What is Obeah?

Cauldron Work

 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. Another theory is that it originated in  Akan/Coromantee practices, but I am not personally as sure about this connection as I am about the Igbo. It seems like one of those things the government said to demonize the revolutionaries of the Tacky rebellion. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of Akan influence, but certain aspects of basic observance, purification, protection, and what ritual purity means, not to mention the esoteric aspects and anti establishment-ness, call the usual origin narrative into question for me. It just doesn’t seem like the whole story.

Some Clarifications

Because of some confusion, it should be clarified that the term “Obeah” like “Voodoo” usually refers to a category of practices. It is not as broad though, and specifically refers to spirituality and folk medicine of people from the West Indies and Caribbean islands and surrounding areas. These practices made their way into the U.S. and show up often along the east coast. It spread the farthest and deepest among literate African Americans through connections made in churches and fraternal organizations. When I say “spread” though, I don’t mean “became popular”. It was and still remains something usually passed from teacher to student, most often through family, but from time to time someone is “adopted” because they show signs and would be unmanageable without intervention.

We have our own names for our systems, and it may describe the system itself or an ancestor through blood or mentorship. Generally though, we’re talking about an updated and evolving discipline with origins in ancient Kemetic style mysticism and Heka.

Though most practitioners could be described as somewhat eclectic, and are happy to teach things that are in the general pool of spiritual knowledge, most details are not shared with the public or in books. There is no way for someone to  “self initiate”. One is either mentored by an elder or promoted to that level by a community in the islands or populated by those in this diaspora. For the latter, there is a level of blessing by the people required.

To be clear, all people who are in this were given a particular flavor of blessing by another human being or group of human beings. Though it is in the realm of possibility that under extreme conditions, someone could be snatched by the Serpent, so to speak, this would only happen if the conditions were extreme on the level of wartime or something mind breaking. Even then they would need the assistance of a spiritually aware, competent therapist to contain it after that. It is true that the scales of this Serpent are shaped through pain.

Origins of Obeah

Obeah’s roots are in Kemetic Heka, west 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, Trinidad and Tobago, and other islands in that region.  So it also took on some practices and pantheons and of course bloodlines from indigenous Americans. 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 procedure, 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.

This does not mean that we randomly borrow deities and practices from here and there. Though this entitled view is popular, it is not the way someone should go about things if they value their life and sanity. Before we incorporate any other than our own ancestors and deities introduced to us by our instructors thoroughly, we study under elders, priests, or wise persons of that belief system. For example, if I wish to incorporate White Tara into my practice, I will consult with a Tibetan Buddhist and go to a shrine or retreat to receive her properly. Though many systems allow one to incorporate some deities through simple basic information and sincere observance, some require a formal introduction. One should speak with actual adherents of any tradition one wishes to incorporate elements or deities from. Even some Yoruba deities, cosmopolitan as the system may be, will mess you up if you come at them wrong.

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About K. Sis. Nicole T.N. Lasher

Sis. Nicole T. Lasher (Sheloya) is the female king of Ile Baalat Teva, an African diaspora spirituality group in northern Israel.


  1. Pingback: Orisha Online Altar − What is Voodoo?

  2. May I enter to learn obeah please? Thank you very much!

    • Thank you for your question, Ethel. 🙂 I do not teach Obeah online, but I do teach general witchcraft. Though some elements of Obeah will shine through in my style of teaching, I have not been led to teach Obeah on the internet specifically. Others do, and I respect them for this, since it is an extremely challenging mission. It’s just that the task that I’ve been given is different: to help prospective witches, sorcerers, rootworkers, and others in this type of occupation to reconnect with the ways of their Ancestors and become effective practitioners regardless of which style they will eventually settle into. Obeah will only be the answer for a very select few, and there are already teachers for them. Our community is pretty stable. Others though, need our help to recover and stabilize.

    • How can obeah be Igbo when none of the deity are Igbo

      • We don’t generally share our personal pantheon with people. We may reveal some of it so as to teach beginners, but we aren’t going to give away the entirety of our allies. I tell people about the Yoruba pantheon because they are offering this information to the world freely and publicly. Igbo are not generally so ready to share. There is the guy with the Medicine Shell channel on YouTube, and a couple of others, but nobody I know gives very specific instructions for someone outside the community about how to deal with specific deities. I am following the rest of the community’s lead in that. I’m in the diaspora, and it is not my place to make sudden innovations in this matter. If someone is interested in Igbo spirituality, I refer them to the “orthodox” Igbo practitioners.

  3. I have much regret and apologies to have to ask. i am inquiring about the proper spelling and pronounciation regarding a spirit. It sounds like Obigetkchi. It is a soulmate matchmaker. Greatly appreciatied if you are able to help.
    Thank you.

    • This came during a time I was a bit distracted. This is a Turkic or Afro-turkish entity by the sound of the name. Be careful as there wasn’t the concept of “soulmates” when this was crystalized as there is today. You may be calling on something you don’t know how to handle.

  4. Hello.
    I am retired and still trying to acquire the path I should be on. Any suggestions or advice, excluding personal opinions?

  5. Hallo, my Name is Johann Musyl from Vienna, Austria. I have a question about obeah initiation online. Do you Know someone who is doing that. And can that obeah man or woman tell me if obeah is my path, my way?
    If you need more Information about me, please ask.
    Thank You very much for Youre answer to come.
    Johann Musyl
    P. S. And can you tell me more about transmission of obeah?

    • Hello Johann. 🙂 Thank you for your comment and good questions.

      Online, though it is possible to teach on some level, it is not possible to receive a full initiation online for a few reasons. Anyone can read about and learn the things that have been published, but there is a lot to Obeah that is not published, and for good reason. Some things are exclusive to particular lineages, and some thing must be passed from teacher to student live. In most lines that I’m aware of, there are things the teacher must do themselves.

      A teacher can however, initiate you specifically as an online or distance acolyte. This has been done since before the internet. One takes the vows of a student in order to begin learning. We tend not to call this “initiation” though because this word has been overused and misused to mean something that it doesn’t. People will claim to be initiated into Obeah, Vodun, or other African and diaspora systems, and take this to mean they are qualified to teach or to lord over others or claim ranks and titles that they did not earn to standard.

      The truth is that any teacher can form their own curriculum and standards and “initiate” people to their group, but that doesn’t mean what they’re teaching you will give you anything good or important. So don’t be so concerned with initiation just because some others make a big deal out of it. I’ve encountered people who were “initiated” to Orishas but had no idea what offerings to give them or how to care for any of the items they were given in the ceremony.

      As to whether or not Obeah is your path, since we have greater access now, your best place to start looking is an Ifa or Afa reading from a qualified African diviner. They will tell you more about what you should do.

      Obeah may seem very fascinating, but it is, like any other spiritual system, very difficult for someone to get into as an adult. It is nothing like Wicca or other neopagan religions or magical disciplines. Though some have come in from other places to learn and one has reportedly received the Obia, this is extremely rare. These few instances should not be taken as normal or preferable. Unless you are connected to our community somehow, there is no real reason to pursue it. It is not the reclaiming of a dead belief system with a broken line. It is the continuation of a legacy of a very much living, unbroken, African tradition of sorcery. There are responsibilities and obligations involved that most people are not ready for, and no outsider really wants unless they have an ancestor or two prodding them towards this path.

      This is why online, I teach general witchcraft and not Obeah. Some others may, but I don’t because I don’t want to give anyone a wrong impression or be blamed for anyone taking what I taught them to claim a title they didn’t earn.

      • Hey Sheloya how are you ? …..and I wanted to ask where or who can I go to to ask about Obeah I’ve been wondering about this since a spiritual teacher I started watching on YouTube mentioned it I felt a rush when she said the word and I’ve been curious ever since and wondering if it’s in the bloodline being Caribbean ive just been waking up to Spirituality the past 3 years started with crystals and then found astrology and all of it’s other branches and practices I’m interested in all of it and now delving in to spirituality this year I started finding out about different paths and about Ancestor money so I’m slowly building an alter for that but can’t for now so I just have a nice clay pot that I’ve chose to burn the money in for everyone and will continue to do so even when I get a alter for them and now just having interest in the magical world but Im wondering what path I’m supposed to be on and Wondering who I have to go to to find that out.

        • Well, since the one teacher I thought we had has decided to take a cut of the American republican blood cult, we are now only endorsing serious long term African mages like Papa Christopher Voncujovi. He is actually doing something real for Africans and African spirituality, and is involved with the recovery of stolen artifacts housed in European museums and warehouses.

          Now, take note of what I’m implying here. Being a practitioner will not make you a better person, and many knowledgeable people consciously choose self destructive paths. So please take care out there and take your time finding a mentor you are truly in sync with. Choose a teacher with a track record of actual service to their community.

          Meanwhile, learning any other discipline that is aligned with your ancestors and your personal essence will do. I recommend starting with Ifa/Isese knowledge. Knowing at least one traditional way will give you a basic and form your discipline. If you are the sorcery type, you will eventually outgrow the norms and either be selected by a sorcerer to a mentorship or apprenticeship, or stumble on one. Remember to choose allegiances wisely. There is also no harm in starting to do the reading that will inevitably come. Read the papyri translations and demotic texts and anything you can find on what is known of the Kongo systems all the way up to the Mesopotamian and Sumerian translations. Remember to do divination as you go when you get that tickle that maybe the western or English translation couldn’t quite register the full meaning to the African or Mediterranean cultures.

          Then also find out all you can about Caribbean plants and herbal medicines, as well as those in your immediate area. If there are some hippies or professors doing a foraging course where you walk around and pick things, take it. Learn the land around you.

          As I mentioned in the article, sometimes an Obeah person is community selected. If you increase your knowledge and it is your calling, you can’t avoid it. The Obia will rest on your shoulders and their eyes will become yours, and that is that. When or how it happens is not up to you, but the thing you can control is gaining knowledge.

          If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask. Just understand that if it’s going to take some time to explain things, I have a consultation fee of $50 per hour, same as counseling or readings. If you have a skill I can benefit from, we can even barter. I’m flexible about the type of reciprocation, but in my tradition and learned experience, there must be reciprocation.

  6. I had a dream last night. Perhaps, I should lead up to this.
    I’m living in an unjust situation and under heavy oppression and persecution. Recently, I’ve been calling out, spiritually, for an energy to help me turn things around. I asked for a sign. I did this for 2 days, the sign asking. Help from spirits I’ve been asking for, for years. I made an offer in exchange for this help and I asked for a lot, but only what I feel is my Karmic due.
    Last night I had the weirdest dream. I entered a night club. There were offers of drugs and alcohol and I declined, saying I was there on business. It was loaded with people of African heritage.
    A ritual was taking place down near the stage and there was a circle in front of it. I heard the word Obeah spoken many times. People gathered around and a woman, also of African heritage appeared, within it. The ritual was a normal ritual where the being would choose her tributes. By the time she arrived, everyone but me was in a trance. Before she chose her tributes though, she summoned me and I entered the circle. She hugged me, called me old friend and said it had been a long time.
    Is this some sort of being answering me, giving me the sign I was looking for, that my offer has been accepted? I have felt ungrounded and spaced out yesterday morning and also today, like I’m here but not quite.

  7. I’ve never heard of an Obeah before and I know this is me completely. Everything in this article Explains me to a T.

    I can’t even explain how I know. But I know.
    I am a Mixed race almond woman born in Miami.

    Thank you for sharing this. All of my knowledge has been passed from spirit to me. I just keep wondering why I’m different then others. And somehow I feel this just explained me and I know who I am.
    I’ve been at this practice my entire life.

    • Hello Ezralea 🙂 If this is so, then you must rid yourself of slavery era “race” concepts and think in terms of actual lineage. Though awareness of how other people think is useful in terms of social justice, actual belief in anti scientific hierarchies of humanity do not suit a prospective mage.

      Just being categorized as Black by authorities in the occupied Maizeland has nothing to do with whether or not a type of Obeah is your path. It is connection to the specific history of the islands, and the struggles and cultures in which they developed.

      Though anyone can be called, there is no “self initiation” in this. One is either instructed by a mentor from or in the lineage of people from the islands, or promoted to a kind of mage or “Obeahman/woman” level by serving a community in the islands or families in their diaspora for some time.

      If certain aspects of it seem familiar, it is because there are many branches in the African diaspora, of people who originated from places in Africa that have the Obia concept or something like it. It is similar though not the same as the Roman “daemon” or Yoruba Aje. It may have been a branching off that happened before the concept of the Kemetic Sobek. Nobody knows. There are some pretenders out there claiming to be Iyami Aje, and Yoruba people and diaspora Ifa practitioners have plenty to say about this. The Obia concept being co-opted doesn’t generate much hype, but eventually it still catches up with people, even those who innocently misinterpret things. The spirits hear it and it’s like, “Oh really? Let’s just see how much suffering they can take.”

      So for now, if you feel that it is for you, find the non Christian folks from the West Indies, Caribbean, and other east coastal islands who are having meetings, running supply shops, etc. Eventually, if they like you then they will start teaching you. Even if the spirits are teaching you a lot, there is the concept of word power, and as soon as you speak a cultural lineage, this will signal the spirits to test your endurance compared to others who came through that culture. Better to do the slow endurance test of how much of various translations of papyrii you can commit to memory than the fast track of brutal hazing by Jamaican ancestors.

      Blessings and Ashe!

  8. My apologies first for being one of many bombarding you with questions about “how to”…I am not of Caribbean descent, and I’m not sure where I would even find a shop that supplies goods for people as you mentioned to someone in another post…I understand that you said the teachings need some one on one time to share their knowledge to students by talking with them…That certainly makes sense…If I wanted to learn this way of life do I begin by reading the information above?
    Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you at your convenience… Kindly, Sue R

    • It’s alright. As I mentioned before, I found the Motherland non traditional folks, so the Caribbean version, while wonderful, is no longer the lonely strain of Afroscientific Spirituality available to the western world. I recommend talking to Papa Christopher Voncujovi. He has a question and answer live stream every Sunday on YouTube.

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