Divining the Self

Divining the Self: A Study in Yoruba Myth and Human Consciousness

VELMA E. LOVE
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 144
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v3tt
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  • Book Info
    Divining the Self
    Book Description:

    Divining the Self is a unique form of sensory scholarship that weaves elements of personal narrative, mythic story, history, and interpretive analysis into a vibrant tapestry of meaning that reflects the textured, embodied, and performative nature of scripture and scripturalizing practices. An examination of the Odu, the Yoruba sacred scriptures, along with the accompanying mythology, philosophy, and ritual technology as engaged by African Americans, this is the story of the appropriation of an ancient worldview for survival in modern times. Based on the personal narratives of twenty African American practitioners, along with additional ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Oyotunji Village, South Carolina, and New York City, this work is a study in mythic archetypes, vibratory energies, and human consciousness. Divining the Self takes up the challenge of determining what it means for the scholar of religion to study scripture as both text and performance. Through its exploration of African American engagements with Yoruba scriptures, this work provides an excellent case study for examining the performative aspects of scriptures and the sociocultural phenomenon of scripturalizing practices.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05926-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A NOTE ON THE TEXT
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)

    I was not a stranger to rural South Carolina when I traveled to the town of Sheldon in 1999. I had driven down rough and bumpy dirt roads on sunny days before—winding roads with potholes and gutters, roads lined by trees and underbrush, wildflowers, and weeds. But this road was different, for I was not sure where it would lead. I heard the beat of a drum in the distance, and I saw that the road came to an end just ahead. The hand-lettered sign read, “You are now leaving the United States of America.” As I looked around,...

  6. 1 MYTHIC ORIGINS AND CULTURAL PRACTICES
    (pp. 19-41)

    The ancestral grounds on which the African American babalawo stands are scattered with debris, fragmented bones and broken shells, beads of glass, and beads of stone. But these grounds are not a desolate wasteland, nor a distant island, for they may be found in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city and in the quiet tranquility of the countryside. Memories of the African ancestors saturate this landscape, extending to the other side of the waters where, in a previous life, those ancestors communicated with the divine and consulted the oracle. In the strange land to which they...

  7. 2 ORISHA ARCHETYPES, CULTURAL MEMORY, AND THE ODU
    (pp. 42-52)

    In his discussion of how societies remember, Paul Connerton argues that “images and recollected knowledge of the past are conveyed and sustained by (more or less) ritual performances” and that these are bodily performances.¹ Carl Jung argues for the existence of an inherited collective unconscious through which archetypal forms are given expression.² Arthur Flowers, an African American novelist and poet, speaks of the “tribal soul” as the “consciousness of a people. Its group psyche. Its way…. The soul of a people as shaped and reflected in their culture and their literature.”³ Through the lens of these concepts I examine selected...

  8. 3 DIVINING THE SELF
    (pp. 53-66)

    For the Yoruba religious practitioner, “it is the reading of the self (not the text[s]!) that is important and awe-ful—both illuminating and freeing and disrupting and frightening,” as Vincent Wimbush describes it.¹ In this chapter I examine the concept of self in Yoruba thought and, through selected case studies, demonstrate the importance of the Odu, not as a text, but as a tool for self-assessment and agency. Nearly all of the twenty-one participants in this study named their early experiences with diviners who gave incredibly accurate readings as one of the factors that attracted them to the religion. When...

  9. 4 SYMBOLS AND SIGNPOSTS FOR THE JOURNEY
    (pp. 67-79)

    What do ritual symbols mean? How is such meaning communicated? How do the symbols accomplish social and psychological transformations? In addressing these questions, Edward L. Schieffelin disagrees with the premise that symbols are effective because they somehow make sense of particular problematic cultural or psychological situations and then lead the participant to a new framing of the situation, a premise widely held by the Saussurean school of thought. He argues instead that “symbols are effective less because they communicate meaning … than because … meanings are formulated in a social rather than cognitive space.”¹ As opposed to the Saussurean school,...

  10. 5 POWERS OF THE MOTHERS
    (pp. 80-87)

    The babalawo cast his chain and looked up. “You have a pretty good destiny reading,” he said. “The only thing that could keep it from happening is …” He hesitated, then dropped his voice to a whisper: “the mothers.”¹ Seated on the mat across from him, I, at this precise moment, began the quest for a greater understanding of the Yoruba/Orisha concept of “the mothers” and its expression in contemporary African American culture. I found the mothers—veiled, covered, shrouded in secrecy, wielding an unspeakable power—a terrifying, shape-shifting, signifying, hoodooing, conjuring culture power. The mothers create, destroy, and form...

  11. 6 OSHUN, YEMONJA, AND OYA
    (pp. 88-106)

    In the Yoruba pantheon, the deity Oshun is characterized as the personification of fertility. The wordoshunmeans “source.” In the words of Joseph Murphy and Mei-Mei Sanford, “ṣun is the perpetually renewing source of life, … the appearance of sweet water from dry ground, a mode of hope and agency in new and difficult situations, a way out of no way. ”¹ Her symbols are the beaded comb, the mirror, the peacock, and honey. Her number is five. Her colors are yellow and gold. She owns the odu Oche, under which it is said that all things small become...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 107-116)

    Over the course of this study, I not only examined African American engagements with Yoruba scriptures but also began to situate my work in conversation with questions posed by the Institute for Signifying Scriptures at Claremont Graduate University. I considered the significance of broader orientations to scriptures and the psychosocial and cultural needs addressed through their engagement.¹ In the Yoruba worldview, the oracle—accessed primarily through the divination ritual—serves as a source of guidance on all major life decisions and provides the basis for understanding one’s self in relationship to the world. The Orisha tradition grew in popularity in...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 117-130)
  14. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 131-134)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 135-143)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 144-144)