Nothing New, Only Forgotten
The journey is a spiritual one. Knowledge of one’s history puts you on the right road, the road designed and built for you. Knowledge of history provides the paving stones, the line of trees, rivers to cross, it enables recognition and facilitates reconnection, the ultimate and infinite destination.
As a young child my Mother took me and my siblings to church. The essence I remember is not of the building, the service, or the minister delivering it. The lingering impression left was the point during the service when us children would be taken out of the main hall into a side room for Sunday School. As I took my place in the line of obedient well-dressed children being led away, I would glance back at the adults and think “What do they talk about after we’ve gone?” “Were there godly things to discuss not fit for a child’s ear?” As soon as I was old enough to have a choice, I stopped going. At the time my Mother wasn’t a regular attendee so my choice was accepted without challenge or drama. Despite my collection of illustrated bible stories that had provided many pleasurable hours of bedtime reading, already a sense of disconnection had made its presence felt, if not yet understood. The child’s instinct, first uttered in church, proved itself right, there were indeed godly things to discuss.
Reconnection with our spiritual selves demands a paradigm shift. As a young man still grasping for an overstanding of African spirituality, of European religion, of connections and disconnections between the two. I was full of rejection. I rejected the European this, the European that. I had dipped my toe into scholars such as Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, Dr Amos Wilson, Anthony Browder, and the Mdw Neter. From their flowing waters of knowledge questions surfaced in my consciousness. How can I reject what I don’t understand? How can I reject that which has been so inculcated that it feels as natural as breathing?
My entry point into overstanding was Rastafari. Growing up in an aspirational immigrant family striving for middle class comforts, my first contact with Rastafari was through its music. Through the music I learnt the culture. In the late 70s and early 80s the number of books and tv programs on Reggae and Rastafari seemed to grow exponentially, and I tried to read and watch them all. Rastafari was my first experience of an alternative spiritual reality. My first exposure to a concept of god that looked like me. That existed through me. That I might be a part of. The realization that there were different interpretations of biblical stories, interpretations that actually related to my own history. That Yul Brynner wasn’t King Solomon, the wisest man in history. That Solomon looked more like the Rasta elders I saw walking through Portobello road market or chilling on the corner of All Saints road. Some of those elders filled me with a fearful fascination. Through my newly liberated vision they looked like wise men of Biblical times. It was their eyes. Some blood red, some moon yellow. They looked right through me, knowing me in an instant. They were men who knew things I didn’t. Men you didn’t cross. Men who knew no fear. Men you could not bend. I bought weed from them, five pounds for a bag of Lambs bread. After one purchase an elder said to me “There is nothing new, only that which has been forgotten”. That was all he said. No other explanation was offered. He dropped his wisdom, turned and went on his way. I went home, rolled the spliff and spent the rest of day tripping. “What did he mean? “What have I forgotten?” “Nothing new? Then what’s the point if it’s all been done before. Is that what he meant?” It would be twenty years before I understood what he meant. He was right.
I loved the ideas in Rastafari, the imagery, the perception of myself as a spiritual and ancient being with royal blood. It was something I could commit to. My parents were typical of their Jamaican generation in their attitude to Rastafari. Which could generally be summed up as “Not in this house!”. There was no personal malice intended. Jamaica has the highest number of Christian churches per population ratio of most countries on the planet and the hold it has over the island can never be underestimated. The reaction to the rise of Rastafari in Jamaica was the standard governmental, media, and church led response to any kind of African spirituality. It was mad, bad, and dangerous to know. I grew up hearing stories of Rastas whose hair was so dirty that all kinds of creepy crawlies lived there and laid eggs without him knowing. How the weed they smoked literally drove them mad. I heard these stories from other Jamaicans. The rise and glory of Bob Marley challenged this ignorance also highlighting the contradictions within the community. When he died the outpouring of emotion was truly awesome and genuine though in dark corners people still muttered “ah de weed kill him, smoke too much weed, what a waste, mash up imself!” Whilst Rastafari facilitated a sense of deep pride, a sense of self-worth, there were aspects of it that I struggled to embrace. I had doubts over Haile Selassie being the Christ reborn. I struggled with their contradictions regarding women. On the one hand rightly hailing them up as Queens, on the other keeping them subservient to the needs of men.
All my intellectual doubts and questions faded whenever I stood next to the speaker box, my body and soul absorbing Aba Shanti Sound System’s hard-core dub, the DJ hailing up Jah Rastafari. His sessions which I attended regularly in South London became my church. I looked forward to losing then finding myself in the trance created, the ‘God-spell’. They would hand out small postcards containing inspirational passages. I collected these and tried to find their original source. I was still searching, inspired to seek out more.
My gradual immersion into Kemetic spirituality, via my own reading, Sba Study Group, and the classes I had begun to attend was the paradigm shift I’d been seeking. It’s principles, philosophies, creation stories, its poetry, were the most beautiful expressions of life sustaining thoughts I’d ever witnessed. What struck me immediately were its principles and ideas around male and female. Very different from the Judea/Christian male dominated theology I’d grown up with. In Kemetic theology I found a balance, a harmony, male female, Sun Moon, Day Night, Life Death. Revealed through a symbolic poetry that released dreams within me. Africans with a more balanced view of life than any European ideology I’d encountered. As a young man I had consciously rejected the model of manhood demonstrated by my father. He did his material best for his family but he was firmly trapped in the emotional straitjacket that is Eurocentric masculinity. This made him a violent man, more emotional violence than physical. I rejected both him and his vision and sought out a new vision. I found it in the literature of Kemet.
Ausar, Auset, Heru - The original holy trinity. Hathor The Goddess. The creation stories of Nun, Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut. The principle of opposites, the divine balance of masculine and feminine that resides in all of us, that makes us who we are. These filled me with the excitement of something being awoken deep within. I recognized, like the Rasta Elder said “There is nothing new, only that which has been forgotten” and I was beginning to remember, to rise from my state of slumber. This resurrection of ancestral memory had a profound impact on my own ideas of manhood. No man willingly sees himself as an abuser of women and in that I was no different. But the revelation of these African models of manhood brought with them a recognition and overstanding of the Eurocentric male ego, its psychotic nature, its gross insecurities, and the slow sometimes painful awareness of that ego presence in me. I won’t lay false claims to any overnight change in behavior or attitude but the door had been opened to the questioning of my ideas about women and my relationships with them. I’d been introduced to a new paradigm which demanded new standards. It was up to me whether I tried to live those standards or stay in my regressive European mode. My inner challenge had been set; to embrace the birth of an African integrity rooted in a growing overstanding of spirituality. I was ready.