What is Obeah?

Obeah is a form of Caribbean, magic that has its ancient roots in Africa. Obeah is very common throughout the West Indies, including Jamaica, Haiti, the Virgin Islands, Belize, Barbados, as well as Trinidad and Tobago. Each one of these locales may host an assortment of Obeah doctors who have retained magical traditions, rituals, and spells from Africa.

Although often associated with evil magic and curses, Obeah has spells for both positive and negative desires. There is nothing inherently evil or bad about Obeah; rather, Obeah is a magical tradition that contains the good and the bad, just like every other tradition. Despite this, Obeah does have very strong spells in respect to both causing illness and healing illness.

The negative images associated with Obeah do have roots in fact, however. It was early in the history of Caribbean slavery, when slaves were transported to the Caribbean from Africa, that Obeah was synonymous with curses. Obeah was, at the time, used to refer to the practitioners who wrought curses and evil spells. Myalism, on the other hand, was used to refer to those who healed and wrought helpful spells. It was the Myal-men and Myal-women who opposed the Obeah-men and Obeah-women. Over time, the practices of Myalism began to be assimilated into Obeah. This resulted in the Obeah of today – a modern synthesis of Myalism and Obeah that reflects both the ability to harm and heal.

The distinguishing characteristic of Obeah, its golden apple, is the ability to not only heal but to raise the dead. An early part of Obeah and Myal rites, not commonly seen today, involves the killing of a member of the Obi practitioner’s congregation. During this ritual, the person is killed and resurrected via the power of the Obi man or woman. The Obi practitioner is able to capture the soul of the recently deceased and return it immediately to the body, assuming that there is no significant damage or poison within the body.

Needless to say, it would be unwise to attempt to recreate this Obeah ritual. Although I do believe – and have seen – Obi men do this very rite I am not quick to advise it! This is dangerous, risky, and should be attempted by no one. That being said, I have included it to illustrate the power of Obeah.

Obeah is also hallmarked by its secrecy. As Obi men and women have traditionally been associated with causing harm and placing curses, they have also come under the persecution of local authorities as well as the scrutiny and distrust of community members. This has created a culture within Obeah society of secrecy; although an Obi man or woman will cast spells on your behalf, he or she will also require the utmost secrecy.

Banishing evil spirits is another domain of Obeah. Often referred to as the catching of a “shadow,” there are many Obeah rituals that allow an individual to trap or banish a harmful spirit. This is akin to the driving away demons and exorcisms common in other magical traditions. This also helps to illustrate why many Obeah spells are so successful at banishing curses.