[NB] The Ghosts that Haunt Me

I have been dipping in and out of the Friedson’s exceptional Remains of Ritual. The book is a delightful fusion of philosophy, ethnography, and musicology. More than that, Friedson takes seriously the world of gorovodu, reporting seriously spiritual and magical experiences, neither sensationalizing them nor downplaying them. While the book focuses on Ghana, Friedson’s work clear applications to the Americas and the dynamics that shape religious life there parallel (with differences, of course) those in the Americas.

Offered, without commentary, for those who might see such parallels:

“The problem with being found by a Mami Wata god is having to figure out how to take care of her. She may be demanding, but serve her well and she can bring good fortune. Fail to understand her needs , however, and it can lead to fatal consequences…. The liquid nature of water is part of the liquid nature of Mami Wata gods in all their various forms, for they always come individuated. There is no one Mami Wata, but she is always a multiplicity of effect.” (127–28)

This one offered with commentary:

“Although Kunde is specifically aligned with Ade, they are not isomorphic. Many sofowo have an Ade shrine at their compound, separate from Kunde—easily identified by the many animal skulls around the entrance—that is handed down from father to son. In contrast to Brekete ritual and ceremonial, which is open to a congregation of adherents, Ade ritual is usually a private family affair. Much of the ritual…has to do with appeasing the souls of the animals that have been killed by ancestral hunters. Kunde, on the other hand, is a hunter…in the moral sense of a hunter of wrongdoers…” (29)

Folks close to the Yoruba diaspora may note the striking parallel between Ade/Kunde and Ode/Ochosi; Ade’s linguistic proximity to Ode suggests a common structure repeated across a geographic remove.

That’s not what motivates me to post that here; no, what caught my eye is the connection to the animal dead and the debt negotiated through the rituals of Ade. Ade bears within his cultus an era, not too far removed, when the Ewe hunters fed their families but always risked invoking the ire of the spirits who cared for the wilds. It’s hard to imagine this cultus excerpted from that concrete reality, and it’s a reality animated by the disruptions preserved within the deadlands, within the ghosts that circulate within our lives.

I can’t help but wonder how often ghost stories make their way into poems and songs, how often we stumble across a dramatis personae who is dead, who is describing the fashion of their death. These songs are potent and memorable, and I wonder how some of that memorability may derive from how well they give ghosts a time in which they can gather.

I don’t necessarily mean ghosts to be ancestors. In fact, I rarely do. Ghosts seem to be more leftover than person while the ancestor tends to be closer to the angels than the person. And one of the best ways we can purify ourselves of these excesses is not to banish them, but to complete them, to crown their dissolution with a clarifying countermovement, with a poem or a song into which they can pour themselves, be energized, and finally dissolved.

Ade as the dissolution of the animal ghosts, of the return of their snapping and recoiling into a pure vitality to be consumed, while the pure souls of the chosen animal dead gather their own toward heaven. To know a cult is sometimes to know the ghosts they gather and release.

Funny, how one of the three always seems to carry the air of West Africa with him.

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