Why Our Ancestors Were Probably Not Worshipers of Evil

Demystifying the old Igbo religion and why your ancestors were probably not worshippers of evil.

- Omenala and Juju are Separate Things.

A factor that demystifies Omenala (also popularly known as Odinani), an inclusive term for Igbo folk religions and cultures, is the understanding that there are differences and categories of ritual practices that people carried out before and that many people still do, these practices can be defined loosely into the following categories:
a. Veneration / divination – omenala; veneration means according respect and in this case particularly to the spirit of ancestors, ndichie. Veneration involves prayers to major deities and also to Chukwu, the High God; divination, afa, is what the dibia does to find spiritual answers, it is like a phone if you will to the spirit world. Veneration forms the basis of Omenala and it was usually the only spiritual practice an average Igbo person was involved in; the head of the household was in charge of venerating ancestors, spirits and Chukwu, and there were other minor spirits like ekwu, the women’s domestic spirit mound, which were tended to by women and mothers. Veneration involves libation and animal sacrifices (ichu aja) in some cases; this is where the naming tradition of Ogbuehi, Ogbuagu, Ogbuanyinya stems from, for when a father enters into the spirit world, ala mmuo, his son offers gifts. In some rare cases, prisoners of war or slaves (who were also often prisoners of war or ordinary prisoners) would be sacrificed in the burial of a prominent elder or to a deity because ironically human life was so valuable that this would appease a deity well; this practice was akin to an execution as much as it was an (outdated) spiritual practice. Often times when a deity ‘asks’ for human sacrifice, it was thrown down, meaning somebody was called with the expertise to remove the deity. Veneration in general was a peaceful and loving support of ancestors and a worship of the High God, Chukwu.
b. Sorceryjuju in Pidgin English (from French joujou, ‘toy’ or ‘plaything’) juju or nshi is the manipulation of the mortal and spiritual world through spiritual means, the method or means of such manipulation can be positive or negative; most people think of juju and omenala as the same, meaning that to worship a deity is to do ‘money rituals’ which is untrue, omenala entails the responsibility of feeding the ancestors and petitioning or giving thanks to deities and Chukwu, juju is the personal choice of the juju practitioner.
c. Healing. These categories overlap, but are different. In Igbo, juju is nshi, ‘sorcery’, which is also ‘poison’; healing (including lucky charms, etc) is ogwu ‘medicine’, ogwu can overlap with sorcery because it refers to material objects from plants to charms, however ogwu is used by dibia primarily for medicinal uses to help people with ailments and for use in spirit matters.

Those who have volunteered for the battle of good over evil (Christian missionaries) did not understand or care about these differences, and for the most part they’ve successfully distorted these differences to the point where some people who practice omenala have to be apologetic about it at best because it’s all seen as ‘juju’. You do not use omenala maliciously (relative to what is considered moral at the time), omenala translates loosely as ‘what’s done in the country/community, or, what is done in the domain of the Earth Mother, Ala (the keeper of morality)’, these are practices that sustain the community, including ancestral veneration and divination, fertility, and interpreting a deity’s temperament. Confusing omenala, nshi, and ogwu led to the vilification of the whole belief system by suggesting that practices like ogwu ego (money rituals by human / major sacrifices) represent the core and necessary practices of the religions. And it should be understood that like in any kind of profession there are quack dibia who are out for their own personal gain only and who do not have any knowledge whatsoever of what they are doing.
Onye omenala [Folk religion practitioner]: somebody who venerates their ancestors / deities and worships the higher power.

‘Juju’ practitioner: somebody who seeks to manipulate the world for a goal.
Dibia [diviner / healer]: a (chosen) mediator between worlds.
An analogy for these practices would be the use of drugs in modern medicine either appropriately or abusively without making medicinal practices necessarily unethical, more crudely would be the utility of a knife as a crucial item of early technology and agriculture or warfare. Duality and the spaces between it is not only acknowledged in Omenala, but is also sacred; an authoritarian view doesn’t allow space for much diversity in spirituality, practices are either ‘evil’ in whole, or, ‘good’ inherently. In Omenala there is no final Judgment Day when God will descend from heaven and smite the devil [and evil] for good, good and evil are permanent and always relative which is why deities like Agwu Nshi and Ekwensu, ‘war’ and ‘madness’, exist. Omenala is neutral in that it does not have a doctrine hammering in one perspective; just as natural forces inhabit the universe, an individual makes a choice of what to do with these forces, but whatever energy is focused on is what will be reciprocated. ukpuru


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