Many years ago, I arrived for a spiritual consultation with a man who would later become my spiritual mentor and teacher. He was a Priest of Oshun the Yoruba Divinity of Love, Healing, and fresh water. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I came to him seeking help as my life had become unmanageable. After years of Western psychotherapy and rehashing old stories over and over again I found myself still stuck, still dealing with the same issues and had turned to God and the spiritual world to seek guidance. As a Black woman descendant of people who were enslaved in the Americas, I was led to the traditions of my ancestors as Western and European forms of healing were not enough.
I arrived at his home where the consultation was to take place. I introduced myself telling him I was referred by a friend and wanted a reading. He greeted me and instructed me to kneel, prostrate and kiss the straw mat that was on the ground that he said served as an action that symbolized reverence for the Earth. I had never thrown my body on the Earth before anyone and the only time I knelt was a brief period when my mother took our family to a Catholic Church. This gesture of putting one’s body on the Earth was an act of humility that I was unaccustomed to, I balked inside at having to kneel to anyone or anything, couldn’t I just pay my fee and be done with it?
However, on that day I remembered why I had come. My life had become unmanageable and I needed guidance beyond my own understanding so down I went, kissing the earth tentatively. I arrived at his door because he was known in the community to be an excellent diviner with good character, a fair and balanced Priest. The session began with a long litany of prayers in a language I didn’t understand but I felt electricity in the air as each word was chanted and waited. During one point in the chants he looked at me and asked me to say aloud the names of my ancestors. I spoke the names I knew.
Then, he tossed cowrie shells on the mat placed on the Earth which revealed guidance from the deities of nature known as Oricha.
7 shells landed upright with the first toss, then 9 on the next.
He instructed me to extend my hands as far as I can over my head while sitting on the mat. I reached my arms up, hands overhead wondering what is this about? He then began to recite proverbs and guidance from the Oricha.
He said: A key proverb in this sign says: “Extend your hand as far as it reaches.” “The Orisha say that you need to respect your limits. As you can see your hands can only go so far over your head and it is important to learn wisdom so that you can respect and sense your limits in life. In other words, this means that you can only reach as far as you can and never beyond your potential. When you reach one of your limits, stop and wait before proceeding.
Currently, we are experiencing the impact of pushing the Earth beyond her limits. Catastrophic wildfires are still burning in California https://www.npr.org/2020/10/04/920154138/california-wildfires-have-burned-4-millions-acres-and-the-season-isnt-over-yet, and now in Colorado as well https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/18/colorado-wildfires-thousands-flee-cameron-peak-calwood-fires/3702819001/.
In the past decade scientists continue to report that year after year human activities of releasing more carbon into our biosphere is causing increased temperatures of the Earth and our bodies of waters and this is causing great suffering for humans and non-humans .https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/05/climate-crisis-11000-scientists-warn-of-untold-suffering . This suffering manifests as increasing rates of depression, anxiety and other mental illness, increased state violence, increased poverty and despair around the world.
Our greed and appetite for more, more and more, has pushed our Ecosystems beyond it’s limits. Our actions and inaction of not listening to Indigenous wisdom, of not learning how to curb our addictions, and not nurturing our spirituality and instead making Corporations and marketplace spirituality be the source of our lives and our Higher Power has brought us to this place of catastrophic wildfires, droughts, and poverty.
But the Indigenous wisdom of the Afro-Cuban Lucumi and the Yoruba that manifest in the spirits of nature known as the Orisha, provide a pathway to wisdom and a way of living that is in harmony with the natural world and each other. This wisdom contained in the Dieties of water, fire, earth and air can guide our behavior and character towards understanding and recognizing our limits as human beings for our own healing and for the healing of the Earth.
I invite you to join me right now, and extend your hands as far as you can over your head and remember that everyone and everything has limits–including the Earth.
J. Phoenix Smith, MSW Ecotherapist, Priest of Aganyu