Of Water and Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

Of Water and Spirit is an autobiographical work by Malidoma Patrice Somé, published in 1995. As an infant and young boy in the 1950s in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Somé absorbed knowledge from his shaman grandfather. This relationship and his tribal way of life were destroyed when, at age four, he was kidnapped by a French Jesuit missionary and raised and brutally abused in a seminary. He thankfully escaped at age 20. Returning home to his Dagara village, he was viewed by some as too tainted by white knowledge to be able to join fully in tribal life; nevertheless, he underwent an intensive and dangerous six-week shamanic initiation during which he reports that he journeyed to the underworld, became a bird, then a porcupine and was buried alive. Soon after, his destiny as revealed in divination and decreed by tribal elders was announced: he had to return to the white world to receive more “white man education” so he could honor his sacred role as a bridge to save his tribe from complete inculturation. A self-described “man of two worlds,” Somé holds a doctoral degree in political science from the Sorbonne and one in literature from Brandeis University. This vivid autobiography takes us into a world of magic, palpable spirits, walking dead people, force fields and transdimensional journeys. Somé’s life and the wisdom he imparts are clear reminders that modernity has undeniably severed us from our spiritual roots.

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