I promised quite some time ago to post more on initiation. Here I share some information on my experience as a Westerner in an African Linage.
The word twasa is derived from twasa which means ‘the light of the new moon’ or from “Ku mu thwasisa” meaning ‘to lead to the light’. Our title as Sangomas is “Gogo” meaning one (grandmother) who leads you by the hand. The ceremony is a transformation of you as a person, from your old way of being, to a totally new being dedicated to the healing work with the ancestors. You take on a new name and identity and become part of a family or lineage of healers who stand behind you, and support you in your work. You are taught a new way of being. The twasa is training, strong healing & protection, and initiation. The initiation ceremony is the culmination of your work / training, when you step into your power and role as a healer in society.
It is said that by receiving a calling to heal, you are possessed or embodied by an Idlozi – a healing spirit or a “Star”. This may be a specific ancestor from your lineage, or a few spirits and or guides. You will know this.
‘Ukuthwasa’ (make new) and healing (ukwelapha- to treat) indicates that the Twasa ceremony is a healing and rebirth. Your twasa may be the opening of your way to do this healing for others, or it may be just a healing for you, and your ancestors, and not translate into a practise. This depends on the spirit or Idlozi that calls you, if you are embodied by an ancestor who was a healer, and wants you to continue the healing work, or if you are embodied by a “sick” ancestor who is suffering and needs healing. The healing work on our own lineages – especially with issues like unexplained illness, misfortunes, racism and separation – is ongoing, and with your living as well as deceased ancestors – making restitution.
It is Important in African lineages to understand which Spirits or ancestors call you and need healing – as they are linked to specific Impandes. You cannot for instance us Impande “A” to heal a calling by “Spirits B” – the need to go to the right Impande. In Thokoza you can be called by a foreign spirit that is not family per se, but one which your lineage may have wronged. Also, this Mpande works with water, and with herbs and ceremonies of the Nguni. So, we do 2 separate imitations for the Ndau & Nguni – using different muthi’s and rituals.
If it becomes clear you have a different calling and needs herbs and healing from another lineage – you either need to be handed over to that lineage or do another initiation. This is often why there is misunderstanding of especially westerners becoming sangomas, as it is seen that only African people can be called by African spirits. We may include herbs and rituals from your ancestors as we are guided and may use herbs or medicines from other traditions we are trained in. (In my personal Impande, I include North & south American ritual and medicines, as well as some north European wisdom form my ancestors.).
Initiation follows a calling to do something specific – and it opens the way for us to achieve that, and connects us to the ancestral or spirit world, opening channels and teaches us how to manage and work with these energies and flows. A calling to become a healer manifest through various channels.
My personal calling manifested in 2 ways: The Nguni (Swazi) called me with dreams of being stalked by lions. The Ndau (Shangaan) called me by way of mental illness and undefined physical sickness. Days before my twasa they also took my voice. In my own lineages (I descend from Afrikaners, a mix of Khoi, Dutch, Irish, German & French), from the time I was a child, I experienced signs of premonition or psychic ability, as well as a strong interest in herbal medicine, interest in African culture, all gifts that are strongly demonstrated in my maternal line. I believe the calling to the Thokoza Lineage, arrived as my ancestors in Mpumalanga had violent interactions with these tribes, and that needed restitution. I am guided by the grandmothers, and protected by the grandfathers, my father and brother who are all in spirit.
During the twasa you must complete and demonstrate 4 tasks to become a healer:
(With thanks to Zanemvula)
Some of these will be easier for you than others. The ones that come naturally is your talent. The ones you struggle with, will require you to work hard to master them.
Humility & Respect (hlonipa): (Dealing with your pride, arrogance and selfishness). Operating from your heart, not your head, demonstrated by service: cleaning up and helping where you can without being asked to do so, not sitting around and waiting for it to be done for you. We walk on our knees in the ancestor’s house, we kneel and clap when we ask for something, we give gratitude, we walk barefoot on the sacred earth, we respect the indigenous customs and the sacredness of the earth, we work together as equals. We wear sarongs at all times. We behave in a quiet and respectful manner, don’t complain and do as we are asked. Our helpers here are the Earth and the medicines of Umhlonitswa and Umhlaba.
Courage: (dealing with your fear and guilt) demonstrated by your courage, not being in fear, and taking responsibility for your healing. Learning that you are supported. Helpers: water. Medicines of Umhlonyana and Insiswa (bitterness).
Power: Accepting your true identity and purpose. You cannot be given power if you don’t have humility or courage – the power is not yours. It is the power of the ancestors that work through you. Your ability to act. Ability to quiet your mind and listen. Helpers: Wind. Medicines of Isibaha, Lebake (Lions ear) & Isindiyandiya.
Transcendence: (using your gift and powers for the higher good of others) your ability to navigate the spirit world. Finding your light. Ability to channel the healing energy of the ancestors and spirit guides, receiving visions and knowledge. Hearing the ancestor’s guidance in the “Bhula”, being able to go into trance or embody the ancestors, intuitive knowledge of medicines, ability to guide lost souls and ancestors that need healing. Helpers: Fire. Medicine: Ubulawu, Imphepu, Tobacco (snuff).
The pledge is a “lobola” or dowry to enter the lineage and family. Every lineage has its own guidelines on this. In previous times many animals were given but in modern times much of this has been translated to money or goods. Ndau usually also requires white chickens and Nguni red chickens, goats and cows. There is a specific role for the African tradition of blood sacrifice to the ancestors.
Western Culture & African Culture: In western society we also had the old traditions of a “dowry” as well one of sacrifice. (Often this was the first fruits of the harvests offered to the spirits of nature to ensure the next harvest). This was mainly abolished due to the influence of Christianity and the true meanings were lost or corrupted. (With the spread of Christian traditions in Europe many of the pagan traditions were incorporated and changed. This also happened in the Americas & Africa). Slaughtering for Ancestors however does not exist in the same way as in the African Traditions. This is where it can become tricky or confusing – when western people initiate into an African lineage. You may be asked to honour the customs for both the African family calling you as well as your own ancestral lineage. This will depend on the type of healing you need to do for your ancestors in your twasa.
Training & teachings:
During the twasa you will undergo all the healing rituals that we practise in our lineage so that you can experience and learn them. You will also use various muthi’s. Traditional Training is usually hands on and by oral transmission. It requires you to spend time with your Baba working beside them treating patients and asking questions. Learning the rituals and ceremonies and muthi plants takes time and dedication, as well as learning what your specific gift and calling is and how to practise that. We are lucky nowadays that we have good reference material & books on plant medicines, and we can buy muthi at markets. Each Inyanga / Sangoma should in fact be harvesting in the area they live, fresh medicines their ancestors guide them to use. These can include traditional medicine from other traditions as well and sangomas have been incorporating many western herbs such as fennel, liquorice root etc as well as herbs form the rest of Africa, America and Europe. Tinctures and other forms of preserved herbs like teas are also becoming popular. Prepared ranges of muthis are available.
We say the training is mainly done by your ancestors. Your spirit guides. Once you have done an initiation you are open to the voices of the ancestors who guide you in using all your knowledge and ancestral wisdom.
Progression as a sangoma:
It is up to you and your ancestors how many of these steps you will complete and how long it will take and how much you learn. Each of these steps have a separate pledge or lobola. In African traditions family members some to and support the ceremonies in performing the ritual specific to that family. For westerners this does not always happen as we are being initiated into a “foreign” culture and practise that is often not understood. I have found that during our initiations Gogo always invited many other sangomas to stand in as “family” and we practise the Nguni traditions of Nomsemane’s family in the twasa. (Gogo’s Name is Gladys Dlamini – from the Swazi lineage).
I believe however we are all Africans – born of this land – and the healing work is open to all. It is important that when you come to the twasa you know who your ancestors are , on both sides up to at least your grandparents, have an idea as to which of them may have practise some form or healing or had some special knowledge or skill, and what their likes, dislikes and customs were – or what they liked to eat, drink and enjoy. It is also important to know what trauma or sickness they had and what healing they need – as you will stand in for them during your twasa to heal this.
These items are placed on the altar to attract and feed them during initiations. We also offer items to the African lineage we work in , such as beer and snuff and we learn the traditional prayers. We also add our own customs from our heritage, so you may find that some Christian and other spiritual traditions are also included. (Gogo is a Shembe. Gogo’s first husband was from Indian descend and she often burns incense on her altar and people often turn up with a gift of incense to her, not knowing why…..)
Progression & Ceremonies in training:
- Receiving the calling and being identified as a healer. This may be indicated by a period of sickness confusion or “bad luck”, with no logical explanation.
- Accepting your calling and opening the gate to your twasa. Report to your home altar your agreement to do the work.
- Naming and connection to various ancestors, spirits and elementals i.e. water. The start of your apprenticeship .
- Sangoma Initiation / training – healing and cleansing. You take on the identity of a healer and continue your process of training. You wear the colours of your lineage / Mpande and wear your top robe over both shoulders as protection.
- Mtuntu – Inyanga / herbalist basket – you receive your basket with basic muthi and tools to do your This may be followed by your Gate Ceremony
- Gate ceremony – Homecoming or going home ceremony – you now go out under your Baba’s home to your own family home to practise – you go home with all you need to practise and consult as a healer – you may still need the guidance of your Baba
- Graduation: “Potula or Porula”. This is a family celebration of your achievement. Usually family and community are invited. Standing in your own power as a healer, building your own Indumba (healing hut) etc. you may now wear your robes over the shoulder and you receive your Shoba and drums from your cow.
- Secret ceremony of Umsala Umzathi. This is a test you will pass before your graduation.
- Opening your Makosini, Indumba or healing hut.
- Lobola Mpande: learning the deep traditions of the lineage and how to perform initiations – becoming a trainer and elder in the lineage. You will receive a root or branch form your Baba’s Impande to plant at your indumba – carrying on the family tree and altar. Indicated by adding black beads and robes and colours of your choice.