This is Unedited version of the interview published in Nika supplement, May 2013.
Interview: Eva Debevec
Dr. Malidoma Patrice Somé is an African writer, teacher and speaker born in Burkina Faso in 1956. He came to the West with the purpose to convey ancient wisdom and practices that have been supporting his people for many years. He is best known by his book “Of Water and Spirit” which offers an incredible behind-the-scenes look at his journey in quest to merge western culture and ancient wisdom. He is a charismatic person who has helped many people to find the way out of crisis or encouraged them on their own path.
On your website you say that you offer wisdom of the African ancestors so that Westerns might find the deep healing they seek. You do this with writing books, lecturing, rituals or workshops, divinations,…What would you emphasize?
I would emphasize every one of them given the varying nature of circumstances that come with different audiences and different times. I began in the early 1990s with books to get the word out about the power of African spirituality and wisdom. At the time I knew that Westerners contact with such wisdom is through books and other types of writings. Over twenty-five years later this continues to be true. My books have been translated into nearly 6 different languages including Slovenian and have consistently been printed and reprinted in the United States for an ever increasing number of readers and various schools and institutions in need of them.
Similarly these writings have opened up the demands for lectures, rituals, workshops and divinations. In fact the written word has served as a vehicle to all of the above. Everywhere I go, I meet people who come to my events because they have read my books and need more. It goes without saying that my books have introduced me to Westerners. But the deep healing they seek has been possible through the direct encounter with them.
You offer divinations in Slovenia and all over the world. Can you describe the purpose of divination and its procedure?
Divinations is the indigenous African ways of counseling and providing guidance to Westerners in search for a deeper understanding of their spiritual selves, their gifts and purpose in the world they live. People who seek divination mostly want to gain clarity on things that they are privately aware of, things they see and would like to make sense out of, but have no one to talk to about it because the culture has dismissed them as not real. They are afraid of being told that they are crazy because they see things. But these realities that sometimes frighten them are usually messages from their ancestors, or their spirit guides that they should pay attention to for their own good.
In order to help them better understand what is going on so that they know what to do, I ask each one to randomly move my divination tools. These tools are essentially cowry shells, stones and bones mixed together. The way they spread them across the divination cloth provides clues about what they are going through as well as what they should consider doing with their lives. When they spread the shells, they inscribe in them the blueprints of their situations. I then translate these blueprints back to them including the ritual prescriptions they need to conduct for themselves to make their lives better. The whole process takes about 45 minutes to complete.
So, on the basis of the blueprint in the shell you can see where the individual needs help…
Yes. As alluded to earlier the basis upon which I can see the individual needs in divination is through the blueprints they leave on the shell. It is like writing something that someone else can read because you cannot read, but you can write. So I ask them to write their lives for me so I can read it back to them. Everyone carries an energy signature that can be hidden behind appearances but not in touch. So, once they touch the shell, what is hidden begins to shine through. In fact, it shows that human cognitive capacities are quite broad. This is an epistemological phenomenon beyond the grasp of Cartesian mind. The logic of divination is beyond the cognitive field of this world. It is spiritual and energetic in essence. Whether we know it consciously or not humans are cosmological beings caught in a journey that is both linear and non linear. The root of divination follows the latter. It is similar to the ancient Greek Oracle of Delphi in which information is transmitted to the world through a medium. In ancient Greek, it was Tiresias. The African equivalent of Tiresias is the diviner.
Can you describe the purpose and procedure of a ritual?
Rituals in general are the means by which we engage the other world. The purpose of ritual is to heal ourselves, repair and sustain the world we live in and restore the vitality in it. Furthermore, ritual allows us to join with the spirit in order to do just this. It acknowledges that there are certain things in this world that cannot be dealt with just mechanically. Every crisis or dysfunction associated with living in this world can be addressed through ritual. Some of them, like healing, have their answer exclusively in ritual. Ritual is therefore a fundamental tool for addressing issues that pertains to the crisis of the human soul, the obstacles we encounter in this world, and the increasing amount of stress and uncertainties that litter the journey of life.
How ritual works begin with the creation of a ritual space informed by purpose. A community ritual space is designed like a mythological path. In it, you have an area for people to gather and an area where the actual healing happens, or where the very issue that motivates to ritual is addressed. These two areas are diametrically opposed and the space between them is the journey space. You leave the community space on a journey to meet spirit for healing purpose and you return as a different person.
In a way, all rituals, to the degree that they pertain to heal, restore, and maintain life are important for holistic survival. A society that does not have ritual cannot reconcile the needs for body mind and spirit. We said earlier that the purpose of ritual is to repair, heal and sustain the world. Most of these rituals are personal rituals. But they are some of them that are best done in community. Among them are Fire Ritual, Water Ritual and Earth Ritual. I taught Fire Ritual a year ago; I hope to teach an experience of the Earth Ritual in Slovenia someday after this upcoming Water Ritual.
Can you describe the purpose of the Water ritual?
The ritual this year is a Water ritual. In indigenous African cosmology Water is the element of peace making, reconciling and cleansing. Water cleanses energies that are not helpful, like stress, worries, conflict and restlessness. Water purifies the energy field of people and restores purity. It is like the indigenous baptism. When it works, water reconciles conflicting areas in a person’s life. Most of the time people need to be at peace, they need to cleanse and reconcile with something in or outside of them. Because we live in a world were we are susceptible to conflict, separation that distorts our beings, we need Water Ritual to set us back into a path of freshness, purity and wholeness.
The process of doing a Water ritual is the same as with Fire Ritual. The only difference is that, instead of Fire, we have Water. There is someone at the water whose job is to help individual who comes for cleansing. This person’s role will be to facilitate the individual experience making sure that it is as good as can be.
The individuals participating have to build a village according to your instructions. Why is this necessary?
Yes of course building a village is necessary because it takes a village to heal. Every individual who participates in these rituals brings something special to the group as a whole: The gift. A village is a place where everyone present is assumed to have something to contribute. So when people come from everywhere to meet like this for the first time, it is important to make them aware of how important it is for a ritual like this that they form a village quickly. Village building is community building. It begins on the first day of the workshop and develops all the way into the ritual. By that time, people know each other, they know what they have to do to help each other heal, and they are will and able to devote themselves to that work.
Do you use any other approaches?
Stories are a good way to condition the mind and the spirit for a different perception of reality. Everyone has a mythological dimension that is hungry to be fed. Stories that involve the other world and the being that live there do nourish our imagination and contribute to a higher consciousness or awareness.
How do you and Dagara people see the world?
Dagara people see the world primarily as mythological place. In it, Nature is a fundamental shape-shifting agent that nurses mystery and supernatural beings. It is the element of change and transformation that challenges human to embrace change for healing purpose. For this reason, the world was constructed by God and gifted to us humans to provide some finishing touches to make it that much more beautiful and loving. So whatever we do here should fulfill that purpose. Anything that we do that harms this world is not God’s work. In order to fulfill this purpose, we humans have access to imagination and creativity. We have the power of love and beauty. This planet is a mother that feeds all of us. We must make her beautiful and happy so that we can transform her into a heaven of sort.
How do you personally connect with ancestors? Do you use a specific ritual?
I connect with ancestors by talking to them as if they were right next to me. I know my Grandfather is always around me. So I don’t need to connect, but to converse with him. Ancestors are not distant relative living in a far away world that we need to find a way to connect with. They are nearby relatives that have shed their bodies so we cannot see them with our naked eyes but can speak to them because they can hear us loud and clear. Every day when I wake up, I tell my ancestors that a new day has come and with it, a lot to do. I tell them there is no way I can do good if they don’t join in and help me. Then throughout the day, I speak to them about where I am, what I’m doing and what I want out of this action. I know they love it because they are inspiring. They help me a lot. So there is no need for specific rituals unless they ask for it. I know it in my dream and in my vision when they want me to do something.
We are used to being serious when praying or communicating with “God”. On one of your workshops you mentioned that this communication can be funny. Why?
I meant the kind of serious that hides something like fear, guilt, or dread. For an indigenous Dagara, being serious means that you are concerned about something you may be guilty of. When guilty, you fear reprisal. It suggests that there is smallness in self and highlights human weaknesses. Dagara people don’t encourage approach to spirit from this standpoint. Spirit sees us as spirit too. We belong together. We are energetically equal. Therefore, it is not dignifying to go to God looking like you are guilty of something or like you need to be careful about what you say because spirit may become angry at you.
How would you describe a typical Western person?
A typical Western person is a person who is conditioned to abide by the world of the five senses. A typical Western person does what he or she is told to do such as shopping for what is said to be good whether it is true or not. A typical Westerner is a materialist in whose mind money is God. In such a person, accumulating money and material is the purpose of life and the blessing needed. Such a person is isolated, insensitive, greedy and individualist.
How can a Western individual who has a different life dynamic and different values use this wisdom in everyday life? What can one do by her/himself?
This wisdom is not the property of Dagara people. It is universal human wisdom. For a Western individual to use it, he or she must be willing to expand his consciousness. He or he must be hungry for a connection with otherworldly phenomena. He or she must become a lover of Nature and a keeper of the environment. A Westerner must feel drawn to all of this and more. He or she must feel a greater presence around. Then, the ancestors, the Nature Spirit and all the beings of goodwill will help guide him/her in the right direction to the right practice.
Many people in the West do not know their purpose in life and they are unhappy with their jobs. What would you suggest to them? How do we find our purpose?
To find purpose in life you must begin by reaching out to your Ancestors. Tell them how bad it feels to be in this world without one and ask for help. You must feel the sanctity of the ground you walk on, and trust the mystery that surrounds you. This posture will attract the attention of the Ancestors and the other-world to your needs. You will get help from unforeseen sources that would propel you into your gift and your purpose.
You have three Masters degrees, two PhDs and an ancient knowledge. Can you tell us more about the path you traveled to have acquired this knowledge? How was your youth like? Why did you decide to go to the West?
I am the product of Western colonialism and imperialism. I was brainwashed into European culture through their school and educational process earlier on. But in my first five years I had a good time on the side of my grandfather. He was my hero. Because he was a shaman and a healer, he introduced me to the world of magic. Shortly after his death, I was taken away by a Catholic priest to a boarding school. There, I was brainwashed into something totally different from what I was learning from my Grandfather. I was inducted into the Catholic worldview and Western perception of reality. It was a painful experience. At the age 20, I broke away from all this to return to my village. I underwent a long rite of passage called initiation. In the course of such experience, I found my purpose and my gift. I then returned to school because I was meant to be the voice of my ancestors in the West. So I figured the best way to convey the values of my Ancestors to Westerners was to become well educated the Western way.
After my studies, I realized that the best way to begin my mission was to write the story of my experience. So I wrote my first book called OF WATER AND THE SPIRIT. Then I wrote two more after that. My story got the attention of some Westerners and I began to respond to their need to hear more, to experience more. To help them, I wrote two more books one called THE HEALING WISDOM OF AFRICA, and the other called RITUAL. I’m staying in the West because this is where I am meant to fulfill my purpose. But I have to go to Africa at least twice a year to do what I have to do. After all I am an elder there. My people need me just the same way Westerners need me.
Your name has a meaning. It means “He who makes friends with the stranger”….
In my village the name you receive is a shot form of your purpose. Mine means “He who makes friend with the stranger”. It was given to me by my Grandfather because on a prenatal ritual performed for me, I told him that I was coming into the world to bring healing and peace between Africa and the West. Why I said that, I don’t know. In Dagara, “doma” can also mean enemy. To my grandfather the West was an enemy because of all the chaos it was bringing to the world he knew. So, he named me Malidoma when he heard what I was coming into the world to do.
When you went back to your hometown, you went through a process of initiation. What is initiation?
Initiation is a Rite of Passage from childhood to adulthood. To stop being a child in the village, one must be initiated. Otherwise, you can be fifty years old and still be called a child. Initiation has been conducted since Dagara people knew about it. It is still done today. However, the intrusion of the West through colonialism and neocolonialism has changed its format a bit. It is not done like the in the old days, unfortunately.
Can we say that you are African shaman?
I am ambivalent about this terminology, but I can live with it. Yes you can say that I am an African shaman. The truth is I never heard the word shaman until I came to the West and started doing this work. People began referring to me as an African shaman and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to upset anybody. Today, I think I’m used to it.
For how many years have you been coming to Slovenia?
I think this year will be my third year. I like it here. There is spirit; there is magic. The energy is great.
Do you notice any particularities in Slovenian nature and in Slovenian people?
Slovenian Nature is powerful, ancient and alive. There are lots of energies and lots of mythological beings inside the walls of its caves and mountains. Slovenian Nature is designed like a sacred space, a shrine of incredible power capable of helping the world a lot. I feel at home when I’m in it. I would not change anything in a design of this complexity and diversity. I would approach it instead with great respect and reverence. I would look for areas that need to be cleansed and do that.
What does Love mean to you?
Love is the ascension to the Divine consciousness. Love is the soul realizing that healing is possible everywhere anytime. Love walks hand in hands with beauty. It knows that vulnerability is sacred and power. Love is the world becoming well again.
What is your message to our readers?
My wish is to see that through this sharing, the distance between us is erased. I pray that you trust your capacity to confront and deal with all the challenges that rise in front of you. I pray that you trust your ancestors to help with any challenges in your path. In doing this, my ancestors will join your ancestors to celebrate a new era of community, healing and Love.
Click here to see an insert from one of Malidoma’s workshops in Slovenia