Book Review: Ritual: Power, Healing & Community

Malidoma Patrice Some: Publishers: Swan Raven & Co. 1993, 127 pp.

This book is part of a scries by Malidoma Some, (So-may). He is an initiated member of the Dagara people in West Africa. His people are dedicated to weaving this world with the Otherworld. Malidoma’s name means ‘befriendcr of the enemy/stranger’. Even in this modern era the power in a name is important to the Dagara people and his purpose is to interpret the modern world for his village elders and to interpret the traditional world to a modern western audience.

This is a personal book. At times it can be disturbing to read the text without feeling a little embarrassed because the author is quite candid about his spiritual roots and his belief in the truth and power in them. For a ‘modern’ person the discomfort of listening to his understanding of the power of ritual is strong because we have become divorced from this world. Generally, our attitude to things is pragmatic and this is a book about mystery that defies our 20th century desire to apply reasonable explanation to everything we encounter.

To read this book effectively one needs to approach it with an open mind and with curiosity, willing to taste new textures and flavours. And to approach it as an adult, willing to have one’s prejudices overturned.

Malidoma takes us through his own introduction to the power of ritual in his village life, it is an opportunity for the reader to get a spell-binding glimpse into a living ritual culture. The author tells an anecdote about his questioning about ritual. – When he asks his grandfather, “Why do we do ritual?”, his grandfather asks him, “Why do you urinate?”, “Because I need to,” answers the boy. “Then you know why we do ritual,” says his Grandfather.

Because the author is from a culture different from our own, his insights are really very thought provoking and cause the reader to re-evaluate accepted ideas about many things. His observation is piercing and his speech has an ironic quality that echoes ages of careful tribal observation.

‘In my village’, says the author, ‘houses do not have doors that can be locked, they have entrances. The absence of doors is not a technological deprivation’, he says, ‘it is an indication of the state of mind of the community’. ‘Elders say the real police in the village is “Spirit that sees Everybody”. To do wrong is to insult the spirit realm. Whoever does this is punished immediately by Spirit’.

The author goes on to illustrate this example with a story from his village experience. I’m not going to relate it here because reading this book gives a sense of being plugged into the most ancient sources of human knowledge and wisdom. This book is an opportunity to challenge your own thoughts about sophistication and civilization.

It’s not so much that Some says anything startlingly new in this book, it is that what he has to say and how he says it is so fresh that it creates a discomfort in the reader who experiences very old ideas reawakening from deep within.

Alan A. Mooney