The Soul of Sub-Saharan Religions / Philippe Charlier

Europeans have understood absolutely nothing about the ancestral religions of Sub-Saharan black Africa.
If one is interested in the religions of Benin, for example, it is not a single religion but an amalgam of many beliefs: voodoo, first, this religion constituted from the Yoruba world about moment of the European renaissance. To this is added the divinatory Fa or geomancy, whose origin seems much older and more distant, perhaps Mesopotamia? Another system is that of ancestor worship, a system shared with many other cultures, found in Siberia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Near East, the aborigine, Polynesian and Melanesian worlds. There is finally a last system which is that of witchcraft, bo.

To those who would like to understand voodoo, it is necessary to explain first that voodoo does not seek to explain the creation of the world, but rather to explain how the present world works, with lines of energy, of power relations, of inner and outer tension, which find their demonstration in the form of many divinity. Many? Not that many, actually. Originally, there is a couple present in an unspeakable world, in an unknown place but inevitably far and inaccessible not only to the human mind but also to its sensations. This couple is called Mawu and Lisa.
Mawu is a woman, procreative, the one who is the origin of the world and voodoo, and her husband is Lisa. From them, we do not know much; but they are at the origin of the first voodoo, that is to say the first deities who preside over the elements and the functioning of the mind. Next to Lisa’s Mawu, there is Fa. Fa, it’s the meaning and the word, it’s the writing, it’s the verb, the knowledge, the gnosis, the knowledge. There is also Gbadu, absolute knowledge, as if Fa was a book and Gbadu was the library.


In these different worlds, whether it’s voodoo, whether it’s the world of the ancestors, the Fa, there is no terrestrial world and beyond, hell, paradise. There is simply a visible and invisible world, both are in exactly the same place. It is enough to have an education, an initiation, spell, a knowledge which makes it possible to open the eyes, to glimpse discreetly or to widely open the door to this world hardly perceptible to the eyes of the humans. The only travel possible is an inner journey or a trip just around yourself.

Philippe Charlier, MD, PhD, LittD, is a forensic practitioner and anthropologist. He works on representations of the human bodies, and rituals related to diseases and death. He loves words, and more.

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