by Etecia Brown
I was a child that lived for bedtime stories. I had a huge collection of books written by and about Black people. I was able to imagine myself as the hero in these stories. I particularly enjoyed folktales and creation stories from all around the world. Later in life going to an all-girls Catholic high school with a feminist lean and social justice curriculum, we were taught to question the Bible and be curious about the gods and rituals of other cultures. I began to notice how religious texts from around the world contained fantastic tales with similar messages- love. I have used writing and reading as a way to not only access the divine, but also to go inside myself and take and leave the pieces of me that serve me best in that moment. When things are written down the spirit of the writer it becomes immortal. When we read ancient text it is an opportunity to wake our genetic memories up and listen to Spirit. You too are someone’s ancestor. What is the story you are creating right now in this life? What is the story you have been telling yourself? Is this story empowering you? Folk tales and traditions connect the community and family to our past through word of mouth while it evolves with the changing times.
In Black cultural tradition word is bond. The wisdom of our ancestors is able to be accessed through the stories that our grandmas shared and then retold by us. Why have our ancestors written down stories for us to remember or made sure that we gathered around their feet to hear? These stories are maps to the beginning. Why we are here. Each trauma and resilience is carried intergenerationally not just through your DNA but through the stories we tell ourselves and leave behind for others. Most indigenous cultures believe that their ancestors are a vital force in their lives. In the African Ifá tradition it is believed that all of us have the ability to communicate with and be guided by our ancestors. More over Ifá tradition notes that a person cannot know who you are if you cannot say your ancestors names going back seven generations. In the Americas you see a similar belief system among the indigenous folks here such as the Navajo who honor the perspective of seven generations of their ancestral lineage when making a significant decision that affects their family or community. Our folklore carries these traditions on. But, when do our experiences move from being real and valid to myth and fantasy? We have seen how history has been distorted to fit the colonial-capitalist agenda. Once Europeans began to go out and conquer these ancient civilizations of people of color you see a shift in the way that knowledge is created, validated, taught, learned, and passed on. Western influence teaches us that things are only true if a White male proves it to be so through his own studies and findings using his own methodologies. Today is a new day. We do not need our experiences to be validated. We do not need proof that we were there. We know the truth. We don’t need to go to Africa to be initiated. We don’t need to ask anyone for permission to live our ancestry, to be who we are. There are people, your people, trying to talk to you. If you listen, they are here to protect you on your journey. They are here to help you pick up the work where they stopped. Go back to your original source and take that up as your tradition.
Social media is a great tool we can use to understand cultural shifts. Young people of color around the world are reclaiming myths and folklore as real and valid by deeming themselves magical. Black mermaids, witches, unicorns, fairies, dragons, nagas, pheonixes, star children etc. are associated with countless IG and Twitter handles. People are unapologetic about the super powers they possess. They are claiming their rightful titles and by claiming such they are able to live their daily lives in the likeness and lightness of these fantastical beings. The logo for letthemflourish is a Black mermaid. My avatar. My personal affirmation. I am reminding myself to be like the water, flowing with the tide and shifting into my original form. I began to read about Black mermaids after my friend's Nigerian mom referred to me as "Mami Wata". In my discovery I noticed that instead of indigenous people describing mermaids as “mythological creatures” these beings were described spiritually. I also learned that all of ancient Africa practiced a multitude of water-spirit traditions before they were first contacted by Europeans. Mami Wata refers to a pantheon of deities often portrayed in its most primordial aspects as a mermaid, half-fish or half-reptile. Yemaya/Yemoja, Oshun, and other water spirits emerged and reestablished in new communities throughout the diaspora in African-based faiths seeking to revitalize the traditions of Mami Wata. In Ancient Africa Mami Wata was associated with the deity Isis, mother of Horus and daughter of Ra. According to a text by Egyptologist George Massey, A Book of Beginnings, in Kemet (ancient Egypt) Isis was referred to as the "Holy Widow" or the "Self-Creator" and was most often described as a water deity and worshiped as "the first cause that did not have a cause". Mami Wata derives originally from a composite of two Kemetic words, “ma,” and “uati.” “Ma” meaning “truth/wisdom,” and “Uati” meaning "ocean water". Worshipers of Isis and other deities associated with water spirits began to spread the traditions, rituals, and practices throughout Africa and the world. The priesthood of Mami Wata is mostly matriarchal (Massey, 1998). The Mami Wata tradition is apart of a broader ancient African matriarchal religious system called Afá or Ifá with it's roots in Kemet, though today this religious system is mostly associated with West Africa. What is your favorite mythological creature or spirit animal? What folklore hero or ancestor spirit most resonates with you? Who told you that these stories were just "make believe"? Who told you that their existence was impossible? Not only are people of color experiencing erasure in physical form with gentrification (new-colonialism), mass incarceration, and state-sanctioned violence, we are are also being erased from history and fighting to discern truth from distortion.
Throughout our experience as people of color in this modern world orders of belonging are disrupted, so is the flow of love. When this happens, family members come under systemic pressure to restore balance. Unconscious friction develops between family members and their ancestors in an effort to heal the family soul. These entanglements can then manifest as personal, financial or professional obstacles as well as disease. Telling our stories helps to uncover the truth behind these patterns and we are able to strive to find resolutions to bring balance to the flow of love in our family system. This allows for the flow of love to be restored to the living members of our family which is the foundation to achieving health, wealth, and success in all aspects of life. Not only are we apart of a collective universal consciousness we are also an active presence in our family conscious which guards the integrity of our family soul. When we are able to learn from the experiences of our ancestors and take up those truths and wisdoms we can create new stories that empower us to be resilient and flourish. We all have a message to deliver to the world. We were chosen to be alive in this exact moment for a reason. So tell the world what you are here to do. Dare to dream. Live the impossible. We will no longer practice our magic behind closed doors with hushed breaths and and timid hands. Our existence is resistance. The fact that we are here in spite of over 500 years of enslavement is magic. You are the ancient medicine, you are the potion needed to heal your sick self. Don't be afraid to tell your story about how you have resurrected; you are just as worthy as the one they called Christ.