This is the last entry in this trilogy looking at abuse and bullying in this community. I have been sitting on writing part three for a while now. Thinking about my own experience on this path and about the negative and hurtful scenarios that I have gone through over the last 15 years.
Last week I took part in two seminars organised by a group of concerned practioners of various initiatory status from various lineages. The first seminar was educational and focused on sexual abuse and spotting predators. It was useful on many different levels. The second one was a follow up where we were placed in small working groups to discuss how to combat and root out abusive behaviour in our communities. I was very inspired by the latter follow up meeting because it gave me a real chance to listen to other people’s experiences and outlooks regarding this subject. It also confirmed to me that I have not imagined some of the shady behaviour amongst some of the fellow Olorishas/Babalawos in this tradition in the UK. But also it forced me to look at myself and my own boundaries. Fundamentally I realised that I was prepared to accept certain behaviour because I felt that challenging anyone’s behaviour was akin to disrespecting hierarchy and I think this is essentially a massive problem in our communities.
It is not only about people’s behaviour. It is about our own boundaries and our understanding with regards to what is appropriate and OK to accept and what constitutes a red flag.
Contemplating on all of this has also reminded me that there are different layers to abuse. In this Blog, I would like to lay out my own experiences without naming and shaming in the hope that I can help others who may be reading this and live in small or remote communities where there are few practitioners. I then would like to address some of the red flags and also some guidelines to help anyone on their journey who is looking for an Ile or who is in an Ile and does not feel comfortable.
Email: email@example.com for more info on forthcoming events.
Over the years what I have experienced within the Ocha Community has been totally outside of my life experience. Although I am a survivor of sexual abuse, I had never experienced bullying, and also alienation, in the same way as I have within the Ocha community. Although I have been practising for most of my adult life, and had been going to and from Cuba for readings and initiations, I had not encountered many individuals on the same path as me in the UK until after I had made Ocha. This religion is a community religion and I found that in order to function I needed to make alliances with people from different houses and different backgrounds, and it led me on a journey of discovering individuals who were practitioners. Due to my eagerness to fit in, to find community and to function as an Olorisha, I really felt that I compromised my boundaries and allowed certain behaviour to bypass me, even though I felt uncomfortable with it. In life years, I am older than all of the people who may have been unkind to me within the context of Ocha. However, the fact that they were one or two years or older than me in Ocha ( not withstanding the fact that I have been on this path for a long time) led me to a position where I was revering them despite some undesirable behaviour. When I eventually refused to carry on allowing such shady behaviour, I faced being ostracised and bullied. These were some of the scenarios that I witnessed and also faced myself.
- I witnessed an Espiritista in a Misa that I organised, humiliate someone within the context of a Misa who may or may not have gone through some kind of abuse within a family scenario. The individual who was having an Investigative Misa organised by myself, was being asked to admit to some form of abuse and when she didn’t disclose she was being pressured and humiliated. I had invited this espiritista on the recommendation of a couple of people. Never again.
- I was witness to an Olorisha telling one of my adult godchildren to shut her mouth, stop talking in an unnecessarily unkind way.
- I was laughed at, humiliated publicly and undermined in the Ile of someone else where I felt I had to tread on eggshells. One of the people involved in this was the same espiritista ( see point 1) She wasn’t the only one.
- I was shouted at and abused verbally by an elder, because I refused to go against my Ita and lie for her in a fraudulent way. I was chastised and have paid the price since then.
- I have read untrue and libelous statements about me on a Babalawo’s page on facebook. He eventually took down the post after complaints.
- I had to sit there and be witness to an Olorisha advising a client to take anti-depressants. Rang alarm bells for me
- I was threatened by a fellow Olorisha (who I had invited to work with me in my Ile) with “Brujeria” in an aggressive and nasty email because I asked a reasonable question which concerned me and my crowned Goddaughter.
There are so many other things that I can list, but I would be here all day and I don’t want to bore you. All of these incidents caused me great distress. In particular because the people who had been unkind were people that I had invited into my home and who had taken part in events and ceremonies that I had organised. The threat of Brujeria, in particular was so unexpected and was made at a time when I was coping with the suicide of my Son’s father and I had no strength emotionally. It tipped me into a depression and I was already on the edge.
My response to all of this was to completely separate myself and think about the type of Ile that I wanted to create. For me it was a positive and essential move. However, I always had the doubt in my mind that maybe I was at fault in same way and without a supportive community, I had no one to talk to about what I was experiencing. Once I had separated myself and did not invest anymore time in worrying about what people thought of me, I found that my mental health improved and my connections to good people emerged.
At the end of August this year, I was invited to a Tambor by the sea, by one of the people who had previously published some untruths on his page about me. He said I would be welcomed. I had never been asked to go to any of his events previously but I was prepared to give it a go. However, I did not want to go alone, and was worried about who would be there, I didn’t want to appear to be petty and not attend so I asked those in my Ile if they would accompany me. A group of 25 of us went to the tambor. When we got there, the Olorisha who had threatened me with Brujeria was already there. That Olorisha, her goddaughter and a couple of other individuals who I had the displeasure of knowing spent a consistent amount of time staring, pointing and laughing at our group. I am not sure what their intentions were or what they felt they were going to achieve, but it was certainly odd behaviour witnessed by all my godchildren, friends and family who had accompanied me. I didn’t feel welcomed. It did trigger lots of negative memories but at the same time the support and vibration of all Godchildren and friends and family was confirming and up- lifting. I came away with mixed feelings and many questions.
The week after I was contemplating writing to the group of Olorishas. All of those that had been unkind, who had gossiped about me, threatened me, shouted at me and published untruths. But I thought better of it, after coming across the following post:
“Let them judge you. Let them misunderstand you. Let them gossip about you. Their opinions aren’t your problems. You stay kind, committed to love and free in your authenticity. No matter what they do or say, don’t you doubt your worth. Or the beauty of your truth. Just keep shining like you always do”
And it really spoke to me. I started to wonder why did I care about what these people think? Why would I be invested in their opinions? It made me really think about my own boundaries, my own journey and my own desire to belong to something greater than just myself. It made me realise that I was willing to collude with people that are not healthy in themselves and the way they treat others.
When I attended the workshops regarding abuse in our communities. Someone suggested that training and therapy, should be made mandatory for people that are leading an Ile. I absolutely agree with this. How many people would be so quick to initiate others if it meant they had to go through some soul searching, some training in people management a thorough study of ethics and even therapy? This is my opinion which may or may not be shared by other individuals but I think it is a valid way of thinking about restructuring our communities and ensuring that abuse does not take place. Iwa Pele means gentle Character, it is fundamental to our practise. Iwa Pele does not mean threatening another Olorisha nor does it mean keeping silent in the face of abuse.
RED FLAGS and BOUNDARIES:
I have spoken about bullying. Here is a definition of bullying from the National Bullying Helpline in the UK.
What is indirect or subtle bullying? Subtle bullying is described as the actions of someone who behaves with mischief, often intentional and usually behind your back, with negative motive ie: to ease you out of your role or cause you professional embarrassment for example. It may be that the bully wants to bring you to disrepute or have you excluded in some way, Exclusion is Bullying.
The above describes what happened, as a result of not accepting certain shady behaviour.
- Regarding Boundaries. For everyone reading this post, it is really important that you have a couple of safe adults that you trust completely in order to be able to talk about any abuse or anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Instinct is really important here. Your safe adults may or may not be in the religion, however hierarchy should not be an excuse to let things slide. If there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable address it to your safe adults.
- Do not allow your own desire of wanting to feel part of a community, shape and compromise your own authentic self. If you feel uncomfortable or sad, or depressed, these are red flags. If you trust your godparents talk to them about it. If you don’t trust this is a warning, you are not in the right place. Trust is key!
- Any Godparent or Elder that threatens you with fear including Brujeria is an unethical priest. DO NOT FALL IN TO THE TRAP OF BELIEVING THIS BULLSHIT. Their Orisha do not condone this behaviour. Walk away.
- Any Godparent or elder that tries to make you feel uncomfortable about your own choices regarding sexuality, or identity, is not an ethical priest. It is not up to any Priest to determine who you are.
- Any Godparent or Elder that tells you, you may die if you don’t go through initiation is unethical. Even if initiation is for you, it is your call and your responsibility to see things through in your own time.
- Any Godparent or Elder or Diviner that prescribes or suggests you need to take medication is unethical. We are not Doctors. Alternative help may be suggested, but prescribing is not permitted.
- Any Godparent or Elder that attempts to make themselves irreplaceable ( ie makes you feel that you are nothing without them) is unethical.
- Any attempt from an Elder in your Ile and/or Godparent to touch you inappropriately OR to even suggest a date, is unethical. Talk to one of your safe adults. NB: someone was referred to me after her own Padrino had told her that she would not get pregnant unless she slept with him. THIS IS UNETHICAL!!!!!
- No ceremony ever takes place without witnesses. Try not to go to a Diviner that you don’t know or have built up trust with on your own. Take someone with you. If you have been to a divination and on the back of the divination a priest asks you to disrobe for a cleansing or something like that. Say “ no thank-you” …. this is unethical behaviour. Tell someone.
- Lastly. Be really careful of priests that say they do not charge for anything. This is a red flag. Nothing is for free. Be careful, predators have a habit of presenting a wonderful almost too good to be true scenario and then you have taken the bait. You will end up paying in a different way.
- Now just in case, because I have also faced these 2 scenarios. If an elder tells you what to do, and you feel a certain way, because you are not used to a person in authority telling you what to do, this is not abuse. It is just someone giving you instruction. If you feel uncomfortable about it, talk to your elders. If you have sympathetic elders, they wi ll understand and explain.
- Do not put all your eggs in one basket. It may come out in a reading or it may be apparent that you need other help, ie therapy or a visit to the Doctor. If your elder suggests therapy, doctors, or other kind of diagnosis, they are more than likely saying this with your own well being in mind. We are spiritual workers. We cannot address everything. Do not feel offended if it is suggested that you need a different kind of help to overcome certain things.
There are more seminars to come regarding positive and essential changes we need to build a healthy community. Please sign up! It is completely free: firstname.lastname@example.org