Initiation into the world of spirit: Operationalising the spiritual (Part II)

Pathisa Nyathi, Feature

WHAT ought to be apparent at this stage is the fact that spiritual endowment is given at the time of conception. This is true of both the positive and negative aspects of spirituality. The latter relates in particular to so-called witchcraft while the former pertains to traditional healing, in the narrower sense.

The terminologies that we are applying here are far from adequate as they are based on our limited conceptualisation of the phenomenon that we prefer to call Ancient African Science (AAS). While the science and applicable principles are same, some overlapping elements and commonalties distinctively characterise the two aspects.

Witches and wizards are also gifted in medical practice. Similarly, the traditional doctors possess the power to ply aspects of witchcraft; otherwise, they would not be in a position to counter it.

Traditional doctor

However, for the purposes of this article, emphasis is on initiation with particular reference to why it is undertaken and the processes that are gone through. Spiritual endowment serves a purpose when developed and transformed from a mere potential to a functioning profession. Here we shall pin down a few of the roles that spirituality plays.

The methodologies that are used during initiation ought to be in line with the nature of the spiritual phenomenon as perceived by a given community.

Good health is what humans everywhere seek all times. If that were attainable, they would seek eternal life. Those who are endowed spiritual gifts are able to divine what went wrong and the agency behind it. This is divination at the centre of which is spiritual power.

Divination is not an end in itself, but a means towards the end. Equipped with the knowledge of what has gone wrong and what caused it, the traditional doctor comes up with a solution, which seeks to restore the lost equilibrium.

This is healing but sometimes embraces restorative measures that result in rectification of a situation that went wrong.

Men and women of spirit, be they in the African traditional field or the Christian sphere, the syncretic churches in particular, possess the gifts to divine (diagnose), heal and prophesy. Within the Christian denominations, these gifts give them currency and allure as they attend to the rectification of the spiritual and physical conditions of men.

Christian denomination- Image taken from Shutterstock

Inevitably, the African gifts of the spirits are shared in common albeit with some differences that deviate from typically African manifestations which are sometimes denigrated.

Initiation is important for the maturity of one who is spiritually endowed. The nature of methodologies that are applied is determined by the interplay and interaction between the spiritual and material aspects. Both the body and spirit are attended to during initiation.

Both spirit and the material body that hosts it must be fortified. This is an important consideration during initiation. The person tasked with the process of initiation is one who has gone through the mill before. It is one who is now biologically, and spiritually mature.

The work of one who is spiritual faces deadly threats from purveyors of the opposite profession. A traditional doctor operates from a position of mortal fear of witches and the reverse is true. There is thus need to fortify the individual from his/her nemeses.

The one who is not fortified, strengthened and protected is vulnerable to the spiritual machinations and shenanigans of those that he/she is fighting against. Initiation thus makes sure those possessing the know-how protect the bodily individual and the spirit.

This involves performance of various rituals that seek to protect both the spirit and the material body that hosts it.
Spiritual power can be either diminished or enhanced. Rituals are important in enhancing the spiritual content to a level where operational functionality is guaranteed.

Once again, rituals are performed to effect the required changes that transform mere potential to functionality. One ritual known as ukutshwama is conducted to achieve that goal. Through these rituals, spiritual power is enhanced to operate at a higher level of proficiency.

Here we must point out that we are limited to what initiates within the African traditional field put into practice. Initiation among witches is secretive and, in any case, takes place under cover of darkness with the participants in the nude. The average person who is not initiated into their profession is not privy to the goings on within the nocturnal profession.

Every profession has its laid down ethical rules. During initiation, these are taught to those that seek to become members of the profession. This is more the case with the secretive and exclusive club of witches. The participants know pretty well they are engaging in activities that cause illness, inflict ill health, lack of progress and general social malaise.


The nature of their work should thus remain within the vindictive hearts of members.

This is precisely the reason why biological and spiritual maturity must be attained. There have been instances when young initiates have revealed what they and their parents in the field of bewitching engage in. There was an instance, which this writer experienced, where an initiate indicated that she and her mentor used to ride a hyena.

She was of course not expected to divulge the secrets of the profession she is maturing into.

My father used to narrate his experiences when he visited his relatives in Gwanda. One night while he was asleep, a small boy sneaked into the room where he was sleeping. Poor little boy had not bargained for my father’s prowess in countering the machinations of witches and wizards.

No sooner had the little boy entered the room where my father was, than the boy encountered a vice-grip in the form of my father’s hand clutching his arm.

“Who are you, and what is your name?” asked my father. The little boy tried without success to extricate self from my father’s steely hand-grip. The boy had little choice but to reveal his name. After a long while, he was released upon which he faced the wrath of a grandmother who was on standby outside the room. The angry mentor shouted, “I told you never to divulge your name. You dull little brute!” That was part of the initiation, the keeping of secrets of the trade.

The spiritual profession has certain taboos that must be observed in order to maintain spiritual purity. It is believed there are conditions that have a defiling effect. Such conditions have the net result of diminishing spiritual content that translates to reduced efficacy. Similarly, from time to time the participants must be subjected to rituals that enhance their spiritual endowment. If these are not performed, there is tendency for spiritual power to peter off.

Spirituality is linked to the calendars, or cycles of cosmic bodies. Both the traditional doctors and witches alike have their work tied to these cycles. For example, the traditional doctors do not ply their trade during the days when the moon is “dead,” that is when the moon is not visible in the sky. Both healing and bewitching rely on the cosmic cycles with their related repetitions.

Both trades rely on the “herb and verb,” the poetic chants that are an integral component in a ritual formula.

Associated taboos should be introduced to initiates. There are food taboos that must be observed. This is true for both professions. The thinking is that there are conditions that perforate, as it were, the spiritual bubble of proficiency.

One common condition that is observed relates to sexual indulgence. Sex is regarded as abominable and defiling. It should thus raise some suspicion when some spiritual persons engage in sexual escapades purportedly to drive out some perceived demons.

I hope that we are in a position to deal with the question of schisms within some churches, those that acknowledge the leadership of spiritual individuals.

As pointed out earlier, there are churches that do not claim to be spiritual.

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