There are five major sources of power – where any spell caster or magician receives their authority – in West African magickal tradition. These are the power of the magician at hand, the power of nature, the power of the ancestors, the power of spirits and the power of God. They are used and called upon in almost every African ritual.
1. Power of the Magician
First and foremost, in West African magick – from Palo Mayombe to the Vodou of Benin – the power of any given spell, incantation or ritual depends on the power of the person performing it. Not just anybody can sit down and cast a spell. This is in direct contrast to notions of Western eclecticism where any person is able to study, write, cast and perform a spell.
In West African traditions, magick is done only by those who have undergone many years of rigorous training. In many cases it may also be necessary that the person of be of a heritage, or familial line, of Priests. In certain traditions of Vodou in Benin, for example, it is the spirits who determine if a man or woman will become a Priest or Priestess. Those who have family that are spiritually inclined are much more likely to be selected than those who do not.
All of this makes for African witches who have the reputations as some of the most powerful and feared in the world. Few people will tell you they are afraid of a curse placed by a Wiccan, but if it is from someone who was born and raised in Africa, who studied and learned the native traditions and has elevated to a status of esteem and power in his or her respective tradition then the situation changes. The power of the magician is a force to be reckoned with.
2. Power of Nature
Africa is still largely rural. Despite widespread urbanization and industrialization, Africa has remained primarily rural. This is reflected in the powers and traditions of African magick. Many spells in West African cultures call upon the power of nature. We see this both in the calling up of nature spirits as well as the preparation of natural remedies to be consumed.
Many will point out that much of Western medicine was learned initially from African traditions – the traditional herbal remedies in Africa were found to have great medicinal benefit. But it goes much further than this. Even inert substances, such as prairie grass or raffa, can take on spiritual and magical qualities when used in a ceremony. Blessed natural objects, plants and leaves that would otherwise have no effect on a person, have been shown to have the power to curse and heal, and to drive insane or cure insanity.
One of the most common examples is of course the tying stew – a blessed food element served by a woman to keep her boyfriend or husband faithful. The natural power to ensure the faithfulness and stop cheating is found in many African spells.
3. Power of the Ancestors
All African magic requires communication with ancestors. This is why the magicians in Africa who cast the most powerful spells are also the ones whose fathers and grandfathers – or mothers and grandmothers – had cast the most powerful spells. They stay in direct communication and link with their ancestral spirits.
These ancestral spirits will guide the magician in every work or ritual. They will impart instructions and secrets that cannot be learned in any book or from any man. Essentially, direct spiritual remedies that are only learned and passed on after one’s own death. This is why communication with ancestors is essential. They are part of the recipe for performing any spell or ceremony.
The power of the ancestors is also important in that they assist during the actual spell casting. They also give their spiritual power and ability. In Africa, you never have just a single man or woman working on a spell. Aside from the living participants you will also have that man or woman’s ancestors casting the spell along with them. Thus, the more powerful the ancestors were spiritually the more spiritual power will go into the ritual. This is why many families in Africa – like the case of the Remis or Dagbononons – gain a strong reputation for having a long line of healers and spell casters.
4. Power of the Spirits
The petitions to spirits is essential in any African ritual. The spirits in West Africa are countless and not every person works with – or even is acquainted with – every spirit that exists in Africa. They are a multitude and they cover every aspect of life and death. They also range from small, mischievous spirits to large and powerful entities.
Any given spirit will have many spirits underneath him who are at his disposal. It is these spirits who are asked and petitioned to give their power and will to a spell. It is also these spirits to whom offerings are made. This can be in the form of an animal sacrifice – but not all spirits use animal sacrifices. Many spirits accept sacrifices of grain, of alcohol, cigarettes and even small tokens of monetary value like coins and beads. This all depends on the spirits being called upon.
There are spirits who rule over every domain of life. The spirits used in a ceremony to cast a love spell are going to be a different bunch, mostly, than the spirits used in a ceremony to cast a curse upon a person. There are still major pantheons of spirits who are invoked in almost all spells, but the real keys and secrets to African spells are the spirits they control. The hierarchy of spirits and the spirits beneath them that go out and do the work. Those are the spirits that only the initiated African Priest or Magician will learn how to work with.
5. The Power of God
All African traditions do teach of a single deity – even the spirits are below him. This is why many Africans have no problem merging Christianity with the traditional spiritual practices. And, in reality, there is no conflict with Christian practice and most of the spiritual traditions of Africa. Both believe in a single, benevolent deity who rules the world. Both believe in his messengers – the Spirits or Angels – and both believe in divine reward and punishment.
God, or Bondye, is alwaysprayed to and called upon in every African ceremony. God is seen as the origin of all things and also the ultimate giver of spiritual authority. He is also the first source of life and energy in the world. This means that all power – for good or for evil – must originate from this source. This is why prayers to God are offered up in every single type of a spell. Even when cursing an enemy. It is believed that in every action God must be honored and consulted.