Luisah Teish grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her father was African Methodist Episcopal. His own parents had been two-generation servants and only one-generations away from slavery. Her mother was black Haitian, French, and Choctaw. She was trying to be Catholic.
"Being Louisiana Catholic is not like being any other Catholic. It is more Caribbean Earth-based than anything," Luisah says. "I grew up with my mother making moccasins, picking herbs, and performing rituals, and my father telling her to stop doing 'that stuff. '"
Luisah remembers her mother and her friends sitting around and interpreting each other's dreams. Her mom could go into the backyard, make a circle of salt, do some chants and rituals, and bring down rain. They didn't act like women on television.
"But thank goodness they didn't," Luisah says.
Luisah was intrigued by these women and their magic. They taught her that a woman's ability to produce and nurture life enabled them to interact with natural forces in ways uncommon to men. Women could foresee and prepare for natural disasters, heal illness and deliver babies. They settled disputes, fought injustice and were deeply hurt when offended.
Luisah was an open and sensitive child and had frequent visions. Her family pushed their own religious agendas on her until her mother finally said, "God by any means necessary. Go to any church you can, [and] learn whatever you can."
During Luisah's childhood, the south was still segregated. Black folks had separate water fountains, separate seats in busses and restaurants, and had to go up the back stairs instead of the front. Since the local church was for whites only, Luisah had to travel two towns away to attend services. She rode the bus and worried that the Klu Klux Klan would shoot her while she stood at the bus stop.
"I had to learn to run away from the Klan in between waiting for the bus," she says.
As she grew up, Luisah began to understood the importance of Africa as her mother-land, and her life opened up. In college, when performing the sacred dances of the Pan-African tradition, she experienced the first Spirits spoken of in her African culture As an energy flowed through her body, she realized that Spirit was a real concept. The elders of the Oshun tradition soon told Luisah that she was born to be a priestess, not a dancer.
Luisah followed their direction. She lived through eight years of purification to become a priestess of Oshun. Oshun is the goddess of love and of the waters in the Yoruba Lucumi tradition from West Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. After serving as a "Mother of the Spirits" for 20 years, she spent 4 more years of initiation to become a "Mother of Destiny." She was given guidelines for the rest of her life.
"I was told it was my job to tell the stories that further kinship between the people of the Earth," she says. "Stories that inspire respect for the forces of nature and help us remember the goodness of the ancestors, with an emphasis on the work of women."
Today, Luisah teaches classes on African goddesses, shamanism, and the Yoruba Tambola tradition. She is author of "Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals," "Carnival of the Spirits" and "Jump Up." She founded "Ile Orunmila Oshun (The House of Destiny and Love)." She also founded the "School of Ancient Mysteries/Sacred Arts Center" and is director of "Ase Theater."
Luisah has performed her dances of world mythology and feminine folklore in Europe, South America, and New Zealand.
Luisah Teish's website: http://www.luisahteish.com/
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