The African continent is known for a number of religious practices that are normally seen as abnormal or paranormal. Before the entry of colonialism and the interaction of the African people with the Europeans, African tribes had traditional and cultural practices that were used to control and manage the way of life. Traditional and cultural practices were heavily embraced among different societies in what came to be known as black magic. The coming of the European and the introduction of Christianity, Islam, and other foreign religious practices was the final stroke that broke the back of the African traditional belief system. This was especially so with the indoctrination of the African mind with the belief that every African religious practices was evil. Through education and enlightenment, many African societies have come to accept this view, but isolated cases still persist up to today. Some traditional societies, especially in West Africa, are still practicing the old age system of beliefs. This paper discusses the concept of occultism in an African context and elaborates on some traditional belief systems and practices.
The African continent is known for various things which are not so good relative to other continents. The political, economic, and social practices in Africa have invariably been used as an indication of the darkness that engulfs the continent. On top of the political and economic instability of the many African societies is the contestable issue of African belief systems and practices which were quickly labeled as evil by the Christian missionaries who preceded the coming of colonialists. Before the arrival of the missionaries and their gospel of good news, the African societies practiced their own traditional belief systems that allowed consulting of the dead and performing of magic to heal the sick or even fight and an enemy. Several societies in Africa are still practicing the black magic, especially in West Africa albeit with a lot of secrecy in what has come to be popularly known as occultism. The entry of science thus rendered everything that Africans practiced magic and undesirable. This paper explores some of the tenets of occultism in Africa and will examine how occultism has impacted the contemporary African societies in terms of politics and social interactions.
According to Fortune (2001), occultism in Africa has been closely associated with the practicing of witchcraft and magic. Nevertheless, occult in Africa goes beyond the mere practice of witchcraft and magic as it encompasses the traditional and cultural religious systems that were prevalent among the African societies long before the coming of Christianity and other modern religious practices. The fact that Africa was enclosed in its world made the African people to establish their own belief systems that bordered on the satanic and not so satanic practices that involved sacrifices and communication with the spirits. In the same way, contemporary occultism in Africa today is a remnant of antique religious practices that dotted the ancient communities of Africa. With the increasing in knowledge, some of the practices have come to be inherently deemed as evil and satanic although they were wholly accepted and practiced by communities. Still, the secrecy surrounding occultism is Africa attracts suspicion from the liberal minds as opposed to the conservative adherents who practice it (Mensah & Godwyll, 2010). Furthermore, Mensah & Godwyll (2010) argue that occultism is shrouded with the labeling of Africa as a dark continent and this has contributed to the increasing number of occult cases in Africa. It is as though people who once became civilized are slowly going back to uncivilized practices that were embraced by their ancestors.
Occultism involves the practicing of spiritual and magical things that outlines the belief structures of certain religions and contrasts the scientific approach to the interpretation of things. Occultism differs from science or conventional religious practices such as Christianity and Islam as it does not depend on any verifiable and empirical evidences but rather on the hidden and exclusive knowledge that only a few members of the occult holds. In the African setting, occultism was practiced by knowledgeable elderly members of the society in performing healing, magic, rituals, spiritual incarnations, and other practices that were meant solely at cleansing the society from evil or protecting it from natural disasters like famine, drought or even people orientated ones like war and conflict.
Occultism in the African context also involved the consultation of the dead and the practitioners could claim to have spoken with the dead over the matters that concern a society or a particular person (Grottanelli, 1988). Because of the powers that occultists exhibited over the natural instinct of people, the practicing of occult became a popular mainstay of the African societies as they interacted with each other. The practice remains popular among some of the African elite including pastors and reverends as they flock in magical sites for what has come to be described as juju and use of mysterious and strange substances for economic, political, and spiritual powers.
According to Gibbons (2001), occultism in the African context denotes a sacred way of thinking that encompasses the performance of rituals such as healing and black magic. The occultism as a form of knowledge of the hidden practices has a long history in Africa and can be compared to the Western practices of Christianity and other religious beliefs. It is thus a mysterious practice that varies from one society to the other and which is mainly meant at instituting the political, social, and economic powers of one community over the other (Grottanelli, 1988). Several antique societies in Europe or Western world practiced occultism and still some are practicing it although on isolated scale, but the African magic persists in relatively larger scales especially in some West African countries where it is used as a political and economic weapon by even some reformed members of the society (Mensah & Godwyll, 2010). Some internationally acclaimed pastors and clergymen have been put on record for having consulted the black magicians and occultists for some form of spiritual powers. The modern religious practices that use the holy books such as the Bible are thus embracing occultism in the interpretation of the scriptures with intent of making people to believe them.
Still other political bigwigs such as the former Nigerian president have been accused for having relied on black magic for their leadership and domination (Mensah & Godwyll, 2010). The continued consultation of the underworld by the elite Africans then calls for an investigation in the powers of occult and if indeed occultism plays or played a role in the formation of the contemporary African continent. Indeed in South Africa where there are many traditional African communities, the disappearance of children after the end of apartheid forced the government to form a commission of enquiry to look into the matter that occultism was responsible for the disappearance of the children and the revealing news was a shocking as were normal in the African context (Mensah & Godwyll, 2010). Shocking in the sense that what the Jonker commission discovered was an amalgam of deeply entrenched traditional practices that used everything from black cats to human blood in their rituals. The use of human blood definitely meant that someone had to be killed for their blood. On the other hand, the findings could be described as normal because the practices were far from being abnormal in many African societies. Many of the traditional African societies practiced human rituals where even the firstborns in each family were killed for ritualistic purposes and there was nothing wrong in such practices since it was readily acceptable in the African setting (Fortune, 2001).
The practice of occult in Africa underpins the cultural and traditional belief systems that defined the setting of an African community. Even though occultism was generally perceived as evil and satanic, Gibbons (2001) argued that it may have played a crucial role in holding the community together owing to the large numbers of people that actually believed and embraced it. The practice essentially rode on the wave of fear and admonition because many African communities were faced with a number of threats even from their neighboring communities. Also, there was need to have higher invisible authority and which came to be entrenched in the minds of people. The black magic thrives on the fact that the African communities were faced with several challenges including political, spiritual, and social challenges (Gibbons, 2001). The practice of black magic and witchcraft, and the subsequent development into a belief system might have been founded on this premise, that communities needed to protect themselves against a threat, really or perceived and thus led to the development of practices to this effect.
Occultism also thrived on the healing powers of the many ailments that African communities were facing. Through sacrifices and performance of rituals people could be healed of their diseases and even those who were seeking for political positions could be able to overpower their challengers. This belief is still common amongst many African leaders as was seen between former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and his vice president Atiku Abubakar (BBC News, 2007). The two accused each other of engaging sorcerers and magicians for political gains. This incident highlights the kind of entrenchment and the extent to which occultism is practiced in the African continent.
In conclusion, it is agreeable that occultism in Africa is an old age practice that permeated the political, social, and economic life of many societies. The practice is still alive in many traditional societies. It is however, carried out by the more elite members of the society, a departure from the former practices where it was thought to involve poor and miserable people. Occultism in Africa has a lot to do with the spirituality and ritualistic nature that traditional communities found themselves into. It is notable that occultism is Africa is not only a practice that involves magic and witchcraft but an entrenchment of religious practices that outlined the spirituality of different communities in their unique ways. The coming of conventional religious practices such as Christianity and Islam disrupted the practice of traditional religious beliefs besides labeling such practices as evil. However, occultism is still much alive in Africa only that it is localized and relegated to the periphery of the spiritual practices of many religious outfits even as conventional belief systems takes the center stage in religious practices.