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January 13, 2015 4:42 AM   Subscribe

When I've lived in areas with a high Asian or Afro-Caribbean population, I've often got cards for 'powerful spiritual healers' through the door. Here's an example. I am not a believer in such things, but am curious as to what their 'services' involve. Is it something over and above what psychic/woo/new age people tend to offer? Are there any accounts of people, skeptic or not, who have visited one? If relevant, I'm in the UK!

Also - and I'm showing my ignorance here I'm sure - a lot of these cards are handed out in areas of London with a proliferation of fire and brimstone type black churches. Are these sort of spiritual services opposed by fervent Christians (as per the banning of Hallowe'en/Harry Potter in the Southern bible belt) or do the 'destruction of black spirits' etc tie in with that?
posted by mippy to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, these folks aren't on the level at all. These are not practitioners who have studied an art and who are practicing it for the benefit of the community. In many cases these are like the old palm readers, who prey upon the desperate. They may start out with a tarot reading identifying something troubling, they may claim clairvoyance, in some way the mark is hexed or cursed. By paying the practitioner money, more and more money, they can lift the curse.

Fortune Telling Fraud is a huge business, and it's the approach is tailored to the community.

Used to be 'gypsy' fortune tellers were prominent, but they may claim Voo Doo or Santaria or other religious roots. In the case you've shown, this fortune teller claims to have roots in African magic.

In 99.99999% of cases it's someone who is taking money to alleviate someone's stress about a particular situation. In the best cases it's harmless, but in many, many, many cases, it's a way to separate people from their money.

The discretion/secret is the fear that if the mark reveals that they're paying a Voo Doo practitioner to remove a curse, that other people in the mark's family will raise a red flag and get them arrested.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:46 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: RB - I'm not planning on visiting one, just to be clear. I'm curious as to whether there's a cultural specifity that makes these practitioners special. I know that tarot lines, for example, are generally hired workers making it up rather than someone sitting and doing a specific reading because they believe that tarot is a genuine oracle.

It sounds as though they are out to make money rather than people who believe they have a gift they want to share for the benefit of mankind etc. etc. However, many of the cards I've seen have had something like 'pay after result' on them.
posted by mippy at 5:59 AM on January 13, 2015

I run in Wiccan new age circles and as a result I know some people who do these things. There is a large devide between those who just make stuff up and those who use it as a spiritual practice. Those who use it as a spiritual practice generally practice within their communities, and will spend time talking about the history and doubt regarding whichever divination practice.

If you are interested in spending money- going to public spiritual gatherings and asking around is your best bet.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:12 AM on January 13, 2015

"Pay after result" is probably a come on. Like $10 reading. Once you're through that door you've already proven that you're a bit gullible, the rest is easy.

The cultural specifity that makes these folks special is that they'll claim whatever to whomever to get people coming through the door. There are cultures that do rituals and practice magic. There are cultures that have magical practitioners who heal as part of a religious practice. I can't think of any religious healer who would be sliding cards under doors of all and sundry in a neighborhood.

Just as you would go to your church for spiritual advice, people of other religions go to their shamen, wisewomen, medicine men and healers within their religion. This is usually within the confines of their own spiritual community.

I suspect that these folks are targeting newcomers or folks who are outside of their regular religious practice, or folks who may now be Christian, but who may have roots in a different religious practice.

At best, they're acting like a practitioner exchanging money for worthless advice and rituals. At worst they're looking for people to defraud.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:25 AM on January 13, 2015

Anecdata: I was in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta once with a person who later changed their name and became a shaman, psychic and Hoodoo Rootworker (their terms). Tarot readings, house 'cleansings', blessing candles, potions to bring luck or love or money, etc. For what it's worth, I am 100% positive that this individual believes in all of these things and practices them in their own life, and I also know that before I knew them this person was raised in a very evangelical Bible belt Christian household and had serious struggles at adolescence that led to rejecting this but retaining a strong sense of spirituality. As Southern and black, they talk about Hoodoo as part of their culture and regaining ancestral practices. At the same time, from talking with them, I get the idea that they're a small business person and that comes with a certain amount of hustle no matter what kind of business you run. Thus the fliers?

They also participate in a podcast regularly, so I would google around if you'd like to hear people talking about these beliefs on their own terms. I've listened to a few episodes and it's interesting, despite the clanging of my hooey meter.
posted by theweasel at 7:16 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and in terms of possible services rendered...
posted by theweasel at 7:18 AM on January 13, 2015

In the cases I heard about (in Mexico), it worked like this:

Customer: I need your help to [remove a curse / curse someone]!
Scammer, to self: Yay, someone who believes in this crap!
Scammer to customer: Abracadabra - mumbo-jumbo, I've done what you asked. And now I'll put a curse on you, and I'll keep promising to remove it if you pay me X, but X will keep increasing until you're bankrupt or you've let me abuse you sexually.
posted by ceiba at 7:27 AM on January 13, 2015

a lot of these cards are handed out in areas of London with a proliferation of fire and brimstone type black churches. Are these sort of spiritual services opposed by fervent Christians

Anecdata, but, based on my experiences working quite a few black gospel music events in the midwestern U.S., I think mostly yes, these practitioners are not viewed with approval - at least insofar as an "official" approval by either individual pastors or a larger church organization, if there is one.

Some of the events have been more "concerts with a little preaching", others more straight up church services, and with various levels of "fire and brimstone." And preachers do tend to speak more in generalities than specifics, but I've certainly heard black preachers come down hard on "alternative spiritual practices" like these. Their position is something like: at best, they're a distraction, at worst, they're an active ploy by the Devil (and I strongly suspect that the flyer you linked to would be viewed largely as an outright invitation to witchcraft & Satanism), and in either case the result is to draw people away from their faith in and practice of Christianity, and since faith in Jesus is the only true path to happiness in this world and salvation in the next, dabbling in these sort of alternative practices is putting the practitioner's soul in danger.

I believe I've also heard some pastors take a swing at these practitioners from an economic standpoint; that whether it's an outright scam or a well-intentioned but ineffective attempt at spiritual comfort, it's foolish for people living on the economic edge to spend their hard-earned dollars on these things.

So, I think at least in the U.S., fervent Christianity in contemporary black culture is generally opposed to these "spiritual healers", they don't make an exception because the healers supposedly share a common cultural or ethnic background.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:29 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd definitely class this practitioner as someone more on the "businessman" side of things, rather than the "true believer" side of things, just because they've chosen a name that's meant to imply a connection to Nelson Mandela.
posted by MsMolly at 7:57 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Economic demographics may be a big part of what areas are targeted. We've had occasional similar flyers in our mailbox (in our mostly middle-class Athens neighborhood) since the Greek economic crisis (as well as, for example, "Sell Your Gold" type flyers), which I never remember seeing before the financial meltdown, so it's likely that the marketing logic goes, "the poorer people are, the more desperate and out of control they feel, and the more likely they are to respond to any shred of hope, however outlandish."

I'm afraid I don't remember if there was anything about the ethnicity of the supposed spellcaster(s) in the ones we've received, but I do see there's apparently a Mr. Madiba guaranteeing results somewhere in the Netherlands, as well.
posted by taz at 8:13 AM on January 13, 2015

Many West-Africans regularly consult practitioners of traditional religions. It's an ordinary part of daily life. That's what this is.
posted by Jode at 9:39 AM on January 13, 2015

Response by poster: Jode - thanks, that's what I was wondering. Can you point me to any background on this, especially in a diasporic context? All we seem to hear in the (white mainstream) UK on this topic are tragic cases involving 'possessed' children.

The Asian ones almost always seemed to be called 'Pandit' something or other, which from Googling suggests they hold some kind of religious/spiritual training. The majority Asian neighbourhood I used to get these in was a traditionally poor part of Manchester, which had me wondering if it was the psychic equivalent of playing the lottery each week. I couldn't find one of these flyers online or in the e-edition of the Metro free paper (where some advertise).
posted by mippy at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2015

Response by poster: There's one on my desk now - which prompted the question - from a 'Mr Kounty'. There are symbols of a lamp (Christian?), a star and an eye, as well as a square with some numbers in. He is offering:

'Great and Powerful Spiritual Healer African. Gift from Many Generation of father to son. Specialist in the Union and Return of Loved Ones, He will Help Solve all Your Problems Even the Most Hopeless Cases, Infidelity Family Success, Luck Games [possibly this is what the number square is?], Protection He is an Expert in the Removal and Destruction, Black Magic, Evil Spirits Bad Luck Etc...

Quick Results and Satisfaction 100% Guaranteed! & Discreet


You Deserve to be Happy today'
posted by mippy at 10:18 AM on January 13, 2015

Many West-Africans regularly consult practitioners of traditional religions. It's an ordinary part of daily life. That's what this is.

I wouldn't have said so. Mr. Madiba is closer to a 419 artist. You're not going to find a genuine babalawo advertising in this way. Ruthless Bunny in my opinion is correct on this.

fwiw the churches would be more intolerant of a genuine manifestation of the old religion than of the guy in the leaflet because that's paganism as opposed to con artistry. Also a church member seeking healing etc. would likely be provided for within the church anyway: they wouldn't have to go looking for freelancers.

If you want to know what a babalawo does and what the training is for that, look up Ifa. Mr Madiba is not it.

In a cultural revival kind of way many highly educated Nigerians (not if they're strongly Christian though) are interested in and sympathetic towards Ifa, which is still a strong belief system among people with more traditional lifestyles. You couldn't become a priest without being born into a very traditional family as the training starts young and relies on committing reams of verse - some of it pretty abstruse - and other knowledge to memory. I can't imagine there are many babalawo in London because they are so embedded within the culture .... why would they want to be in London?
posted by glasseyes at 5:42 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

So I just found out Ifa is on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list.

The answer to your question Is it something over and above what psychic/woo/new age people tend to offer? is no. It is formed from a slightly different background of received ideas and thus comes in a different idiom and accent.
posted by glasseyes at 6:02 PM on January 13, 2015

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