Ten, Ten The Bible Ten : Obeah in the Bahamas
Dr. Timothy McCartney
"TEN, TEN THE BIBLE TEN -—
From time immemorial, man has been interested in magic,
the supernatural or the occult. For example, in ancient times, the Babylonians
had their astrologers, the Egyptians their magicians and the Assyrians,
their Dream Manuals, to name a few.
There are individuals, like Jeane Dixon, who are known for their prophetic abilities, and Sybil Leek, and many others who claim to be witches. There has been a tremendous rise in Satan worship, and many young people and intellectuals are interested in mystic philosophies and Eastern religions. Many universities and scientists are studying Witchcraft. Psychic Phenomena, Parapsychology and E.S.P.
Coupled with this rise in the occult, is a rise in drug abuse, especially in young people, and experts attest that never in the history of the world has it seen such drug-taking. Many "sects" or "cults" depend heavily on drugs, especially the hallucinogenic (or mind expanding) types.
In Los Angeles, California, for example, it has been admitted by Satanic cult members that the blood of animals is put into cauldrons, mixed with L.S.D. and then used as a drink, during their ceremonies.
It is not unusual for drugs to be used in ceremonies, especially
by religious leaders, because in many ancient civilizations, "Wise
Men," "Priests" or "Witch Doctors" depended on
drugs to reveal truth to them, or to place them in a psycho-physiological
condition, which made "truth" (so they believed!) more clearly
defined. For example, Mandrake (Mandiagora officinarum) was used as a
"truth" drug by the Chinese. Perhaps it was this drug that inspired
the well-known comic strip "Mandrake the Magician"?! Robert
Heizer reported that a "poisonous mushroom," the "crimson
fly agaric, Amanita muscaria," is eaten by the Karnchadal, Chukchi,
and Koryak tribes of Northeastern Asia, in order to induce narcosis. The
"Teonanacatl," another poisonous mushroom, has been used by
the Aztecs and other tribes of Southern Mexico. Some tribes in Southern
Mexico still use Teonanacatl as a narcotic in oracular divination and
1. HEIZER, Robert F. "Mixtum Compositum: the use of Narcotic Mushrooms by Primitive Peoples". Ciba Symposia 5: 1713-1716, 1944.
full-view, frontal nude pictures are displayed in respectable, widely-selling
magazines, like "Playboy," "Playgirl," "Oui,"
"Lui," "Penthouse," "Mayfair," etc.
Robert Anderson, in his book "Witchcraft and Sex" discusses
the relationship of witches and societies sexual standards. He wrote that
"the witch hunters of the Renaissance and Reformation disdained sex.
Likewise, the extensive contemporary literature on witchcraft, was written,
not by people accused of being witches, but by their persecutors. As a
result, literature reveals more about the Witch Hunters than about the
thoughts and feelings of those who were
Anton LaVey, the High Priest of the First Church of Satan in San Francisco, was reported as saying "the Satanic Age started in 1966. That's when God was proclaimed dead; the Sexual Freedom League came into prominence, and the hippies developed as a free sexual culture." LaVey, in his own book "The Satanic Rituals" claims that "we are experiencing one of those unique periods in history when the villain consistently becomes heroic. The cult of the anti-hero has exalted the rebel and the malefactor. Because man does little in moderation, selective acceptance of new and revolutionary themes is non-existent. Consequently, all is chaos, and anything goes, however irrational, that is against established policy. Causes are dime a dozen. Rebellion for rebellion's sake often takes precedent over genuine need for change. The opposite has become desirable, hence this becomes the Age of Satan."' 3
Arthur Lyons in his book "The Second Coming: Satanism in America," is convinced that "Satanism is not only present in Europe, but in the United States as well. In fact, the United States probably harbours the fastest growing and most highly organized body of Satanists in the world."4
Life Magazine claims that "there are five hundred witches in Manhattan (New York," italics mine [sic]) alone'? 5
It is also reported that there are many thousands of people in Germany who believe in witches. In France, 60,000 occultists are taking in over $200,000,000 a year; and the Bishop of
Exeter claims that "more Britons are turning towards black magic as their interests in traditional religion declines." 6
Richard W. DeHaan, the well-known teacher of the Radio Bible Class,
writes: —"an unexpected and amazing development of this enlightened
age is the resurgence of interest in Satan and an increase in occultic
activity. A few years ago most people assumed that the Devil was dead
in the same manner that some theologians recently have affirmed the death
of God. It is now becoming increasingly apparent that these reports were
premature. Satan is very much
The rise in Satanism and Witchcraft has also been blamed for several recent famous crimes. The infamous Tate - La Bianca murders were blamed on Charles Manson and his followers. One of the murdered women was Sharon Tate, the wife of the producer of "Rosemary's Baby,'' a popular. motion picture about Satanism. Manson and his followers lived in a commune-like style, leaning heavily on drugs and mysticism. After Manson's conviction for these murders, five members of his "family," girls with their heads shaved to prove their loyalty to Manson, led a pilgrimage through Hollywood, California, on their knees, in witness to the Second coming of Manson. 8
A very strong blow was "struck" for the supernatural when the
prominent theologian and scholar, Bishop James A. Pike, wrote a book "The
Other Side." Before Pike's book was published, one of his sons committed
suicide and, in his grief, the Bishop turned to Spiritualism. At his residence
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bishop Pike observed strange phenomena, which
led him to think that his son was communicating with him. Unfortunately,
under mysterious circumstances, Bishop Pike's body was found dead, in
the desert area
The Caribbean, and more particularly the Bahamas, are also caught up with this increase and practice of the occult. All over this area local practices are being projected, and "cults" and "rites" are staging a come back, unequalled in the history of the Caribbean. In the Caribbean, we have our own particular "thing." The island of Haiti has long been famous s for "Voodoo" and many books and scientific papers have been written by anthropologists, musicians, sociologists, etc., on this religion. The English-speaking Caribbean, however, has it's Obeah. Since returning to my native Bahamas in 1967, I have been in intimate contact with individuals who have been "fixed" (or hexed) and as a result are suffering from physical and mental pain. My interest in Obeah has led me to many an Obeah Man and Woman—going either as a patient or as a friend, interviewing and observing. I thought at first that I was seeing more people with "obeah problems," either because of my particular interest or because the word had
6. LINDSEY, Hal "Satan is alive and well on planet
earth". Zondervan Publishing&use. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972.
gotten around that I was interested in this phenomenon. I even got to the stage that every patient that I saw was asked the standard questions as well as "Have you ever consulted an Obeah Man (or Woman)"; "Have you ever been fixed," or "Do you think that you are fixed (or that someone has obeahed you?"). Imagine my amazement when nearly half of my patients answered in the affirmative to at least one of the above questions!!!
It would appear to me, and also to my colleagues, both in the Bahamas
and in other parts of the Caribbean, that Obeah is definitely staging
a come back. "The Bahamian Review" recently carried an article
"Obeah on the Rise in the Bahamas," which recorded a few mysterious
incidents reported to them. The article went on to say that "Obeah
thrives not only among the lower brackets of the Bahamian society; during
the past six years, it has crept up among the "upper crusts"
and infiltrated the ranks of supposedly "good Christians." Recently
there was a
The Caribbean was recently shocked at Prime Minister Forbes Burnham's
proposal to legalize Obeah in Guyana. "Burnham's logic in proposing
that Obeah be legalized was simply that Obeah is a part of the culture
of the West Indian peoples just as much as the Christian rites, or in
the case of Guyana and Trinidad, the Hindu rites. He told a meeting of
his People's National Congress Party that the outlawing of Obeah was an
attempt to "caponize us culturally" and there was no reason
for the independent Commonwealth Caribbean nations to perpetuate this
degrading attitude toward their own culture. Both worship and mysteries
are part of peoples' lives, but it is made an offence to practise those
things which come from our ancestors." 10
Kirton reported that Burnham explained that existing laws against murder,
fraud and other criminal offences would prevent Obeah from being used
in unacceptable ways. The opposition party, The People's Progressive Party,
which is Communist-orientated, reacted with horror to Burnham's proposal.
"In a century when science has made so many advances, when man has
already walked on the moon, to go back to an age of superstition and denial
Throughout the Caribbean many opinions were expressed, viz.: In Barbados, the Daily Advocate carried an editorial "There might be some cause for amusement in people taking bush baths; mumbling certain rituals at cross-roads, and what have you. But if at any stage these practices can lead to the endangering of the lives of other people as did happen to the child who was killed in the Salt Pond murder, we can well appreciate that beyond a point, Obeah is not something with which we should trifle. Furthermore, we would hate to believe that we are so desperate for a cultural identity that we would encourage people to literally turn to the devil in our frantic search." 12
Dr. Alan John Knight, Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies, also commented on Burnham's proposal. "It seems to me that it is possible there may be something worthwhile preserving in Obeah, and possibly even something that is good. I say this because during my 10
9. The Bahamian Review. vol. 15, No. 1-2, Pgs. 47, 48.
years in West Africa when I was able to make a close study of similar institutions, I was convinced that they operated more often for good."
On the island of Dominica, where Obeah has probably remained strongest, and where a number of recent police raids were conducted against alleged Obeah houses, a government Minister said there was no chance the local government would follow Burnham's lead. A Catholic Priest on Dominica, Rev. Edward Alexander, agreed with his Government. "There is no doubt in my mind that it detracts from the faith in God, and that it creates fear in the minds of people." l3
One must remember that the Caribbean islands are a potpourri of .races, colours and creeds, unequalled elsewhere in the world. "Buccaneers, planters, sailors, beachcombers, Colonial administrators and civil servants from Europe, slaves from the Congo and Gold Coast, contract labourers from Asia and Malaya, traders from South America and the Levant, all these and many more came and went leaving their imprints behind." 14
Wherever the European as a Colonial power has entered into permanent
social relationships with black people, and where Chinese, Hindu, Latin
American, Aboriginal Indian, Malay, Arab and North American have all come
together because of some reason or another, as is in the Caribbean, each
one carries the traditions, beliefs, languages and folk-lore of their
Mother countries. The very large African forced immigration in these islands
has surely given the whole area a legacy of African practices, and out
of the plethora of infiltrated European and
This book is about Obeah in the Bahamas, with all its beliefs, practices,
superstitions and taboos. No doubt, the majority of Bahamian Obeah practices
are similar to those of the other Caribbean islands and especially similar
to African practices, where Obeah originated. I have tried to be as comparative
as possible and am inclined to believe that there is so much more material
to discover that perhaps another book —Volume II — may be
produced on the whole
The title of this book —"Ten, Ten, the Bible Ten"—may be uniquely Bahamian and was in fact chosen for this distinction. This statement is often used by Bahamians as protection from "sperrids" (ghosts, spirits - good or evil). The number ten (10) is a significant numeral in the Bahamas; it's meaning is primarily a forbidden number to "sperrids," but also a magic number for success or protection. For example, "Ten" has been used as a rallying departure for success of the present Government of the Bahamas—the Progressive Liberal Party (P.L.P). They first came into power on January 10,1967; increased their majority on April 10, 1968; in preparation for the last General Election, dissolved the House on August 10, 1972, and the Bahamas became an Independent Nation on July 10, 1973.
The English word ten (10) really implies the Roman numeral ten—X —which is shaped like a cross. (In fact, St. Peter was crucified on this type of cross). It is significant that flags shaped like the Roman numeral ten, painted red on a black background is the Obeah flag. This flag is flown or placed either at a house where Obeah is practised (as is found especially in Jamaica), and in the Bahamas is found in front of houses or on property. This type flag signifies protection, either from "sperrids" or living beings. Where there is no flag, the numeral "Ten" spoken is supposed to ward off the "sperrids" (or ghosts) in a fashion that could be compared to the "showing of the cross" to ward off a "vampire". Many Bahamians protect themselves or their homes by printing "X" on the windows, doors, or any other place where they believe spirits can enter. Individuals repeat "Ten, Ten, the Bible Ten" usually when passing cemeteries (especially at nights), but it can also be used for protection against being "hagged" by a "sperrid" any time. For example, suppose a person is sleeping and suddenly awakens, believing that a "sperrid" is in the house—he can usually "feel" this, because his "hair raises" (or stands on end) and his skin "feels funny" one tends to lose one's voice and finds it difficult to cry out - these factors are all indications that a ghost is present)— immediately the person would quickly repeat "Ten, Ten the Bible Ten!" This would then provide the necessary protection from the "sperrid". The Roman numeral ten (X) and the use of the "Bible" in this statement, no doubt, are remnants of the Judeo-Christian religious inheritance of Bahamians, coupled with the many African beliefs and superstitions, which were originally part of African religious practice.
All these factors, then, have created a rich Bahamian "lore" in the beliefs and practice of Obeah.
Although no book has been written about Obeah in the Bahamas, there are many scientific papers, poems, and some books which briefly mention Obeah, primarily to explain the meaning. There are literally thousands of books, both technical and fictional, that have been written on some form of the occult.
The phenomenon of Voodoo in the Caribbean (particularly Haiti) has been researched and extensively published. "Voodoos and Obeahs" by Joseph Williams, published in 1932, is a good departure point on Obeah practices in Jamaica, but Orlando Patterson's book "The Sociology of Slavery," gives the best, up-to-date overall view of Obeah in my opinion.
Anyone who presumes to write a book on such a well-known topic such as the occult, must now try'to take a different approach and prove how his book differs from all the other books published on this subject.
I was somewhat frustrated in finding written material in the Bahamas about the people of the Bahamas. On the other hand, Obeah—although widely known and practised in the Caribbean—still has no complete book written about it, especially by a "native" author. Most books were biased and misrepresented and written largely by Europeans.
The Bahamas especially suffers from a dearth of local books, thus a lot
of the information contained in this book has been obtained from interviews
and theories put forth by people who have done some research on the subject
in the Bahamas.
It is not difficult to understand why and how, under the system of slavery and Colonialism, African practices and customs were discouraged.
This book is not a history of the Bahamas, but attempts have been made to look further into the lifestyle and beliefs of our ancestors. It is hoped, then, that the book makes a positive contribution to the culture of the Bahamas, especially since at this time of new Independence the understanding of our people is of utmost importance.
I do not want to be regarded as an expert on the occult, particularly Obeah, nor do I want readers to become "Do it yourself" Obeah Men or Women, as a result of reading certain practices that have been recorded at length in some of the chapters.
The majority of this book is based on objective research and, therefore, I have not tried (I hope) to "titillate" or "thrill." I must confess, however, that the Chapter on "Conclusions" does contain some of my own ideas, based on my strong Christian philosophy and my Anglo-Saxon socio-educational development.
It is sincerely hoped that the book will have international appeal, and contribute to the better understanding of man and his beliefs.