Before you do anything involving African mysticism or magic, you need to get to know your pantheon(s). Though later, you can incorporate others who reveal or have revealed themselves to you, it is important that your basis includes a concept of the Supreme (whether this is a Creator, Spark of Creation, or the Universe Itself), a Gate Keeper between the realm of the perceivable physical and the mystical or Spirit, your ruling force of Nature, and the known relevant forces of Nature whether or not you will be interacting with them directly.
The Almighty Unfathomable is just that: almighty and unfathomable. So there is no need to waste your life trying to understand that. Synchronization with Nature will come to you in its own time, and attempting to force this will only lead you into a harmful illusion. This sort of wisdom is like the cat. If you chase it, then it will elude you. If you sit and be still, it comes to you eventually, once it is sure you can be trusted.
So the first Spirit you need to get to know is the Gatekeeper. There are other names for this, but so as not to be overly confusing, we will call this Eshu. Eshu is from the Yoruba pantheon, and every ceremony begins with calling him. He is also always fed first, except when offering blood, in which case one would feed Ogun first since Ogun is the Orisha (deity-force) of all metals. In addition to beginning every ceremony with a call to Eshu, whenever one begins a new project of any kind, Eshu should be called. For example, when one builds a house, one should call upon Eshu to open the door to the success of the building, and ask him that things proceed without any serious injuries and so on. Also, the first item placed in the house or yard should be an Eshu head or some other symbol.
Many view Eshu, Legba, and Exu as the same, but they are not quite. Eshu is not a singular entity, but rather a sort of an amalgamation of entities. It is difficult to articulate this, but one can imagine it similarly to a being who can split itself into many, and each of them form an independent being, but they are still one being who aren’t even exactly of the same function or mind, but are still one. Perspectives of this force vary from culture to culture and sometimes family to family, but most west and central African faiths have some sort of Eshu/Gatekeeper.
Whatever flavor your Eshu is, close adherence will keep you on the path that is right for you. Notice that I did not say “the right path”. This is different for each person. Someone else’s heaven may be your hell, and vise versa. The knowledge posted here only gives you the power of knowledge, and this is neutral. It is up to you to choose how you will use this power.
Though Ancestor veneration is a part of every known African indigenous belief system, how far this goes varies from place to place. Where you will see a big difference between Central African and more northern West African systems is how much attention goes to the more universal deities and how much goes to one’s own and local Ancestors and deities.
For Kindoki and African diaspora Brujeria, it is absolutely imperative that you do as much research as possible on your family tree, the deities and honored departed (Ezina) of where you are from, and of where you currently reside. As a sidenote, this is also important to practitioners of Obeah as well. It is one of the biggest reasons I ever looked into Brujeria: because I lived in the southwest. It was just the respectful thing to do. You just can’t live in the lands John Horse went through and not look into the spirituality of the local Afro-Latinx people. Witches in Florida should also get to know their spiritual history.
Nobody in the entire spirit realm will do for you what your Ancestors will do. If you are fortunate to have come from a very honorable family, you may have a near complete pantheon of your own line. Also, the land that fed you and that feeds you deserves its due respect along with those who lived and died there. If you are an American of European ancestry, this is part of “loving the land as we do…” When you are square with your local deities and spirits, you will find that your magic will become much more effective than you ever dreamed.
More important than knowing all sorts of fancy spells is being on a good account with Nature.
Also important, is the Bakongo cosmogram. It has been adopted as one of the best draw-able symbols for the whole Universe(s). It is not meant to be an exact or accurate representative, but to be a reasonable expression of a concept.
Circles, spirals and crosses are important symbols in medicine and witchcraft. In fact, medicine and witchcraft are a sort of cross. Because this is African practical magick, the bridge between the physical realm and the unseen realm is not a barrier. Physical actions, tools, and medicine go hand in hand with spiritual, psychological, and/or psychospiritual actions, depending on your beliefs. You can be a stone atheist and make African magick work for you because it doesn’t matter why it works, but that it works, and that the reason it works is because you are not denying or blocking any force in the Universe that gets the job done.
The cross, in magick, can represent the center radiating outward and opening so that the needed energy out can channel back to the center. Much of your work, as you advance, will be practicing the generation of symbols that radiate and draw the correct energy.
Another thing to note before we begin is discretion. Most of the information you will receive here is tailored for the solitary practitioner or small group or coven for a reason. Throughout history, these sorts of things have been regarded with suspicion, and there has been a lot of hostility towards witches. Sometimes it’s about blatant religious discrimination, but more often it is simply that humans tend to fear what they do not understand. So I will be covering ways to conceal the true nature of your activities. You decide how “out” you want to be. Just be aware that being known as a practitioner of magic, especially those considered more “dangerous”, can bring bad consequences.
Even if you are already known as a witch or sorcerer, there is no real need for people to know more than this unless you are teaching them. Even clients don’t need to know every detail of how you get things done. Talking too much about a specific working can also dissipate its energy or create a blockage that shouldn’t be there.
Add to the list of concerns that you will have as a witch, the mixing of traditional elements, and the people who disagree with this. Aware African priests of stable cultures and traditions generally don’t have issues with the natural mixture, sharing, and incorporation that goes on in various groups and solitary adherents. There is also the understanding that people of mixed ethnicity and in cosmopolitan areas must give respect to their physical and cultural Ancestors.
There is a right and wrong way to go about this though, which I handle in my article at Orisha Online Altar on cultural appropriation. Basically, be aware that cultures change, shift, and exchange information, but there’s a difference between “organic” sharing and overlap, and stealing. A culture thief takes the convenient bits and pieces or superficial trappings of a culture with no understanding of or respect for their source. Unfortunately, this happens often. One example is when people call Palo Mayombe the dark side of Santeria, or Brujeria the dark side of Curandismo. These people have no understanding or respect for African or Native American cultures.
The inconvenient or destructive aspects of Nature are not evil by default for us. They just are, and one should be comfortable with their existence in order to avoid destruction. One must be aware and not in denial of their “shadow self” in order to know where the lines are, when to cross them, and when not.
Words to Know
From time to time, I will use a Kikongo or derived word on this site. I try to avoid the usual terms because they attract the wrong kind of people. Sometimes though, there is no English or Latin language equivalent that really says the same thing. So here is a list of words and explanations or definitions that may come up.
Bilongo – the ingredients one puts in a nkisi. If it has a ndoki that humans are supposed to communicate with or relate to, the finish of it should be a shiny object or mirror, or its container should have one that is seen either from the outside or when it is opened.
Insua – the right to do something, authority to do things, permission from the Spirits to do something
Kialwa – defined in material terms as “a nest of twigs”, but magically, this is an arrangement/installation of herbs, twigs, and/or other materials set up a certain way for a purpose. Some nkisi begin as kialwa. Kialwa can also mean a mated pair or group. I usually use this term in the case of a poly-fidelity sort of family.
Kimwanda – spiritual or belonging to the spirit, spiritual nature, spirituality.
Kinkoko – an animal guide, alterdimensional who manifests in animal form, animal familiar, or anthropomorphic manifested being
Kipalo – what Congolese people call the diaspora Palo systems.
Konko – a taboo or prohibition with a curse or punishment attached.
Lemba – remove a curse or free from some sorcery.
Madiuka – originally, a man recruited by a sterile or “unenthused” husband to impregnate or amuse his wife, but lately husbands aren’t usually the ones doing the recruiting. I mention this here because there is a term and an African cultural precedent for discreet and consensual affairs. So we have magic for this too.
Menga – blood.
Mpandu – sorcery.
Mpungo – a term that comes from the Kikongo term Mpungu for “the all” or “the (VERY) great”, it is used in the diaspora as an umbrella term for “the Spirits”. In Palo belief systems, it is often a title for deities associated with forces of Nature or functions, similar to Orishas or Lwas. The Bakongo and similar Central African cultures didn’t have one central pantheon. For that matter, the Yoruba and similar cultures didn’t all have the exact same pantheon either. In Central Africa though, it was even more local and family centered, so there isn’t a standard set for all Congo and diaspora systems. So if you join a Palo sect or Bruja family, don’t be hung up on what you’ve read about it. If your group’s pantheon consists mainly of local or well loved adopted Yayas and Tatas, then it’s all good. Remember what I wrote above about Ancestors.
Musali – servant. In some places, this could mean a non initiate or not yet initiated person who is serving a house or temple in preparation. In some places, this is a title for the highest ranking persons in a society, house, or temple. In still others, this is a person of whatever rank or someone who has eschewed or not had the option of joining a group, who is serving their community.
Nganga – a doctor of any kind, of the physical body or mystical science. To be recognized as such, one needs to be initiated and reach a certain level in their “guild”, or have put in sufficient service to others. Kinganga is the science of doctoring of any kind. I will reiterate that this is a word that indicates service, not just knowledge for personal fulfillment. A nganga-nkisi is a specialist in spiritual healing and the sort of sorcery that is beneficial for the community. Though we’ve reclaimed “kindoki” as a positive term in the diaspora, in Africa, the kindoki would be the negative witch, while the nganga-nkisi would be the positive or service oriented witch-doctor. It’s not so cut and dry everywhere, but this is generally so.
Nkisi – a packet or “charm bag” wherein blessed or sacred items are kept to be carried on its own or inserted into a fetish.
Nzambi – a title of the Almighty Unfathomable.
Sibu – the condition of the accursed, a situation caused by a curse.
Simbi – a term for various water-serpent deities or an amalgamated serpent deity called Simbi.
Ziaku – an accursed person, a person who has been cursed, or one who is living under a curse.
Ziola – a special type of massage where someone walks on your back and manipulates your joints to “smooth out your creases”.
Zumbi – good luck or fortune.