Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Devil Dancers: Satan in West Africa

Journalist Humphrey Hawksley recently visited regions of West Africa that were explored by Graham Greene, author of the travelogue Journey Without Maps, about seventy years ago. During his own journey, Hawksley recorded some comments that, although muddied by supernatural faith, extol the Devil as a source of carnal joy.

Anton LaVey occasionally pointed toward primitive examples of fairly Satanic perspectives; the following passage, published by BBC News, gives us yet another. Unlike the Yezidis, whom academics try to distance from their reputation as quite Satanic, there is no question that West Africa's "devil dancers" are consciously aligning themselves with a concept of Satan not altogether alien to Satanists. That's not to say that this is actually Satanism – these rituals involve spiritualism and sacrifice, which go against the atheistic and egocentric principles of Satanism's religious philosophy.

This is ritual engagement with a force associated with earthly happiness. It proves the survival of carnal thinking within a "Christianized" culture, which naturally attributes worldly blessings not to Jehovah, but to that unabashed champion of the flesh, Satan.

"My name is Jacob Kermon," he said in a booming voice that carried above the sound of singing and drums heralding the arrival of the devil. "And Jesus Christ is my personal saviour."

"Then, why are we here worshipping the devil?" I asked, slightly confused.

"When the devil comes out people feel good," he said. "He brings happiness and reconciliation within the community."

As the sun dropped and villagers lit fires, a stilted dancer walked in from the forest.

He stood six metres high. His face was covered with a black mask, his head rimmed with shells. He was dressed in orange pyjamas, his hands sealed within the cotton.

One by one the devil plucked us from the crowd.

I had to stretch up my hands to hold his, staring through wood smoke at the mask and on to a star-filled sky, as he twirled me round and round.

"In the Christian world," wrote Greene, "we have grown accustomed to the idea of a spiritual war, of God and Satan."

But, he added, in this supernatural world there was "neither good nor evil", simply power, a concept that was beyond our "sympathetic comprehension."

But it was not beyond that of Mickey, my driver.

...Mickey gave me a knowing look. "As the chief told us," he said, "if you dance with the devil, the devil will be nice to you."

This passage is from the BBC News website, where you can also hear it in a podcast. The portion relevant to this posting starts around 25:05.

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