There is a worrying trend of people reading textbooks or Google-searching rituals in African spirituality and claiming to be legitimate practitioners or, in the worst-case, priests. This article will expand on why self-initiation after reading books is unlikely to be effective and sometimes even dangerous. While books and theoretical research can offer valuable insights on African spiritual traditions, they can never substitute a physical initiation by an experienced elder or practitioner.
Unlike prevalent religions such as Christianity and Islam, African spiritual and herbal traditions such as Vodu, Fa (Ifa), Isese, Santeria, Palo, etc., are not religious practices where practitioners need “to believe” alone to be effective. These traditions require extensive study of herbal formulas, the transfer of energy from teacher to student, and apprenticeship under elders who possess esoteric spiritual wisdom. At their core, these traditions are problem-solving tools developed by indigenous Africans to assist society, not purely faith-based practices.
Unfortunately, many new practitioners, especially from a religious background, assume that African spirituality is similar to Christianity or Islam, where faith in African deities or one’s ancestors is the essential factor in becoming effective practitioners. This assumption cannot be further from the truth. In reality, it is initiation and mentorship from elders that will determine how effective one’s practice is in the long run.
These are three reasons why I believe textbook self-initiation cannot replace physical initiation from elders in African spirituality:
1. Initiation by a practitioner legitimizes your relationship with a deity in ways Google or books cannot.
In the spirit world, authority matters. Even spirits among themselves have strict hierarchies depending on age, power, elements, and more. In the Fa (Ifa) tradition, the 256 Odus are ranked from the eldest to the youngest. This kind of authority or hierarchy also affects human-spirit relationships. Spirits are more likely to…