Clearing Residues of Liverpool’s History
Culmination of the work
The culmination of my year’s work in Liverpool was a group workshop dominated, for me, by the residues of the slave trade:- unsurprisingly, since Liverpool’s prodigious wealth and world status as a city (by the end of the 19th century an astonishing 40% of all world trade went through the port of Liverpool!) rested ultimately on that iniquitous trade.
Legacy of slavery
Since I had visited Liverpool specifically to do ancestral work several times during the year, it didn't surprise me that what came through was deep, painful and very inarticulate - a bodily experience of shock, with no voice. For the duration of the group process I could do little other than shake violently. Expressing something as positive as anger was not possible for a long time - such is the legacy of slavery. The obliteration of personal agency and individual expression was total.
Hardly surprisingly, it was specifically female slaves I was in touch with - the pain and sense of insult definitely had a sexual dimension. It was being touched in an intimate way with such brutal and humiliating disregard for bodily sensitivity that constituted the worst depths of the horror - with the sense, too, that protest would prompt even worse violation. Bodily expression was in all ways compromised.
What enabled that to change was, ironically, two sympathetic souls trying to comfort me - then I could get hold of some anger and begin to express it - how dare they try to calm me and suggest that things might be alright?! - - it was an outrage, and I turned on them furiously. Protest at the INSULT of slavery became a possibility - and contempt for those who benefited from it, especially while looking the other way. Supreme disgust at the hypocrisy of churches - ostensibly promoting Christ's teachings of love and compassion, but actually promoting such an ignominious trade, and being offensively patronising at the same time
Gleam of hope
Apart from giving voice to these few sentiments - and certainly feeling them with a passion - I felt pretty disengaged from the competitive shouting that seemed to be going on from others - it felt quite irrelevant – and I was on the whole still dominated by the inarticulate voice, the desire to keep myself apart, and with a sense of being disrespected. It wasn't till almost the end of the process that I had a shift of realisation.
Someone commented that perhaps things had moved on further in America than in England - there were more opportunities now - and only then did the female slave mentality that I was channelling have a real sense of something perhaps being over, and that it might be possible to move on. There was a gleam of something like hope, but it was not very substantial, certainly not robust.
When the concluding clearing happened, I felt that I was able to let go of much dark energy - the energy of insult, degradation and humiliation - I had a sense that even casual and ignorant racist attitudes cannot pass without some challenge - even in England! - any more.
So my sense was that much healing had emerged from the process, but that a true reconnecting with ancestral roots, a real sense of re-empowerment, had not yet happened for these black slave women who had tried to take advantage of what was on offer.
I came home, conscious of their spirits accompanying me, and very well satisfied with what had happened, but with a real sense of more to do. How on earth to do it in rural Dorset?
Used as I am now to remarkable synchronicities, this one took even me by surprise! Sorting through my emails on my return, what should I find but invitations to hear the Lekan Babalola Trio, of which I had been until that moment ignorant, barely 10 minutes from home, to see an exhibition of art works commissioned by the Ifa-Yoruba Contemporary Arts Trust from artists across the African Diaspora, and to go to a talk on Yoruba Art and Culture! An instantaneous answer to prayer.......
It turned out that this programme was to be running locally throughout August, culminating in 'The River Sessions' on the 29th - a celebration of the Nigerian River Goddess Osun - a family friendly afternoon of stories, dance and music. The deity Osun is the protector of the River and is the mother of Children..........
The upshot was that I threw myself enthusiastically into this programme and thoroughly enjoyed being initiated into the joys of this ancient culture - a living tradition of sacred shamanic connection - manifesting in Dorset through world-class music, painting and dance! – and my growing trail of ex-slave women nervously accompanied me.
Traumatised and frozen as they were, it was too much to expect that they would respond quickly, but I could tell that their bodies – spirit-bodies though they were! – were gradually letting go of some of their shock under the influence of Lekan and Kate’s ‘wizardly’ artistry – the Lekan Babalola Trio, now the Sacred Funk Trio, is a truly world-class combo - and becoming calmer and more able to stay present.
I bought all the CDs they had available so we were able to enjoy the music between actual concerts – and they looked about them and increasingly appreciated the sight of people who looked like them being celebrated in the works of art all around, and treated respectfully in the flesh. It was soothing for them.
When I introduced myself to Lekan Babalola and Kate Luxmoore I tentatively told them of the remarkable coincidence of doing healing ancestral work in Liverpool, then coming back and finding them in my backyard.
'Liverpool? You've been to Liverpool?' Lekan said. 'Did you go to the Slavery Museum? I designed the African exhibits there! Did you see the Ancestral Shrine? Was there real water in it?'...........much excitement all round !
It initially seemed to me likely that the final freeing of the spirits that came to me in Liverpool would be at the conclusion of the 'River Sessions', when they would have had an opportunity to be truly reconnected with their ancestral roots, and could go on joyfully and with renewed energy. However, I was ahead of myself – trauma is not recovered from so quickly, even in the spirit world, and a much deeper and more intricate process was necessary before they were ready to go.
Infected by my enthusiasm, they gradually listened with greater relaxation to the music but even at the River Sessions on the 29th August, we all were observers rather than participants in the dancing. Dancing did make a major entry that day, however, in the shape of Olu Taiwo, a Cockney with Nigerian roots, who demonstrated and taught ‘dances of Brazil, Africa and Wessex’.
More significantly for the women, however, he then danced and improvised the story of Osun – the Protector of the River – which celebrated feminine power and beauty. In view of my women’s experiences, this was emotionally powerful and very healing for them. And since I was able to film the whole performance I was able to play it again and again for them afterwards, until every single one of them had got the message. This proved to be a very significant turning-point, and after that they were increasingly able to join in when I spent time dancing round my sitting-room to Kate and Lekan’s wonderful CDs. I did this daily for a while.
We also had quieter and more studious times together. Lekan lent me some books about Ifa-Yoruba divination culture, which helped me to understand the art-work better, and also works about Yoruba Ancestral beliefs which tied in very neatly with the work I was doing with them. By chance (?!) I had also already booked to go on a highly relevant Black Madonna tour in the Auvergne, which was very much appreciated by us all, and appreciation of the Black Madonna archetype was greatly enhanced by Matthew Fox's teachings about her on his website.
I followed this up by reading ‘Dark Mother : African origins and godmothers’ by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum and ‘Longing for Darkness : Tara and the Black Madonna’ by China Galland. In all these cases I could feel the women reading over my shoulder, with increasingly excited approval! Their self-esteem and sense of confidence grew and grew..........
A high point of integration was reached in October when two Afrobeat Workshops were advertised - ‘If you are into learning rhythms and grooves come and enjoy being put through your musical paces!’ was the invitation - for ‘semi-pro and professional musicians’. I certainly am not in either of these categories, but Kate and Lekan were well aware of what I was doing by then, so when I asked if I could bring my women along just to listen in and enjoy the music, they readily agreed.
So much for sitting on the sidelines as I expected! No sooner was everyone gathered than I found myself sitting in the midst of all these accomplished musicians banging a Cow Bell to give an excitingly syncopated but crucially basic underpinning to the piece! Rarely have I enjoyed any experience more, and it became increasingly celebratory as I realised that the women had cast off all their wounding and were thoroughly into the rhythm too!
The healing powers of music are many and various but rarely have I experienced such total joy as on that jazzily rocking afternoon!
For the next stage I shall quote from an extended email I sent to some of those who had been at the workshop in Liverpool, to keep them up to date with developments. Having briefly described the above progress in bringing the women out of their traumatised condition to a place of self-respect, balance and joy, I then described plans I was making with Kate and Lekan to help them to move decisively on into higher planes. Lekan, a musician-priest himself, put me in touch with Ifasola Onifade, a Nigerian Chief Priest initiated into the sacred Yoruba tradition of Ifa divination, a ceremonial contacting and honouring of ancestors, and a master of ritual and ceremony.
I undertook to have a personal Ifa divination with Babalawo Ifasola, and for him to give his interpretation of the Revelation which resulted, on the understanding that he would have in mind any African spirits that were temporarily attached to me and be open to helping them too. The interpretation of the Ifa was very detailed and the performance of an EBO was recommended - a spiritual work of sacrifice, to ensure all possible good outcomes and ward off adverse ones.
To give a small flavour of this extensive document, here are two short paragraphs :-
You are said to be a daughter of IFA according to this ‘Odu-Ifa’, and you are been advised to be using ‘Otutu-Opon’, an Ifa beads and this is to be protecting you from evils and negativity, so, it is necessary for you to be having Ifa beads on you always.
(Babalawo Ifasola did, in fact consecrate some ‘Otutu-Opon’ for me to wear during the ceremony and I still value them highly, though I confess that I do not wear them ‘always’).
Secondly, a list of the MATERIALS FOR THE ‘EBO’ is given – a colourful and exotic enough prescription indeed! As follows -
2 Dry Rats, 2 Dry Fish, 2 Female Fowls, 2 Guinea Fowls, 3 Male Fowls,
10 Snails, 4 Pigeons, Tubers of Yam, 3 Knives, A Cutlass, Banana Log, White Clothing Materials, Palm Oil, 1 Male Goat, 1 Female Goat, Bottles of Gin, Kola nuts, Local Gum, A Clay Picture (Molded in form of a human being), ‘Nnkan Ti Enu n je’ (Candies for the comrades of heaven), Roasted Yam, Roasted Beans, Palm Wine, ‘Owo Ileru’.
It is such an EBO that I have arranged to be performed on Wednesday, in Osogbo, Nigeria. As I have undergone these ceremonies myself, I have sensed around me many more spirits than in the original group, intensely interested in the proceedings and finding what I was doing relevant to themselves.
Last week, I arranged, via Skype, a session with Lynne and Alex in Liverpool, specifically designed to be a precursor to next week's ceremony. Between us, we invoked help from the Realm of Light; form Metatron, St Michael, Gabriel and Raphael; we asked assistance from St Francis since we all felt such affinity with his powerful prayer; and also from the Black Madonna, as the most appropriate form of the Goddess to help us. With their help, we then addressed the congregated spirits and let them know that a special opportunity to move on, if that was what they felt ready to do, would present itself next Wednesday. We encouraged them to take advantage of it.
Of course, we could not but be aware that the news in recent weeks (this was written in 2011) has been full of African stories - huge suffering in the Ivory Coast caused by the refusal to relinquish power even though the people had spoken, post-Mau-Mau protests from Kenya, problematic 'solutions' in Darfur and Southern Sudan, ongoing post-colonial nightmares in the Congo and Zimbabwe........ongoing transformational revolutions along North Africa and into the Middle East - none irrelevant, but all too entangled to be susceptible to simplistic solutions. In our joint meditation, we were not quick to see a way through or to find 'solutions' - rather, we held an awareness of an infinite variety of individual stories, woven tight in complex patterns, with no clarity of 'black and white'.
Despite 'victims' and 'perpetrators' in the slave trade seeming to be clearly distinguished, we moved to a sense of perpetrators being in some sense 'victims' too - of cruelties being performed by wounded people, to some degree subject to the norms and expectations of their times - of treachery being prevalent in many kinds of lives and no-one being entirely free of the guilt of it.
As we gazed with mixed horror and compassion into the Heart of Darkness we were contemplating, and stayed with it long enough for the interlocking nature of many patterns to become apparent, a bigger sense of understanding and being understood began to dawn - at the same time, certain groups moved towards taking responsibility for outrages committed and had impulses towards remorse and other groups, sensing this, could begin to let go of implacable rage and a desire for revenge - a lightening, a sense of shifting became perceptible.
Processes of truth and reconciliation did seem to be facilitated by holding the Heart of Darkness space with Love and Compassion - for a long time, as long as was needed.
It seemed to us by the time that we stopped that the stage was set for possible movement - we trust there will be ongoing encouragement for this from above, from those we invoked at the outset, as well as from the Gods and Goddesses of the African Pantheon.
When the 'welcome home' ritual, the EBO, was performed by Babalawo Ifasola in Nigeria, I was in Cornwall with my contemporary group of DMP graduates, so I was playing my part in the ceremony with an experienced and supportive group of others, and we were linked by telephone to what was going forward in Nigeria. We heard the chanting and prayers of the service, and animal noises including some rather heart-rending bleating from one of the goats.......
Later we heard very positive reports of the ceremony from Ifasola :-
Well, the EBO was excellent and everything went okay, and after the EBO which took almost two hours, IFA, ESU, OGUN, OBATALA, EGBERUN and the ANCESTORS were all appeased on your behalf, during which prayers were offered for everyone of you, in fact, the IYAMI too was taken care of and everybody was happy with what was done.
And with all that was done, I do have the belief that the project, Ancestral Healing will succeed and things that has to do with this project will start to be doing well by the special grace of God, the deities and the ancestors too.
I do believe we played a small part here in helping to heal the nightmare of Liverpool and world history in which we had become participants.
A reminder again - the ceremony took place between about 11 and 1 on Wed 13th April 2011.
While the ceremony was actually happening, Susie Bruce, a supporter of the work and a gifted painter, tuned in from her home in Portugal and was engaged on an intuitive painting. Having been brought up in colonial Africa herself, and with an intimate connection with animals, her 'Sources of Power' (left) shows her shamanic awareness, and the picture on the right was the one painted during the ceremony.
For my part, after that ceremony happened, I quite ceased to have the degree of preoccupation with this group of women that had been persistent ever since they had joined me in Liverpool, so I believe that the aim of helping them to move on to the higher realms of spirit was accomplished.
And I am grateful for the extraordinary synchronicities that enabled this to happen.
I lost touch with Kate and Lekan for some years because they moved away from the area but, in planning the Soul-voyagers Network Retreat this year (2017) I managed to contact them again as I was planning a presentation about Ancestral Healing and wondered if they might come and play for us.
They did, and it was certainly a major highlight of a very enjoyable retreat. I had spoken during my presentation of the miraculous effect their music had had on the healing progress of the spirit women who had accompanied me home from Liverpool in such a traumatised state, stressing how wonderful their playing is - but even so it was a revelation to hear them actually play. Everyone was transported by the sheer quality of their musicianship!
If you'd like to experience their impact on yourself do order some of their CDs. I especially recommend 'Tales of Diaspora' by the KLLB Band and 'the grove' by the kate luxmoore group - each 'ancestral' in distinctive ways, and available on Amazon.
Even better, have a look on the Ifa-Yoruba Contemporary Arts Trust website to find out if you can hear them playing live. Worth a long journey!
Click here http://www.ifayorubacontemporaryarts.co.uk/
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