There are many theories about the origins of Obeah, even the word itself. There are many words in many West African languages that have “obi” or “obea” in them that are connected to mysticism. Because many Igbo people were taken to the West Indies as slaves though, the term most likely originated from the Igbo word “obia” which means working as a healer or doctor.
Obeah’s roots are in African Vodun and Igbo Odinani, as well as other regional African systems, but it developed into a distinct system of medicine and mysticism in Haiti, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and other islands in that region. Some call it sorcery or witchcraft, but I don’t like to use these terms because it is much deeper than saying some words and putting together some formulae. Unlike some western forms of witchcraft, it also does not come from an attitude of the Spirits serving the person, but the person serving the Spirits. Obeah practitioners would consider it unthinkable to summon a demon and give it orders as if it was obligated to obey. Like any Vodun practitioner, if we are calling on a Spirit, we follow the proper proceedure, approach with humility, and do not show up empty handed.
Some may go as far as to actually befriend a Spirit. Indeed, many refer to the Orishas and deities as allies. However, it is constantly in mind that they are extremely strong allies who one does not disrespect without severely bad consequences. Because of its African roots, whether the Obeah practitioner is calling Eshu, Odin, Krishna, or a Tengu or Djinn, we approach them with African level respect.
Obeah has a reputation as the most or one of the most powerful magical systems on Earth. As powerful as it is, the fact that most information about it is transmitted orally means that much of the specifics are secret. Obeah practitioners very rarely take on apprentices, and do not even teach it to their children or relatives unless they have the signs. A person’s secrets and discoveries can die with them. This is considered part of the natural order of things.
We believe that some things a person should go through the steps of learning and discovery on their own. They should not be written down or passed to others because they won’t learn what they are supposed to learn by discovering the Truth on their own. The journey, in many cases, is as or more important than the destination.
This does not mean that Obeah people never teach or share. Indeed, we are often very generous with laypersons in giving information that will help them in their daily lives. We may also share information with people who have reached a certain level and deserve the knowledge.
Though Obeah is very closely connected to the Yoruba style of Vodun, there are a few distinct differences. It does not rely on a strict hereditary priesthood, and it incorporates methods and techniques from other belief systems. The basic philosophy is that all people are children of Yemaya, regardless of the place they are born. So as long as a technique is sound and it works, it can be used to get the job done.
Rather than sticking to a limited tradition, it draws from all. This is one reason why Obeah people are sometimes feared and sometimes looked down upon by practitioners of more ethnically centered traditions.
Another reason for the fear is some true and some false tales of what Obeah people do to accomplish their goals. The use of psychoactive plants is one of the truths. We do use a variety of herbs for healing and for trance. Some are less concerned about legality than others.
There is also concern about the use of blood in ceremony and the creation of talismans. Some would call what is done to sacrificed animals before they are dispatched, cruelty. Though I personally don’t practice cruelty to animals, and have any slaughtering done by a priest of Ogun or a shochet (a Jewish kosher slaughterer), some others are not so careful.
Then finally, there is the use of death curses. Many believe that death curses are a normal thing in Obeah. It is and it isn’t. I’ll explain. It is normal in that there are Obeah people who do them. It’s just that it’s not something that is done normally. A death curse is not something that is done without thought or regard for the consequences.
Though Obeah practitioners do not have a uniform religion per se, we all believe that no human is stronger than Nature itself, and that every action has consequences. Just as unjustified killing with your hands will bring the wrath of that person’s family, law enforcement, and the Spirits, unjustified killing with a curse will as well. There is a high price even for unjustified ill will, so for a conscious curse, the price is even higher.
There are many perspectives about Obeah and many articles about what it is. Everybody has their view. The important thing to remember about it though is that though it is very individualist, the basis of it is Mami Wata. Obeah is basically eclectic Vodun in the West Indian diaspora.
Is Obeah evil?
Obeah itself is neutral. The person practicing it can be basically good or basically evil. No human is totally good, so it can be used for evil purposes.
One should ask themselves though, if a tiger is evil when she kills her prey or defends her cubs? Is a snake evil when he strikes because he is being threatened or mishandled?
Some people are specialists at doing works that cause death and destruction. They are not given this talent for no reason or somehow against Nature. Nothing can happen that God and Nature do not allow. They were given their abilities for the same reason snakes are born with fangs and tigers are born with claws.
How can I protect myself from Obeah curses?
Don’t do bad things to people. That’s it. Anyone, no matter how small or insignificant you may think they are, can enlist the help of an Obeah person. In fact, one of the ways it arose in the islands is to take revenge on slave owners and other exploiters.
When you do bad things to people, you put a wound on your soul. Even in the scientific sense, harming others damages you psychologically. So the more wrong you do to others, the more vulnerable you become to dark forces of Nature.
Also, bear in mind that what Nature and the Spirits of Nature considers wrong may not be limited to what humans consider wrong. If, for instance, you marry someone for money or for the purpose of exploiting them, what you’re doing may be legal, but this does not make it right. If you are a police officer and you arrest someone for smoking marijuana and beat him, again, legal but not right. If this person or someone else on their behalf, takes the matter to an Obeah person, then you could be in trouble.
A curse is basically a removal of that person’s implicit protection over you in the natural network of humanity, and an entreaty to the Spirits for justice. Though you may not see it, all living beings and all things are connected. If that person’s wishing you well was the thing that stood between you and some disaster, you and perhaps those close to you will suffer.
By the same, most Obeah people will not throw a curse unless it is justified. Some however, are young and immature, but very talented and much like the seemingly random snake in the bush or malaria causing mosquito in the jungle. Some are just crazy or petty. Dangerous people exist to keep us from becoming lazy and complaicant. However, if you don’t harm people on purpose, and try to make amends for your misdeeds, you will at least have some protection.
What do I do if I have been cursed?
Think back on all the wrongs you have done to people, and start making amends. It may be that nobody has actually cursed you, but that you have done so much dirt that you’re choking on it. Time to pay the piper.
If for some reason (such as causing greater suffering, or the person you wronged is dead) you cannot make amends, then you’ll need to take it up with the Spirits. You may have to do certain actions or give offerings to the Spirits you offended to remove the curse.
Sometimes though, there is no way out. If you have been blessed, or got help from the Spirits to get something good, and then squandered or misused your gifts, you may never get them back. If, for instance, you were given the gift of beauty beyond your years by Oshun and then used that to exploit others, and someone throws a curse on you that this gift be taken away, you may not get it back, even if they forgive you. It’s Nature.
If you do your best to make up for your wrongs though, you will be blessed in other ways. You will at least have peace and be stronger for what you have learned.
How do I learn Obeah?
Though this is, surprisingly, not a frequently asked question, it is an important one. Few people are interested in becoming Obeah practitioners because it is not a very glamorous life. No matter how much we have in the bank, most of us lead very austere lives, much like other scholarly types. Some of us are shamanistic and choose to live in tents or shacks in the wilderness to be away from people unless they come to us for services. Some of us are more urban, but still a bit reclusive. Some very few are capable of being very public, engaging, and charismatic without suffering overmuch from it. Generally though, we’re solitary people because this particular path makes one very sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of others.
So if you choose to go this way, just be aware that you are not likely to be one of the fortunate who can live a “normal” life, much less enjoy fame. You may achieve fame, but it will probably not be something you enjoy. You’ll consider it the price you pay for being good at what you do.
To begin the path of Obeah, start a personal relationship with Eshu. Make an altar for him in your home, and ask him to teach you. Then brace yourself. It will be a wild ride.
Eshu will teach you and bring you knowledge about the Universe and yourself that you need. He will send people into your life to guide you, and he will remove people from your life who hold you back. It is not always a pleasant situation. You may learn things that are difficult for you to accept.
Once your eyes are open, you cannot un-know what you know. You may have difficult dilemas about how to use the knowledge that you gain. Just remember that none of us is stronger than Nature. Your ideals may not match up to the reality. Once you have accepted Truth and begun to use it to help others and yourself, your success rate will skyrocket because you are truly working in line with Nature, not politics or tradition. You then become like a force of Nature. You become an Obeah person.
Other Articles on ObeahWoman.com
Crystals – an overview of various crystals and minerals used in Obeah, Kindoki, and diaspora Vodun.
More About Obeah
A list of Spirits commonly sought in Obeah, Hoodoo, and diaspora folk magic and spirituality.
Here are some other perspectives on Obeah:
A snippet on Obeah in the Bahamas by Zora Neal Hurston
House of the Divine Prince’s Voodootye’s video: What is legitimate in Hoodoo, Obeah, and Voodoo?
It’s kind of an ad, but it’s appropriately so, since one of the things that is woefully missing in the discussion of legitimacy is transparency and results.
African Magick and Mysticism
Zindoki.com – very easy, basic spells, protections, and instructions for African and diaspora witches.