrix in which to resituate ourselves and realign ourselves.” McNeal, a Fulbright scholar affiliated with the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, studied anthropology, comparative religion and psychoanalysis. He grew up in a Southern Baptist home in the US, but from early on he found himself questioning his parents’ core Christian beliefs.
Excerpt from the Jamaica Gleaner:
The caller said that the belief in Tivoli was that Mr and Mrs Johnson had worked obeah on Jah T and caused his death. This was said to Jim Brown, who was in General Penitentiary awaiting extradition to the US. Jim Brown confirmed the request for action to be taken against Mr and Mrs Johnson.One morning, gunmen entered their house and shot Mr Johnson at the door. They went upstairs and shot Mrs Johnson to death.
Pierre V.L. Dupuch compared the current political campaign – even speculated on it having roots in – the magical practice of Obeah. Here is what was said (bold mine):
Obeah is a Cult where the Gatekeeper, the person who decides life or death, is called Papa. Do you remember Papa Doc, the man who turned Haiti into a land of crime, murder, poverty and paupers?
Hubert Ingraham himself from a public platform said: “I am the Gatekeeper … “
And it is said that the black hat he often wears is an Obeah hat.
Hubert Ingraham, I understand, has said: My name is “Hubert Papa Ingraham.”
Tee shirts have been printed that say, “It’s Papa or nuttin.”
Ads run in the local press say, “He’s my Papa, he’ll take care of me.”
Why Obeah – why the topic that has brought both awe and fear into the hearts of men from the times of the earliest African history? Much is said of Voodoo, of Santeria, or Palo Mayombe or other religions taken from the African continent and transplanted to Caribbean soil. Yet, Obeah remains more mysterious than all. Please join our community to understand Obeah, to practice Obeah and to allow Obeah to guide our lives with its spiritual principles.