I won’t bother overmuch with a review of the book here (it is good, it is short, it is worth the read for the interested)–this is, though one of his briefest, very much in the mold of books like Frisvold’s Exu and Palo Mayombe. He provides the reader with an outline of the history behind Obeah, the broad strokes of the scholarly ideas about it, and then dives wholely into the practice as he encountered it, amplifying that with his understanding of other, related, spiritual traditions. It’s good stuff and I appreciate how he uses comparisons with other practices–lightly so as not to drown out the distinctiveness of Obeah itself.
There are several things that caught my attention and I just want to make a note of them. I’m not sure if there is anywhere to go with them, but this leaves them ready-to-hand.
(1) The emphasis on spiritual potency in Obeah, over and above any specific ritual system. That puts me in mind of the Yeatsian system of the lunar souls–the earliest phases of spirit are inchoate and vital, acquiring systematic coherence only through progression. There is something there about the nature of spirit vs. the mode of its manifestation that seems important.
(2) The use of story in which narrative takes a backseat to the orchestration of potencies. There is probably a long discussion to be had about the dissolution of storied potency into novel narrative, but really Walter has already written it. Maybe I’ll bother to summarize him sometime. Isn’t it startling to realize that in spite of the noisy postmodern talk in the 80s and 90s that we are still living firmly in the world that Benjamin died from? Empires never-ending, except when they finally do.
(3) Moses forms a gentle through line in some of my work, so I perked up my ears at the mention of Moses as the ideal Obeah man. It puts me in mind of two things. First, there is Zora Neale Hurston’s work around Moses. With her in mind, Frisvold’s account of potency over system well-describes Hurston’s experience of hoodoo initiations in and around New Orleans, suggesting that the tendency to dismiss her accounts as fictionalized are off-the-mark. (It almost always irks me when I hear someone dismiss her accounts.That rant is another time, though.)
Second, it puts me in mind of Ibn al’Arabi’s discussion of Moses possessing the potencies of the Egyptians that God slew. That sits well with with Obeah’s necromantic potencies. Interesting how these sorts of things appear and reappear over a spirit’s historical lifetime.