“Obiya is about your soul set aflame in spiritual congruence and in this way the Obeahman is the maker of his or her own ontology made possible by manipulation of the transmutative matter inherited in the cosmic matrix. In this way the Obeahman is reminiscent of the modern Chaos magician but instead of sensitivity with social paradigms he or she holds sensitivity with the shifting arches of creation.”—Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Obeah (37)
I keep opening the book to this passage and it begins to dawn on me that the distinction Frisvold is making here sits atop a rich vein of wisdom. The distinction between Obeahman and Chaos magician sits well with my own distinction between witch and wizard (obeah and chaos magic each being instances of the patterns). That in turn sits atop the engine of signification, of metonymy (esp. synecdoche) and metaphor. All of which lies cradled in the human way of being in this world and of using the world to see into others.
Which gets us back to the posts of sorrow and illusion. The mysteries of language and magic, language and mourning, of fetish and funeral, of idol and memory. I surely don’t have it all neat and settled. Well, the whole point is that it can’t be entirely settled, though I am sure I could have it more settled.
Anyway. Keep in mind that these distinctions manifest together, so that we are never talking about pure types, but mixtures. Every practice is a sort of gate, and must work both posts to realize a door.
When we talk about what occurs at the level of language, of signification, or making meaning, we are talking about a particularly rich node in a fractal tapestry that encompasses much of what we are. Sorrow and synecdoche, on the one hand, and illusion and metaphor, on the other, each have correlates with an ethos. These ethea relate to the witch and wizard ethea, but in many ways precede them, just as the human precedes the witch and wizard.
The ethos of sorrow rests firmly in a relationship to contingency while that of illusion rests firmly in a relationship to arbitrariness. These are words that overlap somewhat, so they need to be gently prised apart for this discussion. ‘Contingency’ here relates to the dimension of what happened, in the sense of that with which we must deal. ‘Arbitrariness’ here describes that which has happened but for which there is no good reason for it having happened and this absence of reason opens the way toward contesting it or providing alternatives to it.
Also, in contingency we have the way in which words have been used, but in arbitrariness a sense that the meaning is not directly related to the words themselves. I.e., a sense that the system of language is arbitrary in any specific connection of meaning and value to a specific word.
Sorrow and contingency speak in the past tense, but illusion and arbitrariness speak in the conditional perfect. It is the conditional perfect would have that opens the way toward could have and should have, which reorients the present, too, into a space of opportunities that can be missed or misused. But what makes possible the conditional perfect is the past that happened.
Though an orientation toward that past has a cruel bite that we would do well to moderate with hope, illusion’s perfected aspect.
Frisvold talks about the obeahman as working with Papa Bones, and the concrete reality of the bones contain the force of the past tense. Which is to suggest that a key difference between witchcraft and wizardry as I am using the terms lies in a precise relationship to the bone. Where is the bone? How close is the corpse?
How strange that in an era when more people are dieing than ever before, we are more distant than ever before from the corpse.