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.

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