Ten, Ten The Bible Ten : Obeah in the Bahamas
Dr. Timothy McCartney
This book has taken me three years to research and write and has been not only an exercise in perseverance and discipline (having to research and write in my spare time) but also a learning experience.
Lots of material has been collected, but this book only contains what I consider to be relevant to the subject of obeah. There is so much more that can be done on this subject, especially with regard to para psychological experimentation. The two obeah practitioners that I believe have extra sensory perception should (with their permission, of course) be submitted to strict laboratory conditions and controls.
More information is also needed on the actual life style, historical and anthropological artifacts of Bahamia.
The Bahamas is in desperate need of 'native' authors from every field and these authors' goals should be towards excellence.
I am becoming more and more concerned with the numerous "pamphlets" that are being described as "researched books" and that are being sold to the unsuspecting consumer with erroneous information. Every book written or research paper contain some mistakes, but there are basics that must be adhered to. As I write I am looking at a recent local publication of very commendable obeah stories, but the implication that obeah is voodoo and the text of the short introduction to the book is totally misleading.
To create an obeah bandwagon is not my intention, but I sincerely hope that this basic study will stimulate more research and more knowledge of the subject.
There was the temptation to 'rush' things—to get something published—but not only did my varied life style prevent this, but deep down, I wanted to do something that would act as a departure reference point and something that, I hope, will someday become a 'classic' of Bahamian writings.
A few months after I actually commenced researching this book, I found myself becoming depressed. I examined myself and could not find any obvious (or conscious) reasons. This 'depression' was not the type of positive depression that I experience, for example, when I have many bills to pay and it is difficult to meet them. It was more like a 'fear' a type of unexplained 'heaviness' - a form of negativism and lethargy, which demotivated me, especially from "looking for obeah material" and from writing.
I mentioned my condition to a very good author-friend of mine who was visiting the Bahamas, and he advised me to 'cool out' for awhile and reaffirm whatever philosophical or religious beliefs that I had, because most writers who investigate occultic activity or those that try to 'probe the unknown', experience many difficulties, primarily deep depressive bouts.
This information appears to have been the explanation for my depression because at that time I had recently experienced a meeting with an obeah man that frightened me. I had this feeling that this man had some strange 'powers', and the 'vibrations' indicated danger for me. He wanted to give me the experience of "calling the spirit" and that would have meant going to the cemetery at midnight and participating in the Black Magic ritual prescribed for communicating with the dead. I was thinking very seriously about doing this, purely from an ex-166
perimental point of view and believing that it was all 'hocus pocus' anyhow, but thank God, my good friend Antonnia Canzoneri gave me Dr. Kurt Koch's book on "Christian Counseling and Occultism" to read, and I decided not to get too deeply involved with this particular aspect of obeah practice.
The total approach to this fascinating subject has actually given me three roles that I have tried to fulfill:
(1) As a Psychologist in researching and analyzing material.
In the past decade, however, more writings, research, and practices of those people placed in this 'inferiority niche' have come to the fore. Many analysis of the confusion faced by underprivileged peoples existing in the white-orientated world, have been admirably done.
From my own development, how does an Afro-Bahamian, British-Colonial-orientated, Euro-American trained, middle class individual, approach the problem of obeah, especially since this African practice is imbedded in the very core of my ancestral psyche? From the point of view of black professionals in the behavioural sciences, luminaries like Frantz Fanon and his "Black Skin White Masks” or Grier and Cobbs in their "Black Rage" and the Jamaican genius Rex Nettleford with "Mirror, Mirror", to name just a few, adequately examine this type of dilemma.
I think that at this particular point, I should make some clarification of the term 'black: as I describe myself and other peoples of African descent throughout the world. This term 'black' that offends so many people, especially in the Bahamas, has been coined to take in the ethnic, cultural and total expression of people with African ancestry throughout the world. It is, like nearly everything else over the past twenty years, been projected by the mass media and by black America. Africans are having problems with this term because they are described as Africans, the Caribbean and Latin America, where there are large populations of 'blacks' are experiencing difficulties in terminology, and the American 'blacks' themselves have also now developed terminological differences as to whether black is a good term or perhaps Afrikan spelled with a "K" etc. To my mind, it is more easier for one to place a definite 'name' for the racial identification when any particular place or peoples represent homogeneity; however, it becomes very difficult in highly racially mixed societies, as the Caribbean for example. If we were to ascribe to the 'white', 'cracker', scientifically erroneous theory that 'one drop of nigger blood makes you a nigger', then aren't we, as black people falling into the trap of perhaps not being as objective as the white man and following the same false theories?
In Jamaica, for example, what shall we call an individual (and there are many of them like this) with Chinese, Negro, and Syrian ancestry? Black America would immediately label them as black –so would white American. South Africa would be a bit more lenient—they would be placed in the "Coloured" identification! And where would we place an individual of say, Japanese, Indian and European ancestry?
It appears to me that the whole classification of race in this modern world has many flaws and those individuals where racial nomenclature is a real problem are those that are still minority groups, socio-ecnnomically deprived and, where strict racial discrimination is still rigidly enforced. I believe that racially mixed persons will live their life style and adhere to the customs of their dominant parental identification, although many being caught in the 'middle' so to speak, will experience identification problems. "Black" which is a beautiful term, is still not really accepted by many white s and blacks, primarily because of the white orientated value system that has 'patternized' the black man's thinking, and the inability for many black individuals to 'work out' their own racial feelings of inferiority. I have no intention of continuing with this subject in this book, but cultural heritage does play an important role in a book of this type, especially for the individual who is doing the researching and writing.
With this book, then, both my racial ancestry and my scientific training was invaluable in obtaining information (especially interviewing) and in analyzing the results. It should be obvious to the readers, that I have not tried to prove or disprove the phenomena reported. Nor have I tried to find 'psychological answers' for the unusual manifestations. I have tried to find that medium where the general public and professionals alike can read, enjoy and critically appreciate the material.
From the information that I have, I will be doing research of a more 'scientific' nature based on scientifically orientated methods and hopefully, laboratory conditions. These results will be more psychologically scrutinized, analyzed, and published.
(2) As a Private Citizen and Christian
Putting aside man's physical life—i.e. basic living, man also has a spiritual life—or perhaps I should say, that each one of us live by some code of beliefs or behaviour. Many are moralists—“doing unto other the way they should do" and living a life of "common, logical decency". Others believe that "God" is man's imagination and creation anyhow, and that man does not have to rely on his own creation, but only needs himself—his own intelligence. There is rejection of a spiritual world or an after life, and "when ya dead, ya done". Others just "don't know" and are in a constant search for meaning."
Let's face it folks, we all worship and are motivated by something - whether it's money, sex, status, budha, intellectualism, Allah, or 'watchamacall it'. Many of my friends are somewhat shocked when I tell them that I am a Christian - that I believe in God, and that I have accepted Jesus Christ (What! a Jew?) as my personal Saviour and Master.
"How can an intelligent man like you believe all those myths?" many of them question.
"How can a scientist, with your training accept a doctrine like the "Resurrection" or the "Virgin Birth" for example?
What I find surprising is the tremendous guilt and embarrassment that people exhibit when Christianity is mentioned among "intellectual gatherings". What is even more surprising is when I mention that "I'm doing yoga" or "I'm doing transcendental meditation" - ears,
* Except in Africa where tribal or religious differences cause more problems. South African is the great exception!
eyes and noses 'perk' up because you see, it's something 'exotic', different', and, of course, 'Eastern' philosophy and practices are now the "IN" thing. If I ever mention "SIN", or "Heaven" or "Hell", man, the subject is changed very quickly or they wonder whether my patients ‘craziness' is 'rubbing off' on me.
I must confess that I have gone through religious and philosophical changes. I think that most university students, with the sudden infusion of knowledge go through periods of doubting their own religious and philosophical background. I suppose one needs this exposure and questioning while 'growing' to eventually formulate a philosophy.
My beliefs in Jesus, and being a Christian are very practical, logical, and not based on negativism or fear of hell where "the worm dieth not and the fire is never quenched" as was constantly 'pushed' into my head by many Bretheren preachers. Whatever I am today, and my life style based on integrity and honesty (not only Christian attributes) stems from being guided by the Holy Spirit. Many people try to apologize for their beliefs—happily I don't—being a Christian for me is a beautiful security and the greatest positive and motivating force in my life. Check it out!
How, then, does a Christian go into the question of obeah—with its components of witchcraft, black magic, white magic and other seemingly anti-Christian components?
Many theologians warn Christians about becoming involved with the occult.
Richard De Haan 1 warns Christians not to become "ensnared in the traps of Satan and his followers. Just as the devil enticed Eve with the prospect of gaining desirable knowledge and enviable pleasure by eating the forbidden fruit, so he tempts God's children today to break through the limits the Lord has established. He makes the attractions of the world, even those which violate God's holy law, appear to be desirable and pleasurable. When the believer discovers the emptiness of this world's enchantments, Satan tries to deceive him into accepting false religious teaching or seeking spiritual help through some form of occultism. " Mr. De Haan continues that "an assured and obedient believer will avoid all occultic practices which promise information about the future or 'miraculous' help for pressing problems."
Another view, and this is by a theologian with many years experience, with occultism, Dr. Koch 2 writes "rationalists are therefore unable to differentiate between mental illness and possession for they lack the spiritual antennae needed for this task. Indeed, one must turn to the charismatically gifted Christian counsellor, but let it be said, a psychiatric training is nevertheless of immense value to such a counsellor."
As a Christian then, I was not violating any basic beliefs in investigating obeah. Nor do I subscribe to many so-called Christian attitudes and ideas that African religious beliefs are 'primitive' "heathen" or "displeasing to God". It would be an unjust God, to my mind, to give 'revealed truth' just to Europeans and condemn the majority of the world's population who worship him in different languages and modes.
It was very interesting to discover that the Europeanized syncretisations of obeah—black magic, cutting the cards, reading the palms, etc. were more indicative of "heathen practices" than those indigenous obeah African traditions.
I. De Haan, Richard "Satan, Satanism and Witchcraft"
Zondervan Publishing House 1972. U.S.A. p. 118.
The question of Christianity and obeah was a very important one to me and I have had long discussions with my schoolmate and friend, the intellectual and highly respected Rector of one or our largest Anglican Churches in the Bahamas, Cannon William Thompson. * I asked his opinion on obeah and he wrote the following that not only conforms to my view, but admirably places this whole question in perspective:
"Any up-to-date, objective assessment of the religious situation in the Bahamas of today must take far more seriously than ever before the African side of the religious heritage of the Bahamian people. This approach is in keeping with the contemporary Church's emphasis that "the Good News about Jesus Christ" is addressed to the total man—his past, his present and his future. Obeah represents, in a somewhat distorted and negative way, some of the remnants of the African religious heritage as found in the Bahamas today. It should be pointed out right here that Obeah is in essence a part of a valid religious phenomenon, and should be regarded in this light before any "value judgments" are made about it. Obeah, in origin, belongs to a very sophisticated and successful African attempt to give meaning, purpose and coherence to the African experience of reality. All religious practices, however, are subject to abuse and exploitation, and African religions have been no exception—the Christian and Jewish religions 'have had to "reform" and "renew" themselves from time to time. It is also true that the chances of abuse and exploitation taking place are greater in societies where the particular religion has been outlawed and driven underground, as has been the case of African religions in their New World settings. Hence the above reference to "distortion" and "negation" as regards Obeah in the Bahamas.
This, of course, does not mean that Obeah cleansed of its distorted and negative accretions is equivalent to the "supernatural-affirming" elements in Christianity. It, however, does mean that elements in Obeah are just as important as similar "supernatural-affirming" elements in other religions that have been "Christened": by the Church over the years. People seem to forget that incense, votive lights, sacred meals, facing East to pray, etc., were a part of the "Obeah" of many of the pre-Christian European religions. Genuine Christianity, nevertheless, is not afraid of using the positive elements in any culture's attempt at coming to terms with God, Man and the World, for it knows that "the Spirit of the Lord" continues to fill the whole world, whether it be Africa, America, Asia, or Europe. Bogus politicized one-culture-centered Christianity, on the other hand, will always be afraid of this approach, and will always endeavour to 'quench" the spirit as best it can."
(3) As A Writer
I have never looked at myself as a writer, hence I do not take myself seriously from that point of view, although I consider myself an excellent speaker! (How's that for confidence!). My first book "Neuroses In The Sun" and other articles that I have recently written have been accepted and enjoyed to a point beyond my "wildest dreams". When I'm introduced to people by my good friend, well known author Arthur Hailey and he tells them what an excellent writer I am (and I know Arthur doesn't bull) I am beginning to take my writing more seriously. Not
* St. Agnes Church is situated in the Grants Town area, historically the abode of former slaves and where their descendants still follow obeah practices. Canon Thompson and myself grew Up on the border line of this region, upper "Farm Road."
from the point of view of changing my style or going into novels—at least not yet—but from the point of view of projecting some ideas that I think have merit.
This book is the first time in my experience that I've related stories in dialogue form, and I not only find it enjoyable to do, but also I find that I am more accurate in reliving the experience with an individual as I write in dialogue. It would become more difficult for me if I had to create characters and fit them into different roles, (as the methods that novelist use) but perhaps, as I continue writing, I may attempt to create in this manner and see what happens!
Writing is one of my hobbies and although I have lots of things that I have written (even poetry, yet!) I still seem to write books with a specific psychological orientated nature. I'm enjoying myself, anyhow, so what the hell!
I have talked about Obeah with many people from a cross section of Bahamian life, and their views and attitudes could take up a whole book—something like "Contemporary Bahamian Attitudes on Obeah" or another chapter in this book. I will briefly mention some of the individuals that I've discussed this subject with and also a few letters that I have received from friends commenting on various aspects of this book.
Sir Roland Symonette, the first Premier of the Bahamas, is a colourful
person, highly respected and to my mind a Bahamian National Hero. He is
an excellent story teller and has an inexhaustible supply of jokes. I
spoke with Sir Roland one morning, very early, at his beautiful home:
Sir Roland believes that unusual things happen in the world, and he is not a superstitious person, but for unexplained things that happens, he ascribes some natural phenomenon to it. He also claims that in The Current, Eleuthera, where he was born and grew up, there were no Obeah practitioners.
Mr. David Bethel, a Bahamian attorney definitely believes in Obeah, but not in terms of the views commonly held by many Bahamians. Mr. Bethel believes and accepts that strange things happen and that obeah is part of a "wider belief of the supernatural and a part of mind science." He has experienced himself, some unexplained happenings, but he told me the story of one of his clients from a Family Island. This young lady was arrested and charged with receiving goods that were stolen by her boyfriend and two other friends in a robbery. The evidence was very clear and showed that she took police to the place where part of the "loot" was buried. Mr. Bethel advised this client that in no way could she be cleared from the charge because the evidence was too conclusive. She assured him that she knew what to do, and that she would
consult her obeah * lady to help her. She consulted her lady and received the following instructions and supplies from her.
Because of a disagreement over fees, Mr. Bethel did not appear in Court on behalf of his client, but she made a submission of "no case to answer" as directed by him. The case was tried and all the other defendants were sent to trial in the Supreme Court, and eventually found guilty, except for the lady defendant who consulted the obeah woman, and as Mr. Bethel claimed "didn't have a hope in hell to get free."
A prominent black lawyer friend of mine, who asked me not to mention his name, was also interviewed and related a story that happened to him.
When he divorced his first wife, she threatened that his life would never be the same again because she would 'fix' him.
He soon met another lady, married her and moved into a new home. The first night that they moved in, throughout the whole night, they heard noises on the roof as if small stones were being thrown on the roof. They investigated and found nothing.
The following day, a statute on the front lawn was mysteriously broken and the grass around it was destroyed as if by a fire.
The next night, which was a very calm night, doors were banging, windows were moving as if there was a high wind, and there were sounds of shuffling in the ceiling. At that time, also, they had two visitors from Miami who were also disturbed by all these happenings.
The next morning, the whole lawn was totally destroyed as if by fire. Their guests, politely decided that they had to suddenly return home, and left!
My lawyer friend decided that something strange was happening and took
samples of the soil to be analysed. It was found that some chemical had
been placed in the soil to destroy the grass. In desperation, the lawyer's
new wife went to consult an obeah man. He told her that the ex-wife of
her husband had consulted a very powerful obeah person and in some areas,
was stronger than he. He advised her to:
When she returned home, she told her husband what had happened and to placate her he searched the house. To his amazement, there was a woman's stocking very carefully embedded in the wood of their front door, and around every window there were unexplained holes +
* The client herself had practiced obeah on occasion.
circling them. The stocking was removed and the holes plugged. Shortly afterwards all the bees in the house stopped—there was no more harm to the yard or house and up to this time, no more problems of this sort.
My lawyer friend regards what happened to them as unusual and although his second wife claims that his first wife really carried out her threat, he dismisses all of this as "damn foolishness. "
Sir Etienne Dupuch is a distinguished, 'colourful' Bahamian, who was a former publisher and editor of "The Tribune". He certainly is a controversial figure with wide experience in "things" Bahamian having been a member of the former House of Assembly (now House of Parliament) for many years.
Sir Etienne is a prolific writer and is the author of "Tribune story." He is internationally known, has travelled widely and has been honoured by many countries and organizations. He is at present not living for any long periods of time in The Bahamas, and it is because of this fact, that during the writing of this book, I did not get a chance to interview him.
Sir Etienne's writings, however, give interesting insights into his beliefs and varied experiences. His sense of history and his ability to conceptualize and predict situations, oftimes before they happen (due I'm sure to his exposure and experience) have made people wonder whether he has E.S.P., or is an "Obeah-man" without realizing it!
Here then, are two Tribune editorials written by Sir Etienne Dupuch, Wednesday, the 18th, September 1976 on "Life after death," and Friday, September 20th, 1976 on "The Living and the Dead. ":
Life After Death
"From the beginning of time man has been exploring the question of life after death. We are told in the Bible that there is a great gulf that separates life here from life in the hereafter.
"No one has returned to tell us the story of life after death, if
it really exists, as I firmly believe it does.
"In its issue of June 12th Newsweek magazine published an article by Kenneth L. Woodward in which he produced evidence to suggest that there is consciousness of an after life at the moment of death.
"In this article he reports on experiences of people who have been on the brink of death … and have miraculously returned to life. These people were on the line between the here and the hereafter…and in a moment of physical unconsciousness got a brief glimpse of a new life in which there was supreme peace.
"In all these cases the person was, to all appearances, dead. Hundreds of people have had "out-of-body consciousness—that is, the apparent ability to people who exhibit no respiration, heart beat or brain-wave activity to describe events taking place around them."
While in this state of apparent death these people have contact with another world.
The article quotes from a book by Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr., Ph.D., MD. In Life After Death, Dr. Moody asserts that "the picture of the events of dying which emerges from these
accounts corresponds in a striking way with that painted in very ancient and esoteric writings totally unfamiliar to my subjects."
Mr. Woodward reports that "in particular, Moody finds that the experiences of floating out of body, meeting spiritual companions and encountering a being of light are remarkably analogous to images found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead."
"In one repeated account," the article reports, "the patient feels himself rushing through a long, dark tunnel while noise rings in his ears. Suddenly he finds himself outside his own body, looking down with curious detachment at a medical team's efforts to resuscitate him. He hears what is said, notes what is happening but cannot communicate with anyone. Soon his attention is drawn to other presences in the room—spirits of dead relatives or friends—who communicate with him nonverbally. Gradually he is drawn to a vague 'being of light.' This being invites him to evaluate his life and shows him high-lights of his past in panoramic vision. The patient longs to stay with the being of light but is reluctantly drawn back into the physical body and recovers."
+ + +
"One researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, an internationally respected expert on the psychiatric dimensions of dying, now claims that she has proof that 'there is life after death on the basis of hundreds of such stories.'
"As a result of such experiences, she says, 'many of them resented our desperate attempts to bring them back to life. Death is the feeling of peace and hope. Not one of them has been afraid to die again'."
The story is illustrated with the reproduction of a fifteenth-century woodcut of the soul of a woman leaving her body. The picture shows the woman lying in bed with a Priest and Sister at her side. In the upper comer of the room she is shown as a small spirit in the arms of an angel.
+ + +
"This story…and particularly the picture…interested me because I have had this experience in one of my serious illness.
A remarkable fact is that I have been considered dying five times and yet today at 77 I am in such good health that I have set my target for a century.
I didn't experience the feeling of rushing through a long dark tunnel with noise ringing in my ears. Nor did I find myself in the arms of an angel of light. All I experienced was a sense of being a tiny spirit in the room looking down on myself lying in a bed. I was fully aware of what was happening and I was completely indifferent to the body lying in bed. I wanted to get away from it. It was, as described in the article, a moment of supreme peace. And then my spirit was drawn back into my body and I lived again. The woodcut that illustrated the story could have been an illustration of my experience.
I have never been afraid of death…not even as a child…but
since that experience I know
+ + +
"You know…I shouldn't be here. It is said that if you add up the years of your parents and grand parents lives and divide the total by six you have your life expectancy.
I know nothing about my grandparents on my mother's side. They must have died very young. My mother died when I was ten and there is no record of her parents anywhere. My
grandfather on my father's side died at 36, my grandmother at 60, my mother at 36 and my father at 44. Divide the total by four and my life expectancy is 44. So I'm long overdue.
My first serious illness was on the Sahara desert in Egypt at the age of 18 in the first world war. Many doctors examined me in a hospital in Alexandria. They couldn't figure out what was wrong. I have since decided that I was suffering from desert fatigue. I had given up until one day an English Sister sat on the side of my bed, took one of my hands in hers, and asked me if there were any last messages I wanted to send home.
I took the hint…I pulled myself together and got better. I was never ill again in my three years of service overseas.
My second illness was a strep throat. It worked fast. Wendell Willkie, author of the book One World, the man who ran for the U.S. Presidency on an Independent ticket against F. D. Roosevelt and made a great showing, was stricken in New York at the same time. In a few days he died. The crisis in my case passed quickly and I got better. I said the infection worked fast. In a few days it reduced me to an ashen-coloured skeleton. I was so emaciated that the day I returned to The Tribune the girls in the office were so shocked they cried.
In my other three illness I received Extreme Unction, the final Sacrament of the Catholic Church reserved for the dying.
And so it wasn't a joke. In the last four cases I was saved by a new drug that, in each case, had just come on the market. That is the miracle of modem medicine.
Oh yes, there are things wrong with me now but my doctors keep them under control with new drugs.
Because of these experiences I feel no fear of death. I say that my target is 100. It's fun challenging death. But any time the Old Boy wants to come…I'll gladly go with him.
+ + +
"I have seen many people die. A Christian's death is an inspiration to witness. If ever there .was a Christian my sister Naomi was one.
She was unconscious for a long time before she died. During this period her face was often wreathed in a beatific smile.
There is no doubt about it. She was having visions of the glory land …a reward for which she had worked all her life.
+ + +
"I will tell you a still more remarkable story to indicate that it is possible for a healthy person to communicate with the dead while in a trance.
My mother's older sister, Aunt Mary, periodically fell off into a deep sleep that lasted for 48 hours or more.
During that period she carried on a running conversation with the spirits of dead members of the family who seemed to be moving in and out of the room.
She spoke aloud. It was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation. When she finally woke up she knew nothing of what had taken place, not even as a dream.
After my mother died Aunt Mary's family revealed that they knew the date of her death six months earlier. During one of her trances the spirits in the mom told Aunt Mary that on that date my mother would join them in the spirit world.
And so I am convinced that there is a spirit world …and I believe that it's a wonderful place to be.
+ + +
"You must remember the experience of Abraham Lincoln. One night he dreamt that he walked through the White House. Everything was draped in black and a feeling of gloom pervaded the place.
Finally he reached the great reception room where a coffin was draped in the Stars and Stripes.
"Who is dead?" he asked someone near the coffin.
"The President is dead," was the reply.
Then he woke up. The dream was so realistic that he felt depressed but he threw off the feeling of gloom during the day.
That night he was assassinated in a theatre in Washington."
+ + +
The Living and the Dead
"One of the most important questions in psychic phenomena is the relationship that may exist between the living and the dead. I can also write on this subject because I have had some vivid experiences in this field. I am convinced from my experiences that the dead can help the living and the living can help the dead.
My mother died when I was 10. The night she died seemed like the end of the world to me. We didn't have a great deal of this world's goods but we had a happy home. We all had to work hard to keep The Tribune alive. I started work at five but, despite this fact, while my mother was alive my life seemed as free as a little bird flitting from tree to tree and raising a song of praise to the glory of his Maker.
When this happened my paternal grandmother came to live with us. From that day I had trouble. I have had much happiness in my later life but nothing just like when my mother was alive. My childhood experience was one of complete freedom. My later happy life has been associated with trials and many tribulations.
While my father was alive my mother passed completely out of our lives. He died when I was 15 and my older brother Gilbert headed the family until I was 20. After serving three years in the B.W.I. Regiment overseas in the first world war, I came home to give the family leadership.
It was after my father's death that both my father and mother seemed to realize that we needed their help. They started to visit Gilbert in his dreams.
One night they came to him together. They said they wanted to take a look at the office. They made a tour of the office together. At the end of the tour they seemed satisfied that everything was all right but, just as they were leaving, my father said to Gilbert: "Don't forget, you have something to do at the Registry tomorrow."
That was the last day Gilbert had to turn in a report on my father's affairs to the Registry. He had completely forgotten about it.
Several times after that they came to Gilbert in a dream and pointed a direction for him to follow.
+ + +
"My first experience was with my mother. This was on the Sahara desert in 1916 after I had just turned eighteen.
In the story I wrote two days ago about life after death I told you about a serious illness I had on the desert when the doctors seemed to think I was going to die. My principal doctor was named Dr. Stewart. When I recovered quickly after an English Sister intimated to me how gravely ill I was, he told me that my recovery was a miracle.
+ + +
"It all started one night while I was on Ordnance Guard. Every night a detachment from our regiment was taken from the desert to the outskirts of Alexandria to guard the ordnance in that city. The ordnance was all the Allied equipment stored in the area.
The guard covered a wide area. It was so wide that, when the guard was changed every two hours, it took two full hours to make the change. For this reason a Sergeant and a Corporal took turns at doing the route.
To do this guard we were transported to the edge of the desert where we met a train that took us into the city. This meant that it was impossible to get a relief in case of sickness and it was equally impossible to leave any post unguarded. Nor could anyone do a double shift.
I was taken sick after reaching the guard post. The Sergeant took me to see a doctor. The doctor said I should be in hospital but he pointed out that there was no one to take my place. He asked me if I felt strong enough to stick the night out. I told him I would try.
The Ordnance Guard was a terrible spot. Some of the places were so dark that you couldn't see more than a few feet ahead of you. I have told this story before but it can stand repeating in this particular context today.
One night one of our chaps saw two eyes approaching him through the darkness. No sound. Two eyes. Nothing more. He challenged the approaching object. It continued to come on. He challenged it twice more. It didn't stop. Then he fired and the eyes disappeared. The next morning they found a dead hog lying in the path with a bullet wound between its eyes.
+ + +
"I was very ill that night. Soon after I reached my post I found I couldn't stand up. And so I decided to lie down on the side of the road and fold my rifle in my great-coat. I must have fallen asleep immediately.
The next thing I knew the whole heavens were ablaze with a brilliant light. And I saw my mother, dressed in a great flowing silk robe and smiling radiantly, descending to me. She was as big as the whole heavens. She came . . . took me by my hand and lifted me to my feet . . . she then placed my rifle in my hand in the defence position . . . brushed my coat . . . and disappeared.
At that moment I awoke and all was darkness. I then became aware of tramping feet and saw the glint of bayonets flashing in the dark. It was the relief guard. The guard always marched with fixed bayonets.
I was so confused that I was unable to challenge them properly. The Corporal halted the guard when I seemed to be mumbling incoherently and approached alone. He dressed me down severely for failing to challenge the guard properly and informed me that I would be placed under arrest as soon as we got back on the desert. The next day I went to hospital, a very sick man.
Had I been caught asleep at my post I would have been Court Martialed and shot,
Soon after returning to the desert I was drafted out to France where
I had so many narrow escapes that I felt that someone must be watching
over me. I came through without a scratch. And was never ill again in
the cold northern climate.
+ + +
"When I came back to Nassau and started getting into trouble with The Tribune I had several visits from my father and mother in my dreams that always gave me new heart.
And then I got involved with a girl of whom I knew they would not approve. She had a great fascination for me but she was the type that wouldn't have fitted into their lives.
I decided I was going to marry this girl. On a visit to New York I bought a small diamond engagement ring. One day I fell asleep in my cabin in the S. S. Munargo. I had the ring on the end of my finger and fell asleep admiring it and thinking about this girl.
And then I dreamt. My father and mother came into the cabin. They lifted my hand, looked at the ring and then stared at me coldly for a moment with a look of complete disgust on their faces. They then dropped my hand back on the bed and left the cabin without saying a word.
Needless to say, that marriage never came off. Later events showed that they were right I was wrong.
+ + +
"Many times I was helped in this way through my dreams. When I stopped to think about it I felt it was unfair that my parents should be earth-bound to look after me. And so I prayed about it: Although I had never dreamed about Father Chrysostom, he had done so much for me I included him in my prayers.
I prayed that if there were anything in the lives of my parents and Fr. Chrysostom that tied them to earth I asked that it be transferred to me so that I might redeem the burden in my lifetime. During my prayer I felt a gentle brush on my lips. It was a kiss. My prayer must have been answered because they never came again. I felt glad for them but sorry for myself because there have been times when I have felt the need of their comforting presence.
Despite this fact I continued to feel that there was an invisible influence guarding me throughout my life. On more than one occasion, when my friends felt that I was caught in a hopeless situation, some invisible hand has piloted me back to safe harbour. This has happened so often that my wife and daughter, Mrs. Carron, who have been very near to me in these situations, now feel that nothing can go wrong with us.
When I say nothing can go wrong I don't mean to suggest that we won't have setbacks and troubles. But I feel nothing can go wrong because I can now look back on 77 years of life and I can truthfully say that, in retrospect, my worst experiences have turned out to be the best thing that could have happened at the time it took place.
And so I am convinced that if a man lives in a state of faith, the spirit of the dead can be an instrument through which he is protected from harm and, through the medium of prayer, he can also help release the spirits of the dead from earth-bound concerns."
Reverend Fred Fleischer is a former Roman Catholic priest, but now an Anglican priest. He is American, white, and married to a Bahamian. He is also an analyst having obtained his training at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Father Fred is also an accomplished pianist, and teaches music at St. John's College, among the many other interesting activities that he is involved with. He told me of some interesting experiences that happened to him while living in an old Bahamian mansion that is alleged to be haunted. This house is situated at the end of Bilney Lane—a large two storied mansion - and is at present abandoned. The neighbours attest that strange things happen "in dat house." "Dat house haunted" and "don go dere Doc—you'll get hagged" greeted me as I paid a visit there one afternoon to "case the joint".
When Father Fred moved into the house, he found all the possessions of the deceased sisters, the last inhabitants of the house. He found a jewellery box with a stuffed bird, many rare old books, exquisitely hand made furniture and other memorabilia that should have been preserved for a proper Bahamian Museum.
The description of the house conforms to how Hal Hennesy described it in one of his articles in 1971 -
3. Hennessey, Hal "Builders of the Bahamas". The Nassau Guardian Saturday, July 24,1971. Page 2.
"The old house stood at the head of Bilney Lane in a large overgrown clearing. In the late afternoon it was etched darkly against the sky, bleak and forbidding. "Is there anyone here?" I called, but no answer came so I entered the open doorway. Inside was a scene of chaotic disorder –old, once valuable books and albums were strewn about indiscriminate1y, clothes dating back beyond the 1920's littered the floor, and scraps of yellowed papers and documents were everywhere. It was like opening a well bound history—book to a page unexpectedly tarnished by noisome stains. One bizarre touch: an old style telephone lay buried in a file of debris in one comer. I lifted the receiver. From it came a variety of noises, buzzings and clicks, and an unintelligible ghostly voice. I had the eerie sensation that if I were to pull the cord from the wall, the sounds would not stop. But no, the house was still connected to the world of reality, a bridge between yesterday and now.
"Good bye", I said, and hung up, feeling foolish."
Further on in the article Hal in interviewing one of the descendants of the owner of the house asked:
"Why didn't one of the…rescue some of the more valuable or historical heirlooms?" "You saw that stuff, it's junk', the interviewee replied. Hal retorted. "It happens that one of the things I found in there was the body of a parakeet preserved carefully in a small jewel box. Some one must have loved that little bird a lot to have kept it that way. Someone sentimental?"
However, getting back to Father Fred's story—he rented the house, moved in and did some renovations to make it more comfortable for him. He soon had to go back to complete his studies at the Jung Institute, and a friend, Cecil Dorsett, a member of the Lucayan Chorale, of which Fred is a musical director, moved in to stay in the house while Fred was away and also to set up residence there as it was sufficiently large enough to ensure comfortable and private living.
Father Fred left the Bahamas for Switzerland, and Cecil moved in. The
very first night, shortly after Cecil retired to bed, and fell asleep
he was awakened by violent shaking of his bed.
"What are you doing here?" the man asked Cecil. "No black man has ever lived in this house. You can only stay if they agree to it."
"What do you mean? What are you talking about? I've just moved in and this house is rented by my friend Father Fred Fleischer. What do you mean? Who are 'they'?" Cecil asked, very frightened. "Come with me" the man replied. Cecil was then led by the old man downstairs to hat used to be the Library, but which Fred had converted into a kitchen. He was placed in a chair near to one of the windows, and waited. The old man told him that he could participate in the discussion, but could not vote. While Cecil was waiting he looked out of the window and saw all these old, white, people coming up from the ground * and entering the room through the walls of his room! Cecil thought that he was having a bad dream, and hoped that he would soon wake up!
When all these people had entered the room, a violent discussion began. There were two old ladies that hurled abuse at him, calling him a "nigger" and that he had no "right in this house". Cecil was so frightened that he became speechless and only hoped that the nightmare
* This area of Bilney Lane used to be a cemetery. The
site of the house is situated on the grounds of part of this cemetery.
would end. The old man soon called for the arguments to cease and told them that it was time for the vote and led Cecil back up the stairs to his bed. He went back downstairs and a few minutes later, returned to Cecil and informed him that the votes went against his staying in the house. The old man said, however, that his vote was for him and he could stay in the house. With that statement the old man disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.
By this time Cecil was dripping wet with perspiration and "shaking like a leaf." He got up, quickly dressed, and rushed back home to his parents' house where he stayed until Father Fred returned to the Bahamas, and he moved back to the house with him.
Father Fred had a Haitian gardener, Joseph, who lived in the house and who had similar experiences as Cecil. One night Joseph cried out and when Father Fred and Cecil went to his room, Joseph was struggling with somebody who was trying to choke him. Another night, Joseph invited a friend to stay with him while Fred and Cecil were off the island. While sleeping, they were awakened by blows from a belt. They were being beaten by two old white ladies and a man who told them to "get out of the house."
This is exactly what they did and very quickly. Joseph's friend has never visited him again! One night Father Fred came home around 10:30 p.m. to find that he had no electricity in the house. On checking the neighbourhood, all the other neighbours' houses had lights, and on looking at his fuses, everything was in order. He had an old candelabra and tried several times unsuccessfully to light it. Everytime it caught, it was as if a breeze would come and blow it out, although it was a very 'still' night. Since he couldn't get light, he decided to take a ride in his car. When he was going down Fowler Street, he met a friend and invited him to his house or a drink. Father Fred turned back and headed for the house. As the car reached the gate, his friend let out a terrifying scream and asked him to stop the car. "I'm not going up there—something is wrong with that house!" "Why?" asked Father Fred. "I don't know, but I get a funny feeling. Something is wrong up there. I'm not going there."
Father Fred took his friend back and shortly returned to his home. He found another candle and every time he tried to light it, the candle would be extinguished by some wind. Another thing that was bizarre was the action of his cat who almost went 'berserk'—running around and mewing wildly. The lights suddenly came on. He looked at his watch and it was midnight. Next day Father Fred heard that one of the relatives of the owners of the house had died that night. He was hovering between life and death from about 10: 15 p.m., when the lights were off and died at midnight, when the lights suddenly came on again!
Mrs. Phyllis White is an American friend who used to live in the Bahamas and also lived in the Philippines for two years. She has a Master's degree in education and used to work as a special education teacher at the Boys Industrial School. My wife and I spent five glorious days with Phyllis, her husband Joe and their daughter in Terhan, Iran in 1973 and while there I told her about this book.
In 1974 1 received the following letter from Phyllis (with photographs) telling me about psychic healing in the Philippines. While this may not have any direct connection with Obeah, it demonstrates an aspect of psychic power for healing methods in a similar manner of gaining some unexplained "power" resource that the Obeah person can also 'tap':
July 18, 1974
"Dear Tim & Pauline,
I can waste no time in niceties at the beginning of this letter, after I tell you the most mind blowing experience I had yesterday. Timmie, you must come here ! Its essential in your research.
"Have you ever heard of "spirit healers." Unlike faith healers who rely on your faith to heal you, these people claim close attunement with "God"; but the Asian concept of God! This God, gives them the power. No! they are the instruments through whom "God" uses his "power?" "forces?" to heal people. Now the mind buster! Yesterday I went with four friends to a "spirit healer." Jesus what I saw exploded my mind. There is no way you will believe what I have to write but here goes. One of my girl friends here—a very black girl from N.Y. (who incidentally heard about these healers the day I did) submitted herself for an OPERATION—She laid on the table—The Rev. Father Marcos Orbito wearing a white jacket—walked up to the table, unzipped her slacks and pushed them down (the pubic hairs were not exposed). He rubbed her abdomen with an oil of some kind, took some plain white cotton, wet it in water from a basin on the table and proceeded to "knead his fingers" on her abdomen below the navel ever so gently but firmly. Before my very eyes, I was standing next to the table just as a woman would position herself at the sink to wash dishes—yes, that close, with, I might add, my camera and flash unit in "Go" position. Before my very eyes, his hands, first tips then knuckles, then more of his 10 fingers were "INSIDE HER BODY!" He began to pull out clots of blood (I thought—"Jesus Christ" it looks like menstrual clots"). He continued kneading into the cavity he had "created with his hands," and then he started pulling out a seven inch tube of tissue (just what a thin umbilical cord would look like) I, during all of this time was standing over her taking pictures as fast as I could. The "surgeon" even told me as he held open the cavity "here, take a picture of this." Now! My friend was lying there, very frightened, nothing to kill any pain was administered, nothing! I saw inside her abdomen, and she felt only a tingling vibration, not heat, not cold, not warmth. The most discomfort she felt was maybe that he was pulling out the pubic hairs on her abdomen.
"I must confess. It was at this point I began to feel very upset—like a part of my brain had flown away from my head. I shoved my camera at Michael who took us there, and I went outside stumbled in a daze—utterly shocked therefore I cannot say what it (her abdomen) looked like when he was in the actual process of taking his hands "out of her stomach." One of the others described it as "he started to remove his hands still kneading as when he went in, and by the time he had his hands completely out, her stomach (abdomen) was just as it was when he started. He wiped the remainder of the clots, oil and water from the cotton off her stomach, I came back as she was sitting up—I saw her sitting up and turning around to look at the basin the "healer" was pointing out. She was in a state of shock at what she saw in the basin, she had a look (mouth open, eyes not comprehending, words trying to find her tongue). She was in no discomfort or pain at all. She said she was a little weak as she stepped down from the table. She is sure she was weak (only from shock) at what she saw in the basin. She is a registered nurse with a Masters and points toward a Ph.D.
"You know how a woman puts her hands in yeast dough. They just disappear in the dough. The dough "accepts" the probing fingers. When the fingers pull out of the dough, it closes in on the space invaded by the fingers. It was the very same. Her abdomen "accepted" his hands.
But unlike the yeast dough which shows clear lines or punctured marks, her skin was un-marked.
“The healer I saw, has been investigated by Physicians, Institutions (Swiss, German etc.) including the American CIA and is said to be genuine.
“I am going again tomorrow. This time more prepared for that I’ll see. More ready to photograph. My hand is too tired to go into detail about how he has been investigated. He (the Rev. Orbito) claims to be guided by the “energy force” to that part of the body which is ill and through “magnetic healing” he automatically corrects what is sick.” He says he can not heal a body sick through bacteria or infections (colds, flu, etc.) but cancer, leukemia, arthritis, rheumatism, clots, nerves, growths, “he” can reach in and heal.” He asked my friend how long she had been having trouble with her periods; because the cloths came out of her uterus and the tissue he took out was from “out of her tube.” Don’t ask me any questions. I only saw it. I didn’t understand it. In about two or three weeks I’m going to photograph operations in a small province about four hours from Manila. There is a woman who is supposed to be fantastic at this stuff.
Another man is said to hold his hand above the area to be operated on, and moves his finger in a line in the air. The skin directly under it opens, as if an incision were made via scalpels. Bare handed surgery is what I saw. I will send you pictures and literature. I think you can't afford to ignore this aspect of the "unexplained" in your next book.
Got to dash. We love you both. Most affectionately. Phyllis."
Another comment on this type of "healing" was made in an article in Time" Magazine, March 4, 1974.
"The most irresponsible and odious niche in the world of the paranormal is occupied by the psychic healers, who cannot operate legally in the US. but lure unfortunate Americans overseas with claims of spectacular cures. Diagnosing illness and locating diseased organs by purely psychic means, they perform operations by plunging their hands through what appear to be deep incisions to grasp and remove sickly tissue. In the Philippines, currently the center for psychic surgery, a number of conjurers use sleight of hand and buckets of blood and animal parts to work their wonders. Surrounded by adherents who have been "cured," the ill-educated and often filthy surgeons perform "operations" - slashes of the epidermis, knives in the eye cavity, fingers in the abdomen - sometimes painlessly and always with great flourish.
"As one witness to such "surgery" describes it: "The healer pulled some tissue from the area of the 'operation'…I literally grabbed the 'cancerous tissue' from Tony's hand…I wanted to have valid medical tests performed on it. The tests, conducted in Seattle, showed that the tissue was 'consistent with origin from a small animal…there is no evidence in any of this tissue to suggest that this represents metastatic carcinoma from the breast of the patient.' "
Tom Valentine, author of a book on perhaps the best known of the psychic surgeons, Tony Agpaoa, documents the experience of a Mrs. Raymond Steinberg of Two Rivers, Wis. Tony "made a major production" of removing a piece of metal and several screws that had been surgically placed in her hip after an automobile accident. X rays later showed that Agpaoa had removed nothing. "
Dr. Brian Humblestone is a Consultant Psychiatrist. He is an Englishman, has lived in the Bahamas for about twelve years and is married to a Bahamian. We work together at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre and have had long discussions on the subject of obeah. Dr. Humblestone has had many patients who have been "fixed" and has appreciated the many cultural implications involved. He had, two years ago, a very strange experience in Haiti involving a Voodoo ceremony that he attended, but of which I am not permitted to relate.
We have scientific meetings at Sandilands and after one of these meetings when I presented a paper on "Obeah In the Bahamas," he commented that he believed that a paranormal world does exist and that with more experimentation and honest research, may one day be able to explain scientifically many of the unexplained phenomena existing today.
"After all", Dr. Humblestone continued, "it was difficult to conceive of the idea that a small transistor radio could receive messages from all parts of the world. Man, with his brains, has created that transistor, so it is not unusual for man to receive messages from other men or sources and from far away places. Thus, telepathy is not an unusual thing."
Mrs. Angela Barney, my daughter, is a graduate of the College of St. Benedict and the University of Miami, and a Guidance Counsellor with the Bahamas Ministry of Education. "Do you believe in obeah Angela?" I asked as I was actually completing this book.
"Why?" I prodded.
"Well, I've had certain experiences one right after the other, that I thought strange – it wasn't until recently that I found out that someone had gone to an obeah woman to have me fixed. "
"But you're a young, educated woman - do you really believe in obeah or do you have any explanation for obeah?"
"Not really, but I suppose that if one believes in something strong enough, perhaps it will happen." She refused to discuss it further!
The overall findings with regard to this obeah question appear to be the following:
These native healers perform as valid a service as the trained professional. In effect, many of these "healers" are more effective than professionals, because not only do they share their clients' culture, communicate in language that they understand, but they live up to their clients' expectations.
Torrey 3 an American Psychiatrist very intelligently comments: "one has no right to impose its concepts of causation or system of classification upon another. The only exception is when there are relevant data that are scientifically proven (as opposed to being just empirically validated) and could be helpful to the other culture. An example of this would be the scientifically proven relationship between the metabolic abnormality of the disease phenyl ketonuria and subsequent mental retardation in the child. It is known that a certain kind of diet, if begun early enough in the child's life will minimize or obviate the mental retardation. Western cultures have an obligation to share this kind of data with other cultures and encourage them to use it. It does not by contrast, have the obligation to impose the concept that sexual deviancy is caused by a traumatic childhood experience. Such a concept may be true, may be false, or may be culture-bound, but in any case rests upon data which is on exactly the same scientific plane as the idea that sexual deviancy is caused by a lost soul or a broken taboo."
3.Torrey, E. Fuller "The Mind Game. Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists." Bantam Books Publications. 1973. New York. P. 164.