The occult is a universe of magical agencies and mediums beyond what is represented by the social and cognitive spheres of classification and normative discourse. The word occult literally stands for “hidden”. It refers to a philosophical and spiritual tradition in African society, a tradition that has protected and conveyed hidden knowledge and information as regards human potential, humankind’s relationship to the spiritual realm, and the theory and practice of magic. In many parts of Africa, gaining knowledge of the occult is not perceived as utterly negative, but as a central source of acquiring power. The occult has been a type of science; those who have utilized it have exercised almost indefinite power over those who have not. The society has been influenced to believe that gods, spirits magic and natural forces are triggered by humans to influence, assist or hurt other humans. The occult culture in Africa dates as far back as the origin of slavery itself and has spread across the South, North, East, and West of the Africa continent In reality, occult is not a religion since only few individuals gain the membership to such groups, as the doctrine is secret and enforced by an oath (Kiernan, 2006). This paper will discuss about occultism in African culture, its origin, effects, what to fix, and how to develop tradition itself as it is.
Occult belief has been widely incorporated in the African traditional religion. From Nigeria to other African countries, the occult culture is a tradition to be reckoned with that, has impacted the lives of many people. For instance, in West Africa, a number of policemen who had been stationed at the roads had attached a piece of red cloth in their guns as a result of believing that some robbers cannot die after being shot, that is to say, they were believed to have a supernatural resistance to gunshots. This practice has emerged from the widespread notion that occultism can cause armed robbers to have “bullet-proof” bodies (Obiwulu, n.d.).
According to Martin, Rische, & Gorden (2008), occultism law began in the early sixteenth century when various African cultures were scattered throughout the New World by slave trade. Their religious practices were influenced by the new environment and the strange languages spoken in the land of their exile. Each tribe borrowed liberally from the customs, the ideas, and the religious beliefs of its adopted lands. When the European and Western slave traders entered in Africa and loaded their ships with slaves; families, tribes, and cultures were completely transformed. This was the beginning of occultism culture as the slave trade gave in to the influence of West African religion. Several countries that were affected by the ruthless slave trade included West African nations such as Angola, Ghana, Senegal, among others. For instance, the West African people held on to their Yoruba culture (dating 500 B.C) and practiced Voodoo, power of the occult to control every phase of human life. As a result of the slave trade, Africans begun to adopt the occult belief by incorporating elements of European magic and Native American tradition in their culture.
Occult powers in Africa comprise of divination, sorcery, owning extra ordinary power, witchcraft, using jujus (gods and goddesses), controlling various spirits, ability to predict the future, among others. Underlying the occultism belief is a philosophy which identifies the ability of humans to control nature and the gods, and thus to transform or build their own destinies. Traditionally, Africans practiced occult by using supernatural powers to transform an individual into an animal, awaken the spirit of a corpse, cause and prevent road accidents, possess extraordinary powers of curing, clairvoyance, and bilocation, and diagnose and heal diseases by throwing pins which were believed to be liable for the ailment, among others (Obiwulu, n.d.). In contemporary history, there have been different examples from countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire, the Benin Republic, and Togo, of occult systems saturating the public realm over a wide range of issues such as preventing threats and asserting political loyalty. Across Central and Western Africa, occult culture has been valued through practicing obeah, a belief in animism, magic, and gods (Martin, Rische, & Gorden, 2008).
Occult belief system has significant impact on modern power relations, politics, and economic development in Africa. Occultism has affected the economic growth in Africa by causing problems such as poverty and war. To exemplify, the costs utilized to buy occult products and to engage in occult ceremonies, may surpass the annual mean income of a business man/woman. Occultism has affected the daily lives of Africans by shaping their behaviors as well as their individual, social, and political life. It has been reported to cause misfortune, illness, bad luck and death. For instance, families that suspect that occultism could be the cause of the injured party’s illness and death have consulted occultists to counter the strong hold of evil and destruction, and this has proved to be a costly process. In order to fight off diseases such as AIDS, it may be compulsory for them to pay for an extensive course of treatment. Normally, this has proved to be costly and fatal on the victims’ side. Previously in South Africa, a rampant belief in occult compelled individuals to believe that sexual intercourse with a virgin was the solution to eradicating H.I.V./AIDS. As a result of this false belief, several individuals were infected with the virus and others died. The South African government had to take drastic measures in order to stop this notion (Obiwulu, n.d.).
Abiwulu (n.d.) argues that witchcraft cannot influence the economic growth of Africa. He exemplifies by asserting that witchcraft cannot positively influence the stock market or increase employment rate through motivating political leaders to recruit more people. Additionally, due to the effect of high unemployment rate, world recession, and high poverty rate, Africans have resorted to selling drugs and other low quality materials to become wealthier quickly due to their belief in the occult power. On the contrary, they end up becoming poorer as a result of their trust in occultism. In order to change Africans view towards occultism, they should be taught on the difference between the natural powers and the exaggerated, mystified powers emerging from occultism. Employing philosophy and anthropology in various institutions will be a major step towards stopping the false doctrine spread by occultism. Although, occult practices such as witchcraft and juju have been legally passed in countries such as Nigeria, the law should serve the well-being of citizens by refuting occult practices which tend to cause more harm than good for instance witchcraft-related killings. Ensuring equal human rights is crucial in defending the value and dignity of African science and African law in the face of occultism. While traditional authorities work towards disciplining sources of occultism, the government should render self-justice and reinstate public order (Obiwulu, n.d.).
A large extent of African occultism has changed drastically since the independence of various African countries. From Africans perceptions, science has failed to resolve the problems of the world; hence, occultism has been driven in modern culture and has been intensified in the fertile environment of postmodern society. Currently, many Africans read popular paperback publications pertaining to Western occultism. Occult literature has been advertised and accumulated in local book-stores. Various African countries utilize occultism to bring good health, fortune, contentment, and love into their confidential lives or business affairs. They have capitalized on occult beliefs, mainly in the use of fortune-telling in creating psychic enterprises. Occultism has also taken a modern form by entailing astrology and horoscopes. Additionally, occultism has been resurgent in politics, culture, and religion as a means of dealing with modernity, or more particularly, globalization. It is organized today in ways that reflect contemporary life, hence; it is regarded, ironically, as both premodern or traditional and modern. There are presently many varieties of occult influence that leaders operate and use, to attain an aura of power. For instance, modern politics in Cameroon has employed sorcery at the heart of both political journey and state development in the contemporary period. In the rural and context contexts, African leaders have utilized occult power to achieve and uphold political power (Geschiere & Roitman, 1997).
The occultism culture has proved to be a significant component of livelihood strategies and daily social practices in Africa. Modernity, colonialism, post-colonialism, and postmodernism have completely changed certain African practices. The existence of occultism has termed Africa as premodern or backward and acknowledged Africa and Africans as unable of changing and adapting to modern Western practices, incorporating capitalism, democracy, among others (Moore & Sanders, 2001). The practice of occultism has drawn a great deal of research interest, particularly from anthropologists and generated considerable views from most Western popular audiences. Occultism, in reality, has been considered by Africans to be an integral part of African culture as it expresses the worldview of many people in Africa today. However, Africans should only incorporate the good and acceptable traditional practices and eliminate the rest. Ethical perspectives should be taken into consideration when analyzing the occult practices. This can be realized by utilizing anthropology and philosophy to critically explore occult powers and address various questions. For instance, all persons including politicians, academicians, among others should be convinced to believe that occultism cannot tackle socio-political and socio-economic problems. On the other hand, occultism should not be eradicated, but should be domesticated and used to the advantage of the African society.