by Shloma Rosenberg
note: I would like to preface this article by saying that I use the word witchcraft by its popular cultural definition: malefic magic. No slight is intended to those who use the word to describe the various religions which attempt to recreate the ancient earth-based religions of Europe and the British Isles.
I had an interesting conversation (via e-mail) this morning that started me thinking on the nature of fear in out tradition. A good friend wrote me after seeing my picture on my web site and suggested it was a bad idea, as it could be used against me magically.
I wrote back that I didn't have a problem with it, and that if anybody wanted my hair and nail clippings, they could have those too. I didn't say this because I think I am an indestructible badass, I said it because I refuse to live in fear as so many in this religion are encouraged to do.
I am afraid that it is the practice of many priests (whether or not their decision to do so is conscious) to paint a picture of the world (for their godchildren) as a magical battle ground, a world in which every negative event is attributed either to witchcraft or the wrath of this or that Orisha or spirit. I am sorry but I just don't buy it.
I watch my friends run for readings every time they stub their toes. I watch them throw water out the door if their phone gets shut off. When my car breaks down, they all try to figure out who is hoodooing me. I try to tell them that that's life! If you don't pay your bills, your utilities get shut off. If you don't watch where you are going, you stub your toe. Cars break down when they are 14 years old. People must realize that they are the masters of their own lives and not go the Christian route of playing the victim. 99 times out of 100 our misfortunes are the results of our own actions.
It is a sad fact that these friends of mine, the ones who run to this or that diviner every time they burn dinner, find their fantasies catered to by diviners who are either unethical or live in the same "Lord of the Rings" universe as their clients.
I have found in my own life that refusing to live in fear has brought me more progress and happiness than any number of "trabajos" against the works of malefactors. I believe that if you are in the right relation to God, Egun and Orisha, there is nothing anyone can do to harm you. As I told my friend yesterday, if someone is so pathetic and lacking of a life that they have to raise a spell up on ME--they have already lost. I am just over here trying to make my way and God knows that...And as Willie Mae from Shreveport once told me, "The whole world belongs to God!" People who think they are above that fact are the ones who suffer.
My friends cluck their tongues when I blow off the witchcraft bit. They shake their heads and tell me the awful stories of people decimated by sorcerers, and that I'd better be careful, BUT THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE GOING NOWHERE! Of course my life is not perfect, but I am healthy, relatively financially secure and happy with my progress. On the other hand, I watch my friends do ebo after ebo to ward off witchcraft and they can't get one foot in front of the other. What is wrong with this picture? It sure ain't the fact that I am enemy-free! I have found turtle heads, bottles of urine and feces, animal parts, bundles of nails and broken glass, ashes, gunpowder, sticks tied together in various arrangements, and other items too numerous to mention on the doorsill of both my home and my business. You know what I do when I find a "work" on my porch? I dance on it.
Again, this is not because I think I am all that. It is because apparently someone else thinks that I am so important that they will go out in the middle of the night and handle such disgusting objects because of their own all-consuming hate and jealousy. That means I win. I am dancing because I know I broke somebody's rest and made them touch a turd.
Inducing fear of witchcraft is often the primary tool of the unethical priest. The lifting of curses has become a cottage industry in the religion, as it is so easy to blame an individual's problems on something for which there is no proof. When by nature people do not want to take responsibility for their own problems they are a blank slate for other causes on which they can place blame.
Witchcraft paranoia is also a handy tool with which to keep one's godchildren from associating with other priests. I have been visited by godchildren of other Oloshas who were warned not to eat or drink anything in my house. Is this "Rosemary's Baby"? Am I Ruth Gordon and is THIS the poisoned mousse? I told them to go back to their godparents and tell them that we are grown-ups on this side of town.
I am the first to admit that there is an inherent danger anytime one's godchildren begin to hang out with priests of other houses. The fact of the matter is that the world is full of headhunters. Unethical priests run rampant in our religion, and their eyebrows are cocked to raise ("Your godfather told you WHAT?!?!"), thereby raising doubt in the minds of the godchildren of other priests.
The solution to this, however, is not to instill fanatical fear in the hearts of one's godchildren. The solution is to be as open and honest as one can possibly be. Tell your godchildren how things are, and tell them what they will hear when they venture forth into the world. Be honest with what you know, as well as what you don't know. People can smell insincerity. If you do these things and they still run from priest to priest, then good riddance.
This same load of crap is shoveled on people in relation to the "wrath of the Orishas." My very best friend, whom I love dearly, works her ass off for the religion, doing everything she can to live in right relation to the Orishas. Yet the moment it is suggested by a diviner that "this or that Orisha is mad at you", she buys it, hook line and sinker. It doesn't bug her that these proclamations are usually followed by a prescription for a costly ebo that will appease the anger of the Orisha. HELLO? Granted, there are plenty of times when an Orisha demands some sort of ebo to appease them in relation to some offense, but this woman has a heart of gold not only in her dealings with her Orisha, but also in her dealings with family, friends, elders and godchildren. An unethical diviner sees a person with a heart like that, and it's prime rib for dinner.
I call this "Battered Olosha Syndrome". People do and do and do for the Orishas and for the religion, and unethical diviners smell that faith and dedication. They see someone who is head over heels in love with the religion, and they know that the most effective ploy for getting some cash is to say that the Orishas are pissed and want something expensive.
We all have to remember that we know our hearts, and the Orishas know our hearts too. If you have been going contrary to the wishes of the Orishas, you probably know it, and if you are putting your heart and soul into the development of your character, you probably know that, too. Be open to the fact that you may be in denial about a given issue, but don't sell yourself short and walk into every room as if you are about to be struck.
Then there's the "My Orisha's gonna getcha" deal. An individual commits an offense, real or imagined, to an Olosha and the Olosha proclaims that their Orisha is going to come down and rip the offenders head off. Yeah, right. First of all, nobody is that important. To presume to speak of what your Orisha will or won't do is the epitome of arrogance. Once again, "The whole world belongs to God", and nobody is the hub of it. It is not like the Orishas are sitting around waiting for any one particular person to be offended so they can kick some ass. We must not forget that to forgive is divine, and no one of us is innocent of acting in an offensive manner. If the Orisha ripped the heads off everyone who got out of line, we'd be one headless planet. Proclaiming elaborate curses smacks of delusions of grandeur and is VERY Norma Desmond. Let's get over ourselves, shall we?
When my friend Librada died, I announced it on an e-mail mailing list subscribed to by many Orisha worshipers. In a "rebuttal" to the obituary I posted (I still can't understand why anyone felt the need to post a counterpoint to an obituary), one of the priests who felt a rivalry with her while she was alive wrote that "nature [had] corrected it's mistake" as if it were some sort of divine punishment. If living to a very old age, being financially comfortable, initiating 220 people, leaving behind MANY loved ones to continue to render homage and having the process of getting sick and dying go very quickly is a punishment, PUNISH ME!
This attitude is common though. It seems as though people sit waiting in breathless anticipation for some (perceived) misfortune to befall another so they can say "See! I told you, that wouldn't have happened if blah blah blah..." and "it looks like the Orisha finally took care of them". Their own misfortunes, though, are never the result of their own actions. It is always "witchcraft". Hmmm.
I believe that curses exist. I believe that witchcraft exists. I believe that negativity directed at an individual can adversely affect that individual. BUT, I believe that, to a great degree, you have to own someone's negativity for it to affect you. To fail to remain in right relation to one's Egun, Orisha and Ori (this is done through the receipt of reliable divination and the timely making of ebo) is to invite the trouble that can be caused by those who would work malefic magic. Otherwise, it's their baby and it will come home to roost.