It is practically a Caribbean tradition of hearing Obeah being practiced by a neighbor on someone you know. However, it is a taboo subject and the actual Obeah rituals are rarely discussed except between practitioners. Few know how Obeah works. Even less know where the power of Obeah comes from. This will reveal some of that mystery, as well as the African and ancestral spiritual forces behind it.
There are four independent spirits that influence what spell an Obeah man may choose, as well as a fifth category of ancestral spirits. The spirits are Ogun, Sakpata, Mama Wata, Eshu and the final set of ancestral spirits belonging to an Obeah man. The Obeah man learns his art by tradition, but hones it with specific help of his or her ancestral spirits. The deities of Obeah, the spirits, may also be seen from an allegorical or Jungian point of view. On an allegorical level these spirits each represent strength, destruction, creation, the opening of spiritual power and tradition respectively.
In most spells the first matter to decide upon is the role of Ogun, the spirit of strength and war. It would be incorrect to rely upon Ogun in a matter of love, where a nurturing spirit like Mama Wata should have dominance. Ogun may still take a small role, but would not be a dominant force. If we do not want an especially powerful ritual or an excessive force the ritual with Ogun must be proportionate and mild. Alternately, the result can be overpowering, unpredictable or unstable.
Sakpata is a spirit that alludes to destruction, specifically pestilence. Should a curse be in order Sakpata may take a major role in the ritual. Again, with a love spell Sakpata would be less relevant. There are some exceptions as well. Sakpata, having some dominance over agricultural affairs, is also a spirit important in finances. For example, a spell for money may involve Sakpata and Eshu, or other spirits.
Eshu should be mentioned before going further. As the spiritual gatekeeper in Obeah, the conduit to the spiritual world, Eshu is invoked in all rituals. Eshu may also be the single force behind many, as he is said to have dominion over magic and spiritual power. It is Eshu that gives visions and psychic abilities. Eshu is often related to Papa Legba, in Vodou, or Saint Lazarus in a spiritual Catholic interpretation.
Therefore we cannot tell much simply by knowing if Eshu is involved. Eshu can be involved in curses with Sakpata, or even in healing spells with the very same spirit, again, Sakpata. This is one reason that Obeah has been less codified and more unexposed than other Afro-Caribbean religious traditions. The ambiguity of many rituals has made it obscure to discern meanings by the uninitiated.
If Eshu represents the link to the spiritual world, our actual ability to cast a spell, then it is the ancestral spirits of Obeah that make each individual unique. Obeah, technically, is a form of shamanism although less commonly associated with the term. This is because it relies on the contact of spirits; both unrelated to and ancestors of the practitioner. This is one reason, although being a primarily African tradition, modern Obeah has incorporated Western-European occult traditions. The mix began in Jamaica as early as the 1940s, with L. W. de Laurence’s tracts and publications.
The Obeah man must deal with many factors to choose the correct spell. It is required to know which spirits to work with and the primary principle behind Obeah is the spiritual forces driving it. Like a spiritual painting it must be designed with proper balance. This is the only way to ensure both the safety and accuracy of the ritual.
Safety is of paramount consideration to the Obeah man. The reasons is because, when dealing with spirits, the danger lies upon the direct practitioner. It has traditionally been common in the Caribbean for many people to visit an Obeah man, but only few actually practice. Obeah will return on the person attempting the ritual. It would not do anything to the person using an Obeah doctor’s services as they did not partake in the ritual themselves. This provides one level of safety for the client, but a level of danger for the practitioner. Therefore, safety is always of concern for the Obeah man. He must respect the spirits and act according to their will in order to ensure the safety of the spell.
Reliability is the final staple of why a spell is selected or discarded. The ritual simply must work. Few expect for a spell to change their life overnight. But it must work with consistency and quickly. Those who practice Obeah experiment and ultimately stick with the best and most functional spells. This is why Obeah is both powerful and practical. It has been able to discard less functional spells and integrate new practices to speed results. Obeah gets a reputation that it deserves for having effective rituals.
Balance of spiritual forces, a concern for safety and reliability are the cornerstones of selecting or creating an appropriate Obeah ritual. A fault in any of these may make a ritual dangerous to perform or not work. However, Obeah is a growing tradition with more individuals learning and practicing as knowledge spreads. This will make experimentation with Obeah more common, but the spells will stay consistently strong – even if changing – because we use those that simply function.