The Christian and Jewish scriptures record the amazing tale of three wooden rods that turned into snakes in the royal court of an African King. According to the tale found in the Biblical book of Exodus, the Jewish ancestor Moses appeared before the African king of Egypt with an ultimatum. The King of Egypt could choose between releasing his involuntary Jewish workforce (slaves) or watch his kingdom crumble right before his eyes.
The king of Egypt weighed the options and decided on option two. It was at this juncture that Moses decided to roll up his sleeves and revealed the first trick he had concealed there. Moses took the shepherd staff he was carrying and cast it to the ground in true David Copperfield style and viola, his rod turned into a snake. Not to be outdone and to show Moses that they were in the same league, two African Obeah men cast their staffs to the ground, muttered the magic word, and their staffs also turned into snakes.
The faithful down through the ages have been careful to point out that Brother Moses was not an African Obeah man. He might have walked like a duck and quacked like a duck but he was no duck. Moses was merely tapping into the mighty power of the Jewish deity Jehovah. The African obeah men on the other were certifiably satanic and demonically controlled heathens that were dabbling with familiar spirits.
It is simply hilarious the lengths to which followers of faith based traditions will go to justify the outrageous features of their own tradition while lampooning equally outrageous features in the faith traditions of others. Christians laugh at the Muslim story of Prophet Muhammad ascending to heaven on a horse while preaching with a very straight face about Elijah going up to heaven in a fiery chariot.
The golden plate story of Joseph Smith is a cause for great glee and mirth among the faithful but stories about angels appearing to Jews and Arabs are treated as incontestable facts that should never be doubted far less questioned. When Africans religious functionaries take people to swear before shrines this is labeled as Voodoo and Obeah but when Jews in the Old Testament took women into the Jewish shrine to take the adultery test this was considered to be the works of the Lord.
Africans pouring libations are spooky but Jews pouring strong drink, oil, and blood unto their deity is quite kosher and non-threatening. Zombie reanimations among Voodoo practitioners are devilish and demonic but resurrections among Jews and Christians are great miracles. In one of these great reanimation stories recorded in the Old Testament the Jewish prophet Elisha covered the body of a child with his own body, eyes to eyes, mouth to mouth, and hands to hands. When this did not work the prophet went back a second time covered the child again and sneezed seven times on the child, If Christians were to witness an African spiritual practitioners do the same thing it is not hard to guess what conclusion the Christians would arrive at.
Christians, more so that Jews and Muslims, believe in speaking in tongues. Among some fundamentalist sects speaking in tongues is considered to be the ultimate sign of being full of the spirit. It may come as a shock to the faithful to hear that speaking in tongues is nothing new to practitioners of African spirituality. Of course, in the world view of Christians, the tongue phenomenon among Africans is evidence of the devil at work.
The same thing holds for spirit possession. In many African spiritual traditions there is the practice of being possessed by spirit. Anyone who has witnessed an Orisha or Voodoo spirit possessing ceremony would know that celebrants at the ceremonies are often prostrated by the spiritual visitations. Once again Christians refer to this spirit contact as the work of the Devil while giving the very same phenomena among themselves the green light and the thumbs up.
Africans like Christians and Jews believe in seeking counsel from the Creator before embarking on important ventures. Africans have an intricate system of divination that is designed to discover the mind of the Creator. To the Christian, the African system of divination is pure evil. Ironically the Jews also had the Urim and the Thummin that were used to discover the mind of their deity. Naturally, Christians have no problem with Jews using the Urim and the Thummin.
When it all comes down to the wire, the identity of the supernatural power at work will be determined by the prejudices of the ones doing the judging. The Abrahamic faiths are adamant that any supernatural power that does not fall under the ambit of Jehovah, Jesus or Allah is illegitimate and an expression of evil. African and other spiritual traditions that are more open-minded allow for the power of the Creator to be manifested as the Creator chooses. As such therefore the manifestation of the supernatural in traditional African spirituality could be as authentically divine as anything witnessed in the Abrahamic traditions.
Lenrod Nzulu Baraka is the founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual teaching Center and the author of Oreos, Coconuts, and Negropeans: Rediscovering Our African Identity.