Joy Beyond Reason
By Yeye Luisah Teish
As an African American woman, I know that the great wealth of my life is the inheritance of Okan. Okan is a Yoruba word that can be translated as “the heart” and may be likened unto the qualities associated with the Heart chakra in the traditions of the East. But the word Okan also means first.
One could say that this word advises us to move in the world “heart first.” It is our preference for Okan that impels us to be optimistic, to make a way out of no way.
In my lifetime I've had the opportunity to sit around the fireside sharing food, telling stories, and singing and dancing with kindred spirits in the forests, on the mountaintop, in the valley, at the water's edge, and in the tents, huts, and homes of spiritual people on every continent.
Sometimes I am invited to speak on the conditions of Africana people, to address the violence, poverty, and oppression we face. The people ask me to explain to them how we endure overcome, and even thrive under such conditions. My answer is always Okan.
Every time and in each place that I was asked to speak, my response was to bring JOY in spite of suffering. This was asked of me because people of African descent, and African Americans in particular, are known worldwide for making “ A Joyful Noise” in praise of the Divine.
The power of the drum, our primal heartbeat, provides the basic rhythm over which we shake rattles, play bells, clap, stomp, and hum. With the drum as our Mother we utter village chants, spin folktales, sing gospels, write lyrical poetry, and speak Truth to Power.
Oshun: Daughter of the Mountain,
Mother of the River: Mixed-media collage of fabric, seeds, jewelry, and spices. Created by Luisah Teish, Spring 2013.
We adorn ourselves in expressions of gratitude to God and Nature. This expression can be seen in the robes of African chiefs heavily embroidered with sacred symbols, in the beads and feathers of ritual attendees, and the elegant hats worn by the women at Sunday service.
The Africana ethos is Joy Beyond Reason.
I am a dedicated priestess of OSHUN,the Goddess of Joy, Love, and Beauty. And She, like Aphrodite, has been maligned and devalued by a world enamored of hierarchy, war, materialism, and terraphobia. And yet She persists.
As we go forward into what may be years of oppressive government, misogyny, economic inequality, and environmental degradation, I invite us all to remember Okan — and its power to overcome and excel by making a Joyful Noise to the Divine.
Let the churches, the festivals, and the fireside gatherings reconnect us to the vastness of the Universe and the Freedom that is our birthright. This is our inheritance and our gift to the world.
I invite you to view this video, entitled “The Archetype of Oshun and the Divine Feminine,” as an offering to Oshun.
I am blessed and give gratitude to my ancestors, my elders, my family, and friends.
Watch Luisah relate a profound experience in this 6-minute video:
Yeye Luisah Teish is the author of Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals. She co-authored On Holy Ground: Commitment and Devotion to Sacred Land with Kahuna Leilani Birely. Her latest work is Spirit Revealing, Color Healing: A Creative and Soulful Journey.
Luisah offers online classes in the Elements of Ritual and Casting Lots Divination. She is a co-teacher in the Afro-botany immersion class online, and the annual conference in Costa Rica. She also created the video series "At the Crossroads: Finding Your Life Purpose."
She is a storyteller-writer, an artist-activist, and spiritual guidance counselor. She is an initiated elder (Iyanifa) in the Ifa/Orisha tradition of the West African Diaspora and she offers healing services such as divinations to determine the source of disease or dysfunction, purifications to remove negative energies, and rituals of empowerment. She also uses mytho-synthesis and spiritual enactments to help people embody their guiding archetypes.
Luisah is internationally known as a conference weaver, workshop facilitator, performance artist, and ritual theater director. She designs spiritual self-health guidance programs for individuals, families, and groups. She conducts a weekend intensive "UnCommon Kinship: Cultivating Community Across Diverse Lines" for professionals whose clients are from a different culture. The workshop includes exercises and practices to prevent compassion fatigue. She serves as an advisor to the Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth group.
Luisah has contributed to 35 anthologies and has written numerous movie, play, and book reviews. She has submitted artworks to the Coreopsis Journal of Art and Ritual; published an article in Cascadia Subduction Zone (a literary quarterly of speculative fiction), and has interviews in magazines such as Essence, Ms., Shaman’s Drum, and Yoga Journal.
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This article appears in: 2018 Catalyst, Issue 3: African American History Month