“The following is a guest blog post by Centered team member, Connie Milligan (www.conniemilligan.com):
I have just returned from a 14-day intensive journey into a rural area of southeastern Ghana, called the Volta Region. My husband and I were the guests of a Ghanaian master percussionist who is also an Ewe Tribal Village Chief and Priest. We have hosted his touring Afrikana group at our home many times. He invited us to his birthday celebration and 5 days of spiritual festivals he organized to honor various Ewe ancestors, personal gods, shrines, a Muslim purification ritual and an End of Life Ceremony. We were treated with tremendous respect, given a seat of honor next to other Chiefs, Queen Mothers and the community spiritual leaders.
This experience was deeply profound, altering the ways I look at many things in our Western culture. I’d like to focus this post on my understanding of their very complex spirituality and its impact on daily life. I choose this focus because I believe it is something many people are searching for as they seek a greater sense of life meaning and purpose.
As I share my understanding of what we can learn from Ghana, please read with an open mind. I offer these perspectives with no intent to offend or judge your beliefs.
THERE IS ROOM FOR ALL BELIEFS
Since Ghana was once a British Colony, I assumed that it’s predominately Christian in faith. I told our friend that I’m also interested in their traditional spiritual beliefs. His response with twinkling eyes, “Oh, you will see it all.”, left me unprepared for what he really meant.
Indeed, there are people who are Christians, Muslims, Jewish, Buddhists and Hindus along with those who practice their indigenous beliefs. At the traditional Ewe drumming and dancing ceremonies, they were all together participating in their religious festivals with crosses on, muslin hats or Hindu pendants.
They displayed complete tolerance for their differences. There was no judgement, no condemnation or comments, just acceptance. We heard that some of the Christians no longer wanted to participate in their community ceremonies because “they’ve been saved”. Even so, there was no argument or protest – just the simplicity of making a different decision.
The equal participation is stunning when you think about how isolated we are in our spiritual practices. Our country’s history of judgement and persecution of other’s faith is getting ramped up again in our presidential election. They are very aware of current US politics and worry for us, recognizing the danger of lack of tolerance, as we see in the Middle East.
Everyone’s belief is accepted – without judgement
THEIR INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY INCLUDE MALE AND FEMALE GODS
The indigenous faith of the Ewe tribe is Yeve, which embodies a concept of God/creation as “Universal Intelligence”, with support in daily life tasked to numerous other gods. It took me several days to realize that many of these gods are both male and female. Each one has names and some have extended family members with different names. They all work together. Their faith is complex, also including spirit guides and talismen which serve as shrines, requiring regular care-taking to show honor.
Having male and female gods does seem to impact their daily life. It appears to have resulted in gender equality in their spiritual practices and politics. Women and men, in equal number have leadership roles in their spiritual ceremonies. And I noticed on election billboards and brochures that a large number of women run for office and participate in political positions.
This seems fascinating in a culture where women are still socially marginalized by our standards. Women cook and serve the men who eat first, while staying out of sight. Despite this, there is strong acceptance and expectation that women and men work together in their spiritual rituals and in politics.
When gods are male and female, it creates more equality in other areas of life.
THEY PICK WHAT WORKS FOR THEM AND MIX IT UP
Another slow dawning awareness for me was that spiritual beliefs are often mashed up. People’s spirituality is very personal and individualized. Someone may have faith in one of the major religions and still retain a personal relationship with indigenous god(s). While this practice is often frowned upon in the West, it is common and accepted in Ghana.
The result? Spiritual practices are very personal and deeply ingrained in their daily life. The idea of talking with god regularly is assumed. We often heard someone say, “My god(s) (or spirit guide(s)) have told me that I should …”. When it was said, it was accepted as truth. There is no one to tell them differently or that it is wrong.
The thread running through their personal spiritual practices is that spirituality is a central organizing feature of their life.
RITUALS EMBED THE BELIEFS INTO THEIR LIFE
Ghanan people often express their personal beliefs through rituals to enhance their faith. In the west, we are most familiar with prayer and meditation as a way of ritualizing belief. They have that along with other actions that serve a ceremonial purpose. We witnessed the drumming and dancing ceremonies which ritualize the process of aligning with god and we also witnessed personal rituals for purification and healing. The personal ones can include any number of things such as a sacrifice of money, food or actions like bathing in specially prepared sacred water, eating or not eating certain foods or doing things. Again, this was individualized and directed by the gods.
Lee and I both went through individual rituals. The rituals were identified to address personal issues that were close to our heart, but left unspoken. That they could identify our issues, without our saying a word, and create clearing/cleansing ceremonies to address them was beyond comprehension.
Each one took several hours and was extremely reverent and serious. We were stunned and are still moved by their powerful impact. Neither of us have experienced anything so personal, accurate and profound.
There are few western equivalents to this experience. I wonder why we have sanitized our spiritual practices to the fewest requirements? We are missing something important.
Ceremonial rituals offer a powerful way to sanctify change we seek in life.
CAN WE BENEFIT FROM THESE BELIEFS?
Are any of these spiritual practices transferable to our culture? I offer the following thoughts in question form because, as was shown to me, it’s always a personal decision.
- Does spiritual practice of any kind have a place in your life? (including outside of mainstream religion?)
- Is your practice personal, supporting your connectedness to all of life and your own thriving?
- Would you benefit from making it a more central feature of your life?
- Are there things you can ritualize to give your practice more personal meaning and structure?
- Can you practice tolerance for others’ beliefs – with the understanding that this is a foundation for unity and peace?
Does this review speak to you in any way? If this is something you’d like to explore, I would be happy to support you in that process. Transformational Life Coaching provides a structure for discovering the elements that promote your personal growth and development, including your spiritual life. For more information, see my websitewww.spectrumtransformation.com