Myths and misconceptions surround Obeah and the rituals of the Obeah Men. Obeah men and women have been called Witches, Warlocks and Practitioners of the “Black Arts.” However most misconceptions arise out of fear, and people fear most what they do not understand. The powers of a true Obeah Man are undeniable, and as such yes he is a force to be reckoned with, but like any force of nature Obeah can wielded for good or ill. Wind can be destructive as a Hurricane, but it can also be used to grind wheat, move great vessel across vast oceans, or today even generate electricity.
Obeah as it is most commonly used today refers to the shamanistic and ritualistic practices of the Islands of West Indies. But Obeah traces its roots back to the religious belief of West Africa, and undoubtedly to far more ancient times. “Modern” Obeah owes much of it’s “Bad Press” however and occult status to its beginnings in the slave trade. The 17th Century was not exactly a time of enlightenment. Just take a look at the Salem Witch Trials in New England. The European slavers were a particularly superstitious lot, ready to label anything African as pagan, heathen or worse. Also the salvers came to the West African tribes taking the youngest and strongest of their men and women, not the tribal elders who were most likely the priests and priestesses of the West African Religions. So those that brought the rites of Obeah to the Islands were hardly those that were its most experienced and adept practitioners, and indeed likely turned to its darker elements to attack their oppressors, and try to over come the pain and suffering of slavery.
The derivation of the word “Obeah” itself has also led to its Black Magic association. It is believed it originated from the Ashanti word for Sorcerer or Witch, both of which have negative connotations. The root of the word “Ob” also closely resembles the word for serpent or snake in several ancient tongues. Over the years Obeah in a religious sense has then been equated with the Serpent, or Snake that drove man from the Garden of Eden, which in turn has been equated with Satan. Shrouded in secrecy and feared by the Slave owners, the Magistrates of Jamaica outlawed the practices and rites of Obeah and made it punishable by death to even be found with the implements of Obeah, such as animal bones, parrot beaks etc. Laws against the practice of Obeah still existed on the Island of Jamaica well into the 20th century.
However there is nothing intrinsically Satanic about Obeah. There are both White and Black Magic aspects of its rites and rituals. True an Obeah Man can bring a terrible vengeance down upon those that are deserving of such a fate, but they can also produce powerful love spells that have brought happiness, wealth, and good fortune to many.
The True Obeah Man does not see himself as “good” or “evil”. He has at his command a full range of tools, and abilities to manipulate metaphysical and spiritual energies at the behest of the deities. This gives him the power to destroy or create. His craft can be deadly, or compassionate. It all depends on the intent.