Where does Obeah come from? What are its origins? The secrets of Obeah manifested in the dark shadows of the culture and history of slaves and indentured labourers who were brought to Guyana and the Caribbean islands during the colonial days from countries like India, West Africa, Holland, Portugal, Brazil and China. Guyana, governed by the Spanish, and later the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries, gave way to British and European rule in the 19th century. Political, economic and social life in the 19th century were dominated by the European planter class, which forced the slaves and indentured people to follow the path of Christianity. Obeah was thus forced to retreat into the dark shadows of secrecy on the slave plantations….where the worship and performance of the rituals had to be performed in clandestine, secret ways to avoid detection by anyone. Despite this disadvantage, the power of obeah grew and was enhanced by the sincere, devout beliefs of the worshippers, their love for the spirits and the strength of their rituals.
Additionally, the vast array of cultures throughout Guyana and the Caribbean islands – European, Chinese, African, East Indian, American Indian, Portuguese and “Dougla” (a mixture of two or more races) – from the colonial days to the present time, significantly contributed to the variety of spirits which are predominant in the Obeah occult path.
What is Obeah?
Obeah, quite simply, is raw power. It is an occult path which originated from a blend of different cultures – European, Egyptian, African, Indian, Dutch, Spanish, Ashanti, and Hebrew – (from the colonial days to the present). The spirits of Obeah are multi-cultural and this may explain why Guyana has areas with Dutch names, Indian names, African names, Spanish names etc. Some areas are still presided over by Dutch land masters – Dutch spirits of plantation owners who when alive, owned, lived and died on the land – and some areas have more African roots or Hindu roots or European roots than others.
Obeah is the magic that has existed since the dawn of mankind. It has been with us since the days of Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece and the first cultures on the African continent. Throughout history, obeah has taken many forms. Today it exists as a raw, pure and mostly untapped force, and although its mysteries have been studied carefully, none have completely understood its secrets although all have beheld its power.
Egyptian Influences on Obeah
The Pyramids of Egypt have long guarded the basic concepts of magic and the occult – comprising the essential and opposing forces of fire and water, heaven and earth, male and female in addition to the esoteric principles hidden in Egyptian symbolism. These are essentially the keys to unlocking Obeah. Yet, the Pyramids also created spiritual effects through focusing and directing energy, which, in turn, was used to magnify the power of a spell, assist in astral travel, and summon (or banish) spirits.
Hebrew Influences on Obeah
The path of Obeah drew knowledge and power from the Kabbalah from Egypt to Arabia to East Africa to what is now considered modern Ethiopia. This is the path which embraced the famous occult texts, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses on the occult secrets of King Solomon as well as the Hebrew incantations of Moses, which developed the traditions of summoning spirits. This influence later led to a form of practical Kabbalah for spell casting, which was shared with Ethiopian royal leaders.
King Solomon was renowned for using magic to control and expel spirits and this practical Kabbalah became the core of modern Obeah, having originated from a synthesis of Egyptian and Hebrew magic. This Hebrew Kabbalah pervaded throughout Africa – into the indigenous folk magic of Africa, which comprised paths of worship such as Voodoo, Santeria and Obeah – unique and extremely powerful occult paths.
West African Influences on Obeah
Although Obeah is an eclectic occult path, with influences from Egypt, Western Ethiopia and Israel, it is also primarily an African religion. The African roots of Obeah make up the element that distinguishes it from simply being Egyptian magic, Ethiopian magic or Western Occultism. And to understand the African roots of Obeah it is essential to understand the Ashanti people.
The Ashanti religion was similar to Voodoo in many ways, with reverence of a central deity as well as a pantheon of sub-spirits. The Ashanti distinguished between two types of magic – the first was the usage of natural herbs for healing, and the second was completely spiritual. Obeah originated mainly from the second religion where the Obeah Priest worked with supernatural entities to create supernatural results and effects through access to secret knowledge and powers. Every Priest keeps two sets of spirits – benign and malevolent – which must be acknowledged, honoured and controlled in order to enable balance, in much the same way that magick consists of black and white aspects.
European Influences on Obeah
The European plantation owners and settlers brought the Kabbalah and old occult knowledge (which had been retained in secret societies over the years) to colonial Guyana and the Caribbean. There was thus an exchange where many Europeans sought Obeah secrets and knowledge, and many Obeah practitioners sought to incorporate European occultism in their religion. The literate African slaves and freed peoples and the European settlers were those who benefitted most from the blend of European occultism and African traditions in what is now the current form of Obeah.
In the words of a famous Obeah priest, Papa Ebenezer Morgan White, “Obeah is a global force. A worldwide tradition. Obeah calls out to those for whom it is destined. If you have been curious about Obeah there is a reason for this. You are looking for something. You may be looking for a solution to something in your life. You may be seeking a more intimate knowledge of Obeah and how to apply it in your life. Or you could be the curious researcher who simply wants to know — just what is that?”
In the next articles on Obeah, areas such as initiation, spells and rituals would be discussed.