Bare "Bones" Basics of Obeah

Like hoodoo, Obeah is not a religion, it is a system, an approach to magical practice. Perhaps more appropriately is a particular type of magical power, but more on that later. Many today would call obeah "shamanic" in it's methods and "witchcraft" in practical application. It is as much about healing as it is about aggressive action. It is a power and a means of deploying that power. Obeah has its roots in Africa, likely around the gold cost, but is most associated with the Caribbean islands. Its cultural and political histories are deep and fascinating in and of themselves, but the purposes of this article are to address the nature of this elusive magical practice.

Obeah deals with many spirits and deals with them directly, not through spells and prayers, but through conjuration and possession. Items are imbued or used to house entities and sigils may be drawn or words of power written while in a state of shamanic fervor. The spirits may be kabbalistic, goetic, or natural (plant/animal) in origin. They may be saints, angels, lwa, or spirits of the dead. In Obeah, the spirits are everywhere and the obeahman is versatile and able to deal with whatever spirit may be present rather than insisting things fall into a familiar category or chosen tradition. In this way Obeah may be seen as both animistic and pantheistic.

Obeah is very dark and not for the faint of heart. The power of obiya, which fuels all Obeah work, is conferred through suffering. Those destined to receive obiya live hard lives and are often the subject of abuse, rape, poverty, and neglect. In this way, Obeah is transformative and gives meaning to what would otherwise be senseless suffering. As I've often said "if you aim to fight hell, you gotta go through hell first."

As a result of their vibratory signatures, the residual soot of hell if you will, the type of spirits which gravitate to possessors of obiya also tend to be "dark" in nature. The Anima Sola, with her woeful story, is like the Virgin Mary of Obeah. She is our lady of profound solitude reflected in the moon, born in darkness from her mother "the lady of the lake of pitch" who is held in comparison to Kali-ma. Most important is Sasabonsam, also known as "prince of hell" and "Papa Bois", spirit of the wildwood (who causes reckless wanderers to get lost and die in accidents in the wilderness) or "Papa Bones" shepherd of the forgotten dead. Simply put the "sasa" is "dark power" and Sasabonsam is the warden of those forces known as "shadows" or "duppies" with the obeahmen as his bounty hunters.

Obeah also makes use of spoken word, candles, herbs and other natural (animal/mineral) items including personal bodily concerns (hair, nails, blood, urine) in both sympathetic and imitative magic. At a time, obeahmen were renowned for their knowledge of poisons and could employ them with as much efficacy as any natural cure. They were likened to the alchemists in their skill and knowledge. Container spells are also popular and catching spirits in bottles, jars and vials or nailing them to trees is a common practice both for combating evil and for accumulating personal power.

This later facet not being so parasitic as it may sound. Basically the more troublesome spirits you catch the more power you gain, not just through potential ability to deploy said spirits (though the potential is surely there) but also as a notch in the handle of the gunfighter. If we harken back to the analogy of the bounty hunter, more spirits caught means more successful recoveries thus greater Obeah clout.

 Obeah is an initiatory system but the initiation is imparted by the spirits, not by another priest and the spirits alone guard the "secrets" of Obeah which will actually differ from one worker to the next. It is a revelatory system rather than one of texts and repetitions. Sasabonsam, Asase and Abysina Clarissa are the presiding spirits over the power of obiya. It is a power that resonates in the bones. Another Obeah person can pass along the "vibration" but it must be activated by spirit through ritual contact with Sasabonsam. There is no specific ritual, though an obeahman can certainly guide one, yet one could just as well do it on their own. In either case it is understood that the initiation will be unique to the individual and the details are directed by the spirits themselves, not derived from the mind of man. It has been said that holding a vigil under the right tree or at a place of power and asking for sasabonsam to come to you and impart the sasa/obiya is all that need be done to start the process. However this is no small undertaking as the whole business is rather terrifying and considered to be much like making a deal with the devil. In fact, epithets of Sasabonsam include things like "Prince of Darkness" "Prince of Evil" and "Prince of Hell" The place of power will be one of a dark and eerie nature such as a place where willowisps are often sighted or other ghostly things are known to present themselves. Note that Sasabonsam and his ilk are known first and foremost as spirits who kill people in the wood, especially those who show disrespect. If you are visited by the spirit it will likely be rather terrifying. Fear is the first test. It begins with papa bones ordaining your acceptance into the mysteries of Obeah. From there the power must be cemented by Anima Sola who does so through her trial of fire, a period of deep dread, nightmares, fevered sweats and obsession with death. Through this trial the obiya is seated in the bones of the initiate and they are granted access to the lake of pitch where dwells Asase who is the divine mother of Obeah. Following consecration by this Trinity of spirits the obiya becomes active in one's life. This means hard luck, turmoil, failure and rage will drive you to make changes through magic as you will find no alternative will work. If Abysina Clarissa favors you, she may bestow "kumona" or spirit sight, meaning you will have what seem to be hallucinations of various creatures and spirits, windows in time, or other strange things. Furthermore, you must allow these things to guide you no matter how illogical it seems because one cannot simply use Obeah to get whatever they want but rather must always work in conjunction with the spirits. So, one must learn to understand the guidance given by the spirits, to listen to their voices and to allow their hand to be guided without question or hesitation. Failure to do so will result in negative repercussions and blocks in various areas of life which will eventually lead to only one option, submission. The benefit in all this is a grand source of power and spiritual potential that only the bold have access to and an intimate, personal relationship with a host of spirits which impart to you a unique magic that is all your own that burns in your blood and sings in your bones.

 Obeah Vocabulary

Nyame- great spirit Nyanconpong- nyame alone. Also Accompong, Distant and all encompassing Creator being

Obosom- lesser gods. Spirits sometimes housed in brass vessels containing herbs, sacred items, stones, earths, etc. Summoned by bells and trance dance ritual called akomfo. The MC being an okomfo.

Obi okomfo/Obayifo is a wizard/priest outside of the normal religion. Also known as a bonsam Kongo meaning one who makes suman, charms.

Morocoi- turtle spirit associated with hunters and prophecy. Oldest living thing and representative of the earth.

Sarato- the serpent spirit of waters, ancestry and, by extension, the blood and the knowledge believed to reside in blood. Sarato represents a river which flows through the realms of both living and dead.

Sasa- dark power. The essence that disturbs the mind and afflicts the soul. Also the power of the Obeah man.

Saman- the shadow. Dark spirits. Duppies

Anansi- spider mind if god, story teller, Weaver of powers. Understood that one takes from it what one will and the tales are not the same for anyone.

Sunsum- part of the soul that is animated and animates. All things have Sunsum.

Samanfo- ancestral spirits.

Oto- a "king zombie" as one who has absorbed their samanfo.

Types of priest;
Rut mang- root man, herbalist.
Luku mang- diviner
Obiya mang- priestly magician
Wisi mang- exorcist

Myalism- white magic. Part of yet outwardly opposed to Obeah.

Aspects of sasabonsam;
Papa Bois- father wood. Papa Bones- father death. Associated with St expedite. Cuye Lumbembe- sorcerer/priest born of thunder and lightning associated with St Anthony of padua and St Cyprian.

Asase- also Cumama. Lady of the Lake of Pitch, wife of papa bones and mother if Anansi and Abysina Clarissa aka Anima Sola. She never interacts directly with papa bones but rather through Anima Sola.

Abysina Clarissa- An important spirit in obeah associated with the catholic image of Anima Sola and the moon. She takes on different aspects based on the phase and sign the moon is in. In each aspect she lends different powers to the Obeahman. She also factors heavily in the initiation to Obeah.

Douens- restless spirits, souls of unbaptized children, willowisps, anima sola is their queen.

Lugarhoo- werewolf. A charm of roots and sticks allows the transformation. He is an emissary of Papa Bois.

Soucouyant- also La Diablesse and Gang Gang Sara. A threefold lady of witchcraft. Soucouyant is a shape shifter La Diablesse is a Lilith like spirit who seduces, lures, kills or drives mad. She has burning coals for eyes and corpselike skin. Gang Gang Sarah is a woman from Africa who was blown on the wind to the Caribbean where she lost her power of flight and so took up a profession as a "wise woman" or seer/healer/witch.

Mama Dlo- the only force which sasabonsam will bow to. She is an anaconda from the waist down and is queen of merfolk who's father is Leviathan. She causes natural disasters and can isolate them to punish people who disrespect nature.

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this article, so little is available on the subject out side of Nicholas Frisvold's book. Hard finding information on A/sasabonsam too. Bless

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  2. Wow is just the simple word that may explain that how much I liked it. It was nicely stuffed with the material I was looking for. It’s great to be here though by chance.
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  3. They summoned me...and I happily conceded. But know that life is not a game...it is a gamble. Will you overcome each one of your fears one by one until there are none...or will you falter? Those who bathe in the shadows are destined to drown in them, yet those who where them for armor are destined to be protected by them.

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