Strange Incidents of Witchcraft in Zimbabwe

Map of Harare ZimbabweIn Zimbabwe, two young women were found without any clothes on in the front yard of a home in Chinhoyi – some 70 miles away from their home in Harare. When asked how they arrived they revealed that they traveled by flight – a metaphor perhaps for spiritual transportation – to take them the distance. This is akin to the European traditions of witches on broomsticks. The concept and magical rituals behind instant transportation or flight are believed to be practiced worldwide.

In local belief, the flat, traditional hand-held winnowing basket is equivalent to a witch’s broomstick in Western fable.

Officials said a Chinhoyi court on Wednesday set another hearing for July 11 to hear medical reports and testimony from tribal healers.

It is unfortunate that the Associated Press report refers to this as a “tribal superstition,” when it is just as legitimate a spiritual belief and practice as any. This is the unfortunate view that many take toward witchcraft – even those who adhere to various beliefs rooted in witchcraft. It is also unfortunate that the two women will face court and a fine for practicing a traditional African belief system. However, with every cloud there is a silver lining. The positive indication, although slight, is that the government of Zimbabwe is interested enough to provide both medical and psychiatric evaluations, as well as the testimony from tribal healers. This will allow the determination to be made if the event is genuinely witchcraft and, despite not having the religious freedom to practice in Zimbabwe, it will build the increasingly growing base of scientific evidence for the supernatural.

Reggae Artist “Perfect” and the Obeah Prophecy

Reggae Artist "Perfect"An interesting note by world-renowned reggae artist Perfect in an interview with on a prophecy he received in his early career from a Jamaican Revivalist, closely related to the spiritual traditions of Obeah:

I knew I was going to travel a lot. Because back in Jamaica you have what they call the Revival Group. It’s a religious group – there’s a Pocomania order, a Revival order, it’s coming from Africa. In Jamaica people see them as also being Obeah, black magic people. So if someone fell sick and said an evil spirit was upon them the Revival Church is one of the first churches they would take those people to try to get them back together. And in that order you have a Mother Woman – like a chief. Now, when I was young, about 15 years old and going to High School, there was a Revival Group that used to come to the square in Browns Town. I was always kind of scared of those people. One Friday afternoon I was coming from school through Browns Town when the chief, the Mother Woman – who was wearing red when the others were in white – she just pointed at me and said “You! Come here!” I was a bit scared but people were like “Oh! The Mother Woman, she called, so go!” She said “Let me see your hand” and said “You’re going to go all around the world. You’re going to fly like a bird. Go fly fly fly!” When I’m on a plane sometimes I flash back to that and she was right!

Many of us who have grown up around Obeah have experienced very much of the same. It is not uncommon to be stopped on the street at least once in your life to have a prophecy blurted out at you that later comes true. The sensation is often eerie to the uninitiated, particularly when one looks back and finds it to be so very true.


Obeah, Jamaican Maroons and Tourism

The Maroons, escaped slaves in the West Indies, were feared by colonists and slave owners for their fearsome fighting ability and magical arts. Those magical arts were, of course, Obeah. Today, Maroon communities live and thrive in Jamaica. However, with the financial crisis impacting the world they too struggle to thrive economically. Tourism – and to a degree Obeah – play a part in this as well. CBS News reports on Charles Town, Jamaica, a community of Maroons who have held onto traditional African rituals, practices and Obeah:

CHARLES TOWN, Jamaica — In a backwoods town along a river cutting between green mountains, quick-footed men and women spin and stomp to the beat of drums. One dancer waving a knife is wrapped head-to-foot in leafy branches, his flashing eyes barely visible through the camouflage.

This traditional dance re-enacts the Jamaican Maroons’ specialty: the ambush. It was once a secret ritual of the fierce bands of escaped slaves who won freedom by launching raids on planters’ estates and repelling invasions of their forest havens with a mastery of guerrilla warfare.

Tourism plays a part in the economic livelihood of the Maroons of Charles Town, but the traditional practices of Maroon spirituality – specifically Obeah – also draw in visitors. These practices attract people not just from the inner-city of Jamaica, but from all around the world. It is also worth noting that this is one example of Obeah breaking the stereotype of being a destructive magic. Here Obeah is demonstrated as a balanced, positive healing force as it accurately should be:

“If a person is mad or if they are sick, we can make a healing dance. Our Obeah is a good Obeah,” Prehay said, referring to an Afro-Caribbean religion that involves channeling spiritual forces and is feared by some in Jamaica’s countryside, where superstitions about shamanism and the occult run deep.

But visitors are very rare in his poor town along a dusty, rutted road about a 45-minute drive from Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. Unlike the other three Maroon communities in Jamaica, Scott’s Hall has no museum, dancing grounds or other attractions aimed at tourists.

May our blessings and prayers go out to the Maroons of Charles Town. Let their Obeah, traditions and culture elevate them to new heights!

Obeah in Thelema

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.

A Guyanese Student’s Experience of Obeah

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” Wins Multicultural Award

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

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.

Joseph the Obeah Man

Joeseph the Obeah ManThe 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.

Graduating Class of 2012

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.

Trancing as Obeah

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.