African Traditional Spells
I remember cooking in large iron cauldrons over a hot fire under the hot sun and needing to jump in the river to cool off. I remember people feeding me bannock dripping with honey and my fingers bloody from eating a rare cow heart cooked over the flames, the women shouting “Paulinaaa!” Words fell out of my mouth and sang a song of henbane; its history, folklore, magical uses, medicinal uses, how to grow it, what to harvest, and preparations for the pleasure of the herb alone. I remember the witches dancing wildly around a bonfire and casting a powerful curse of protection as the sun set and the world grew dark. As the hour grew late, I remember wearing my floor length red dress and putting on red lipstick, my long dark hair curled from the heat and humidity. "I remember a man sharing the good whiskey with me possibly because of these facts. I remember the hem of my dress dragging across the dirt path as I led the midnight procession of endless people dressed in white into the pitch black of the forest". I led them with no lantern, just my night-seeing eyes and my voice singing a chant of cleansing (strong like the ocean/gentle like rain/river wash my tears away/aphrodite). There was a clearing with four stangs in each corner adorned with skulls and antlers, their feet covered in offerings. It was a place full of genius loci and magical potency, but I spent most of my time on a forest path sitting at the door of the sacred mound of gnome home, offering smoke as well as blood via mosquitoes to the nisse.
Some people ask me how I do the treatments that I do. I tell them that I have skills that are not easily explained, which I developed by myself. After a treatment, it is our task to ensure the sickness doesn’t return and pain doesn’t return. So we have to dispose of the pain in our special way. Ngangkari know how to do this. We have special ability in our hands. Our work is to mould the shape of the body so that it can accommodate the spirit properly. In that way, people are well. I ask people afterwards, “Are you feeling better now?” and they tell me, “Yes, I am feeling great!” Ngangkari touch people. We touch, and that is our art and our skill. In the past, many children became ngangkari at a very early age. Children who took an interest in the healing arts often asked to be given power and to receive training. Often this training took place, as it did for me, at a distance from camp. The ngangkari would light fires at a separate camp and they would wait for the spirits to bring them special powerful tools. During the night, when they were all asleep, all the ngangkari people’s spirit bodies would start to rise up from their sleeping bodies and soar upwards. Now you know how people fly around in aeroplanes and drive around in cars? Well, for Anangu [people of the Western Desert], and for ngangkari, when they are asleep at night, their spirits move around in a similar kind of way. The ngangkaris’ spirit bodies begin to fly around and to visit the sleeping spirits of other people to make sure all is well.