By Joi Johnson
If I had the words to describe African Traditional Religion (ATR), I would say that it’s the most peaceful religious system that aligns you with God, nature, and most importantly, yourself. Within this religious system, there is one Almighty God, and a host of Orisha, who walk with us and protect us daily.
Growing up in a Caribbean/African-American household, I was exposed to many religious ideologies. My mother and grandmother, both native to this country were Baptist and on third Sunday’s, Pentecostal. My father, on the other hand, is a native of Dominica where Catholicism prevails. My siblings and I celebrated all religions we were exposed to, and we were given the option to choose which one was best for us.
In my early teenage years, I started to observe that my father burned a lot of candles. The kinds that you see in the ‘International’ aisle at the market. Then my mother befriended a woman who referred to herself as an, ‘Iya’. This woman always wore African garb, which in my household was already a staple. But what wasn’t a staple was the way in which she prayed. Her melodic tone, coupled with words I had never heard, all intrigued me and piqued my interest. At the age of 14, I wanted to know everything about ATR.
As my wealth of knowledge grew, I began to feel a tug that I could not explain. It was more than being curious, rather, like my spirit wanted to quench itself. I found myself at the doorstep of a well know Babalawo (high priest) of the Yoruban faith path. This young tambourine beating, microphone screaming, dancing down the aisle Baptist (except for Pentecostal third Sunday) girl, was stepping into a new faith journey.
There are many things I love about my religion. First, the direct connection to Africa. Growing up, we were always taught our history, beginning with our role in the establishment of civilization. Understanding the connection we should have to the continent was second nature. Secondly, my religion forces self-reflection, which is the key to growth within the religion and in life. Finally, the sense of community which is an additional way to grow interpersonally. Engaging with black and brown people, across all walks of life, is essential to the healing of our community.
Although I started this walk many years ago, I am just beginning the work to become a full initiate. This work requires time, more time, and additional time! My current spiritual parents say, “this is a daily work,” and indeed it has been. Interestingly enough, I am married to a Baptist Reverand. Somewhere inside, that little Baptist/Pentecostal girl still exists. But ATR makes me face my reflection daily and determine how I am a beacon of love, light, and positivity. You can run from many things, but you will never outrun God or yourself.