Why I Chose My Ancestors Over Religion
The summer of 1996 will always remain a poignant one for me, because of a range of communicational phenomena that would start to occur that continues to illuminate my life to date.
It would be the period I would become conscious of a definite means through which I would be mentored and guided from a realm beyond the physical.
In looking back whilst writing this article, these communications had started way before through many a serendipitous experience and many ‘lucky escapes’ or brushes with death when much younger – like being electrocuted once whilst sitting on the balcony wall of the house I grew up in Ghana, yet not falling down to my death, just left with a very sore tongue and headache and flashes of blue and yellow in my eyesight after attaching what I had assumed was an inactive wire on our front porch to my tongue. The joys of being an adventurous child, right?
That summer I had just completed my A-levels and graduated from secondary school (equivalence of high school) and was largely at home for most of the day whilst mother and older siblings were away with the youngest sibling at a friend’s for the summer holidays.
I spent huge chunks of time at home by myself. In these moments, the memory of my grandmother who had passed 7 years ago started becoming very prominent in my mind coupled with a very strong desire to make contact with her. Born on the same day of the week, we share a variant of the same name; she was Yaa and I was Yaw, the day-name in the Akan culture for those born on a Thursday. As I was named after her, I was Nana Yaw, the appellation before my day-name, Nana, being indicative of that fact.
I was raised Catholic, so by its indoctrination, I was under the impression that it was ‘impossible’ to communicate with the departed. According to said religion, such practices were ‘demonic’ and ‘evil’. I knew nothing about my own traditions at the time either to know otherwise, that in its worldview, such communications were entirely possible and natural; it not only reinforced the cycle of life but also trans-generational family support.
What would urge me on though was some of the content in books I was recommended to read by my late mother from her wide collection. Two of these books were by the bestselling authors,
Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ and ‘Think & Grow Rich’ respectively.
In Hill’s bestseller he shared a technique for gaining guidance and direction on business matters that involved mentally imagining being sat at a table with an audience of one’s role models in business where you would seek their advice and guidance.
It would be decades later, through further training around African culture and history that I would come to realise that what Peale had described was pretty much forms of ancestral communication found in pretty much most indigenous systems across the world that are Nature-centred.
Whilst I would find his lack of reference to indigenous’ communities use of such methods of visualisation rather disrespectful, he would not be the only author I have come across that does this. The 2006 best-selling book ‘The Secret”, that made famous the adage ‘the law of attraction’ does similar. The technique(s) presented in it does not highlight the cultures and civilisations of old who possessed this knowledge.
Whilst this may not have been deliberate or could even be due to the lack of awareness on the part of the authors, my attempt is not to blame them per say, but it reflects a certain laziness of scholarship to not fully explore the origins of concepts we appropriate. In continuing to do so, such actions – deliberately or otherwise – continues the erasure of indigenous contributions to world history and knowledge disciplines.
Least we digress too far, following the inspiration afforded by the Peale books I had read, I gathered the courage to ‘contact’ my grandmother. At the time and due to my own ignorance or rather lack of knowledge I assumed I was the one making the contact not that she had been in contact with me the whole time, but I was the one unaware due to being not fully understanding my cultural lineage.
But I had a problem, the only form of religiosity at this stage in my life I knew was the Catholic tradition, I did not know any other way to ‘make this connection happen’.
I was aware that I could do a few things though; as borrowed from my attendance of Sunday church services. I could light a candle , I could use my rosary and I could write her a letter with my requests then follow with verbal conversation. I instinctively knew this would be enough, I trusted that would be enough. I would sometimes even make the sign of the cross before commencing, even though that felt uncomfortable due to what I knew the Catholic doctrine stated about such practices. The letter writing technique , at the time I assumed was borrowed from Peale’s writings, but later in life I would come to find out that this is evidenced as a means of conducting ritual to the spirit of the departed by the ancient Black Egyptians, so it was not an invention of Peel’s.
The verbal conversations, however, that was instinctive. I just knew I could speak to her and she would hear and respond.
By the end of that summer another grandma visited us around the time of a Ga harvest celebration known as Homowo (in early September). She was not a familial grandmother, but a very close friend to the family via my actual grandmother and mother. She gestured towards me and mentioned to my mum that she had had a dream about a plane landing and it was to do with me. I doubt any of us had any idea what it actually meant in detail at the time, but the consensus was that it was a positive omen concerning myself.
A year later, after resitting some of my A-level subjects to better my grades and applying for schools in the United States and England, my A-levels results were back in, slightly better but still falling short of making me the great scientist my mother envisaged. In the end, the choice for education abroad was England due to family connections there. This would be the start of my most intense spiritual education.
In a foreign country, different social context, feeling rather alone, the one thing that I would learn to draw solace and comfort from would be in the continued rituals for my Grandmother. They would become a lot more consistent and regular, the Catholic mass elements were removed as I no longer attended church and they became weekly affairs. That was when the experiences started getting more intense and useful in the physical.
Messages and instructions came hard and fast from both familiar and random sources and places; from dreams, synchronicities with various animals , to people I would meet, information on billboards to conversations overheard whilst on my journeys.
Being forced to move out not too long after arriving in England, as I was resistant to attending my auntie’s ‘cult-like’ church. It had a Nigerian man as leader, claiming to be a manifestation of God in the flesh and that did not agree with my spirit at all.
Broke and legally not allowed to work more than 20 hours a week, I needed to make ends meet whilst living in privately rented accommodations, and that’s when I felt the benefits of the rituals. Opportunities would open up to me for buying and selling a range of items as a means of cash-in-hand income, aiding in maintaining my upkeep.
The success I had in these periods always reminded me of how much of a success my grandmother had also been as a market-woman in Ghana and I could feel this extension of her skills trickling into my demeanour, even though I could not put in words. Advances in Modern Science however, now gave me the vocabulary to describe what I was feeling at the time to make the Western mind also understand it. The study of Epigenetics and especially the phenomena labelled Chromosomic Memory , sheds further light on my successes in this period of my life as I had no previous buying and selling experience whatsoever, but I did amazingly well.
Epigenetics is basically the study of the transmission of genetic memory from our Ancestors via information contained in our DNA and which consequently defines our dispositions and behaviour traits. Yet the African sacred science takes that understanding a step further, through prescribed ritual there could be a conscious transmission of that information into our psyches to inform our opinions and express itself in our actions. So what was once considered ‘superstition’ is now a reality of western science.
In time I also noticed that I started becoming more honest in my behaviour patterns and being more expansive in the way I would think to arrive at solutions; it was like I had 2 minds at work in the one consciousness and it still continues today.
The honesty in behaviour was one of the things I particularly liked because it was a stark contrast to when I was in Catholic school. Labelled a bit of a ‘mischievous child’, I largely kept up this behaviour because I was aware Jesus would forgive me for my transgressions. Well, this is what I had been taught, so Fridays were the best days of my life in primary school.
By 9am I would be feeling very uplifted because I had been ‘emancipated’ from my ‘sins’. I was there without fail every week. All my feelings of guilt and uneasiness would be gone by the time I arrived in class ready to start my life of debauchery over again.
I would often wonder why I was never punished for any of my transgressions, why the priest never informed the headmistress of what grievances I had visited on classmates earlier in the week. It was like we had our own secret Friday cabal and I will admit, I highly respected the Father for being my confidant. It was wonderful because there was no accountability for my actions, I could do as I please, which I did, without due consideration, because Jesus was waiting to forgive me every Friday. Or so I preferred to think.
This would cease once I was not longer going to church and critically analysing how unfair such allowances were. By secondary school it was clear that it was a hypocritical means of living and it is when I fell out of touch with the religion. In England and only working the rituals for Ancestral veneration, there was no ‘pretence’ means to use to ignore my guilt. It also felt that I was in a way, disrespecting my grandma’s memory in using her gifts to further my own selfish ends.
The broadening of my perspective, worldview and character over the years is a daily reminder for me of what UK scholar and historian Femi Biko maintains about African Spirituality; ‘its ability to police, direct and right the mind of the individual’.
The access to a wide vortex of information for instructions and guidance on living has been nothing short of fulfilling, constantly expanding the infiniteness of the experiences I have and potential to be accessed from them.
It has been and continues to be a relationship that has and continues to add daily value to my wellbeing and drive to attain purpose; one I will never give up. I honour and bless the memory of my grandmother, Catherine Yaa Nyarko Brobbey, and the lineage that precedes her. In doing so, also I honour myself as a continuation of that lineage.
By Dalian Adofo
Ancestral Voices Co-Director