I have been trying to wrap my head around this constant obsession that everyone seems to have for African religions lately. It seems to me that more & more people every day are wanting to delve into them but the ATR's are communities and you do not simply ‘delve’ into it - you are invited to join.
Many of those who delve don’t understand African religions are a complex, myriad system of beliefs and they do not all share the same opinions & beliefs let alone philosophy. Within the ARS (African Religious Systems), you find clusters of folks who tend to live in a community in a given geographic area whereas most Wiccans or Ceremonial MagicKians do not live that closely.
Somewhere along the line, folks practicing beliefs such as Wicca, Ceremonial MagicK, Druidry or whatever, got it in their head that to be powerful they need to go and join a ARS. “But Moloch, that’s what you did!” um no it isn’t. I was called a long time ago and refused to listen to the LWA. I felt I thqt I didn’t have to do that and fought it for as long as I could. Why? First off I did not have the financial wherewithal to do so; second, I was distrusting of the vast majority of ARS fakes out there; finally I was quite content with the system of my own constructing and the results I was getting from it.
Middle class whites have this misguided notion that their magic is limp and useless and thus they need to go and join an ARS to become powerful. There’s your mistake: you don’t see the forest for the trees. Power lies right in front of you and all you have to do is reach out and take it. Are ARS practices any different than white folk’s magic? Culturally yes; in practice, some; in theory, no.
To give you an example, a Sorcerer may have a friend who wants to be healed but this friend lives in England and the Sorcerer lives in Florida. Now the Sorcerer can work with a photograph of his friend & if he has the magical oomph necessary he should be able to affect his friend. In a practice such as Palo however, magic is not usually performed at a distant like that. Rather the client is expected to visit the Palero in person for work to be done.
This does not imply that one is greater than the other although you will NEVER find any ARS folks who will admit that as all of them are proud (sometimes bordering on arrogant) people who believe their JuJu is stronger than anyone else's. That's to be expected in any line of Magic regardless of what it is. If you’re a well versed, well taught Witch who has some chops, you should be proud to be who you are as well. Remember my philosophy: “Humility is for those with nothing to brag about” so if your confidence is high, be happy & proud of who you are and let the losers hang their heads.
Now I want to discuss INITIATION. First off one does NOT practice any ARS without being duly initiated. This does not mean you cannot petition say Erzulie Freda for help with a love interest because you can always ask. Is that any different than asking Aphrodite for help with the same situation? No. There’s a slight chance that the Spirit will answer your request - let’s say it’s a 10 percent chance. However if you’re initiated into Vodu, Erzulie Freda may still deny you your wish (the reasons for that are as many & varied as to why Magic often fails) and suffice to say though since you’re initiated your chances of getting Freda to work are bumped up to 50 percent or more (depending on other factors). It is reasonable to presume that if you petition Aphrodite, She will answer your request with a low percentage as well because you are NOT initiated into Her mysteries. But let’s say you have been duly initiated into some Greek mystery cult that still follows the old ways of the Greeks. Then your chances are much higher that Aphrodite will answer your request. There is never going to be a 100 percent chance since the Spirits always reserve the right to say no even if they somehow owe you a favor.
Is initiation only valid in the ARS? No! Even Wiccan groups can give out valid initiations however the older the group tends to be, the more stability they have and the likelier their initiations will be strong. This means that if you join Coven Wannabe who just formed last Sunday night after their first study group, their initiations won’t be as effective (if at all) since they have not gotten anyone in their group who has any sort of lineage behind them. You’re starting out fresh which is NOT a bad thing but it will take your group time to get some serious Magical oomph behind it. How much time? The Mercurial Intelligence Tiriel told me it usually takes about a decade - 10 years - for a group to create enough energy & will to become a true force whose initiations have validity & impact. That is unless they have a member who was duly initiated prior to the group and have been at it for some time and s/he oversees/does the initiating.
This is why when I was first initiated into coven Astra Australis back in 1989, our group had Ron Parshley who had a lineage tracing back to Alex & Maxine Sanders in the mid-1960's. Our Alexandrian Witchcraft coven had some serious oomph behind it because of Ron’s lineage. And, mind you, I had known Ron for at least a year plus before he deigned to initiate me. Thus when our HP & HPS (Ron was an elder) and the rest of the coven initiated me, I felt a real surge of power hit me. It was like a jolt from an electrical cable that sent shivers down my spine. I knew I had something then. The reason it worked so well was because Ron had initiated them and bestowed upon them the mantle of HP & HPS.
Am I saying you cannot work Magic without initiation? Not at all. Initiation merely strengthens your JuJu that you already possess however what initiation really does however is give you some Spiritual Authority in the Spirit world. It can also allow you to operate as group leader.
Frankly why bother with the ARS? It’s expensive to be initiated, there are so many new things you have to memorize usually in a foreign language - in fact you typically can’t join either a Palo or Santeria ile unless you speak Spanish and often can’t join a Haitian Vodu Societe unless you speak Creole or at least French. That’s just the way they roll so why bitch about it?
Seriously, if you adopt a pantheon of Gods and work with those Gods alone for a year, you've built up some good will with them. Now work with them several years and you're on your way to getting things done. Work with them for at least a decade and you will build up a goodly amount of JuJu with Them as well as Their good will towards you. Look for a pantheon or family of Gods or Spirits who have the following:
- a patron of War
- a patron of Love
- a patron who is Righteous and deeply Spiritual
- a patron of Death
- someone related to the Crossroads
- a patron who is Physically Handicapped
- a patron of Healing
- a Metal Worker
- a Diviner
You have just about everything you can possibly need in those, right there. Doesn't matter whether they're called 'Gods', 'Saints', LWA', Orisha, 'Nkisi' or what-have-you, they're like Ragu, "it's in there". But the fact is the average Joe does NOT want to do the work and spend the time to develop the relationship. It takes sweat, tears & effort to make this happen to the point the Spirits will bestow upon you real power. But to get you must be first willing to give. Got that? It's a truism regardless of whether you're working with Spirits or humans. Giving of yourself always gets you good will.
While you cannot self-initiate, you CAN formally dedicate yourself to the Spirits from the pantheon to which they belong. That in & of itself should be something you do NOT do lightly. These are not mere archetypes here folks, but living Spirits who will take offense if you should decide to abandon Them at some later point. Do I make myself clear? Many Magical Morons do this on a regular basis, “Oh I want to dedicate myself to the Celtic Gods!” then later on s/he watches some special about ancient Egypt and then it’s, “Ooooh I think I’ll start working with the Egyptian Gods instead!” Then slowly his/her life begins to turn to shit with all sorts of hindrances, pain & anger sent their way.
I know about that because years and years ago after I first got involved in Witchcraft, I made that very same mistake. Ugh. The ass kicking I got I well deserved. A dedication is a PROMISE, all right? You are in effect telling the Spirits, Gods or whoever is listening that you will always be there for them. Period. So beware what you promise, what you say & what you tell Them you will do for Them because They ARE listening and will hold you to that promise!