Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Malidoma Patrice Somé: Supernatural and Science

Malidoma Patrice Somé is a remarkable man, straddling two worlds and successfully acting as a mediator and translator between them both. He was born to the Dagara people of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Malidoma was kidnapped from his village at the age of four by a Jesuit Missionary who had befriended his father. He was placed in a boarding school, on path to become a priest, to be used as a tool to convert the African people to the white man’s God.
When he was twenty he managed to run away and walked the entire length of the distance back to his village, where he found himself home, but a stranger among strangers. He had been gone for fifteen years and could not even recall enough of the Dagara language to communicate with his mother and sister.
His Western world upbringing left him inadequately prepared for his return. He and his people did not understand each other. Well past the age of manhood in his village, Malidoma was required to undergo a month-long rite of passage before he could fully become a member of his community.
He had to first unlearn what he had learned.

His trials are compellingly written in his book Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman. In the book he describes one of his first breakthroughs, where he was bid to sit and watch a tree. He was aware of his own head processing through wondering what the purpose was, of wondering what the correct thing to do was. There had to be more to it than staring at a tree, right? Then he became angry and felt like he was being made to go through a public humiliation, being sat in the center of the village. Then he broke open and began to speak to the tree. It became a sort of confessional where he poured his feelings of frustration out and apologized to the tree.
What he experienced next was a transformation of the tree into what he calls the green lady- a green human form spirit who felt like love and home. He ran sobbing to the spirit and she held him in her arms. When he came out of the moment and was hugging the tree he immediately tried to blame the vision on the heat and lack of food- which is the Western way of thought- except that the elders of his tribe who were watching had seen the same green lady when he did. How could he explain that?  

“My experience with the green lady raises an important
issue, namely, the true identity of the elements of nature.
What if they are not inanimate objects, as people in the
West have been taught to believe, but rather living
presences? How would we need to change if we granted
to a tree the kind of life that we usually reserve for so-
called intelligent beings? If you peek long enough into
the natural world - the trees, the hills, the rivers, and all
natural things - you start to realize that their spirit is
much bigger than what can be seen, that the visible part
of nature is only a small portion of what nature is.”

            What we would call the supernatural, his people call the natural world. They have no word for supernatural. The closest word they have is Yielbongura, “the thing that knowledge can’t eat.” Western thought may have decided that it is separate but that doesn’t make it a truth for the larger world.
In fact, that way of thinking will only serve to separate us more from that which we all want most- to rediscover the sensation of wholeness. Spirit is real. What is spiritual can be explained by science, but not explained away. After all, you can put blinders on a horse so that he cannot see the distractions around him, but the distractions around him are still occurring. He does not see, yet they happen.
That’s true of the fullness of the world around us. Either you are open to it or you are closed to it, but it does not stop existing if we do not believe in it. If we choose to, we can do work to open ourselves up to the spirit world, the larger world, the greater web around us. We can see and hear with more senses than we use. People who have had these experiences, as Malidoma had, often decide in the aftermath that they must have hallucinated. So much of the spirit world is ephemeral that it takes a certain amount of faith and openness to make the connection.

"You can acquire what is usually seen as magical. When in
fact the more you dwell in this kind of world, the less you
see it as magical because it is the familiar, it is the kind of
thing that every human being is entitled to and it is the kind
of thing that is at the core of human nature, the search,
the intense search for the magical." 

            I can’t recommend Somé’s writings enough. He has two other books The Healing Wisdom of Africa, which chronicles his life after the awakening, and Ritual: Power, Healing and Community. The story of his life’s journey and the purpose his Ancestors gifted him with is laced and woven with a breathtaking, wondrous, and seemingly simplistic awareness of the larger world that stretches beyond our everyday perception. Malidoma’s words act as a gateway, a doorway that the reader can grasp, an opening they can step through.

1 comment:

  1. I've been reading The Healing Wisdom of Africa in snippets over the past year and I absolutely love it. He has a gift for capturing things into words in a raw and universal way that are seemingly simplistic yet very moving. He inspires me to broaden my connection to the natural world.


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