Black Witches, African Priestesses, Wise Women and the Convergence of the Black Feminine in Spirituality

There has been a lot of media attention on Black witches and their practices as of late. Shows on Netflix, articles, websites, social media groups all have contributed to its growth. Some embrace it. Some are repelled by it. Some are curious about it. Often it is lumped together with African spiritual practices and that has caused confusion and some conflict. Having been involved with African Traditional practices and traditional Witches for many years now, I feel compelled to set the record straight about both sides and misunderstandings perpetuated by Media, African priests, and those who identify as witches. Most people writing are outsiders looking in and have a limited perspective of the other side. Please allow me to expound.

Origin of the word Witch and How it derived a Negative Perception

While I’m one of the few that don’t have a problem with the word witch, I don’t associate it with African  priesthood or being an Iyalorisa or Iyanifa. I think the terms should remain separate. They are not synonymous. I also now see the same for Aje and witch. My training in the background of the word Witch came from ancient Kemet and the word Wadjet. It referred to the primordial mothers of water and air that protected the throne. This has similar association in West Africa historically. However there is also a bio spiritual power  component also identified in Africa along with a relationship to Mother Earth. Kemet was invaded by Greece and Rome and with it some practices were incorporated and taken to Europe to be practiced there. In Europe, Witch came to mean wise woman. These were midwives, herbalist, women who were Earth priestesses and honored the Goddess too.. The church and Islam demonized these practices just as they demonized all African Spirituality , indigenous traditions, Esu, and Aje. So we have the same entity responsible for all negative definitions associated with these words. So I don’t like to give credence to any Abrahamic demonized concept associated with women or African people by denying one and approving the other. They are all projections of the church and it’s ignorance.

But Isn’t African Spirituality and Witchcraft the same?

African Spirituality is far beyond commonly known witchcraft and I think it does it a disservice to refer to it as such. Our traditions are indigenous and autonomous whether Ifa, Lucumi, Akan, Zulu, Igbo, Kikongo, etc. They  hold their own sacred technology akin to their culture as well as their ancestors. They should be respected in their own right and not perpetuate lumping it together as the church has done. To properly teach the public we must use the terms that are true to what we the actual practitioners call them, not how  others via the church have defined it. . That includes Aje…. which have similar concepts to traditional witchcraft but are not the same due to cultural application and interpretation. While I have done so in the past, I’m careful to differentiate now because so many new people and millennials don’t respect the process of either and appropriate according to their mood.

The Difference between African Priestess and Black Witches

The difference between traditional African Priests and Witches  is that African priesthoods derive from lineage and often family based, indigenous science that is passed down over thousands of years , from elders to the next generation. Priesthood is based on initiation and formal protocols, practices, and training  within those lineages any many of these have become global protocols too. They have their own divination, worldview, and sacred technology with cultural language and application. These are ancient ancestral priesthoods created as means to live in harmony with nature, healing, empowerment and sustain communities. They are rich, complex, and embedded in the foundation of indigenous worldview. They have their own titles and names associated with what they do. As an ancestral legacy it is important that they be honored, respected , and valued for what they are and what they do..especially for African decendants. African spiritual traditions also have their own form of women’s traditions and applications of spiritual power inherent within Aje, Iyami, the earth, etc.  Historically these women’s traditions were also persecuted by the church producing a negative stereotype on the continent too. But the history is one of power,  justice, reverence, and Healers. 

Witches as practiced today in the West  can be solitary or a collective coven, based on neo pagan beliefs and traditionally affirming of feminine power but also have some males too. They utilize herbs, study astrological phenomena , Tarot , gemstones, candles, light spellwork with affirmations and use them to empower their lives. The neo pagan application of witchcraft allows the practitioner to choose the pantheon of divinities they wish to work with so it may be based on Druids, Celtic, Greek, Roman, and in the case of African descended practitioners they often choose African divinities. The neo system is primarily  based on belief and not actual interaction with spirits. Being European based, most divinities are in pantheons that had priesthoods that died and this is a way to revive them. The problem is that unlike in Europe, in African traditions, the priesthoods never died and attempting to incorporate African practices normally associated with initiation is offensive and encroaches on the autonomy in traditional African priesthoods still in existence.

Why don’t Black Witches Want to Follow African Priesthoods? 

Some do and are initiated priestesses as well. Others who consider themselves black witches are aware of African spiritual practices but are often turned off by it due to unethical behaviors of priests, misogyny by male priests, excess greed and high expenses that make it unaffordable to practice. They are also turned off by the conflicts among priesthoods and lineages and the controlling nature of some approaches. There are too many male priest who try to subjugate women, manipulate them,  make unwanted sexual advances toward them as well. They find it difficult to know who to trust and one bad experience can turn them off for life. Many prefer to just work with other women now. So they opt for some version of Wicca, a neo form of witchcraft incorporating African practices, Hoodoo, and Rootwork. Many are now focusing on ancestral veneration rather than specific divinities associated with a specific African culture due to the pushback of African initiated priests. Because witchcraft is also rooted in mother nature and worship of the great mother, this appeals to many black women too who are tired of patriarchal religions including African ones. This is one of the primary contributors to its quick development.

This convergence of the two began to come to a head last year in 2018 at the Black witch convention. An article was written by a European woman that seemed to offend many because of her lack of understanding of the history because she blended the two as one.  Still, the article took off because people who are not initiated in African traditions but claim the name witch incorporate some traditional practices. This is where the confusion comes in. Many who claim the name witch identify with the power behind it but really have not had formal training in indigenous traditions or Traditional witchcraft traditions . Most , to date primarily converge on social media and read books watch YouTube and practice spells.

That is not to say there aren’t some who do honor the ancient practices of Traditional Witchcraft via covens. Covens , however, have protocols and processes and hierarchy too. But Black witches are growing so fast that the majority in the groups are not trained in any way and perceive themselves as free agents. To date , there are 14000 members in one online group and 7000 another other. All black mostly women, some initiated most are not. These grew to this size in a matter of a few years. Because of this, the practices have gotten a lot of attention.

Where do we go from Here?

Where it goes from here will depend on the community. African priesthoods have an opportunity to look at what’s broken and fix it to make it more appealing to a huge population of people seeking their ancestral traditions. Not doing so won’t stop the train . It is important that the perceptions and treatment of women be addressed. Educated black women with their own money  simply won’t fall for the misogyny or the fear based perception of their innate feminine power. They will just popularize their own version of it in or out of the priesthood. Black witches have the opportunity to learn an actual craft rather than an hodgepodge of information.  Honoring ancestors rather than specific divinities give space for you to do you. Still, weather  in African tradition or traditional witchcraft, one must master their craft not just make it up as you go.  You can’t learn either in a couple of months. Both require some instructional support from those more knowledgeable. It is important that factual information be relayed in the media, not just opinion. We all face the risk of misrepresentation. It’s important that we get this right moving forward.

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  1. Tab

    Thank you for explaining. I am hoping to learn more of what the differences are, and I really appreciate this post!


    I’ve been studying the craft for over 40 years an in research I’ve discovered that I’m a descendant of a Vudu High Priestess. I’m at present learning more about my ancestor, even though it been slow since I have to work and put my youngest thru school; medical books are expensive, LOL. I love your websit and do plan on becoming a member, by end of February 2019.

  3. Mignon

    As always Iya, you are so on point and insightfull. It is concerning regarding the free agency with the Orisha tradition in online spiritual communities.Much misleading information and belief that one can pick and choose whatever they want to practice and however they want to practice.

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