The Importance of Initiation In African Traditional Religions

The Importance of Initiation In African Traditional Religions November 13, 2018

Altar photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.

Some things are controversial, but they still need to be said. Around here in my spiritual house it is Ancestor worship all day, everyday. We leave offerings, light candles, and say prayers. However, this is not all there is in magick. In the African Traditional Religions, (like Haitian Vodou, La Regla Lucumi, and others,) great importance is placed on initiation.

I recently saw another author post that people should stop asking her about initiations, because she had all the training she needed from her ancestors. Well, even if this is true, isn’t more knowledge, guidance, and skills that one can gain through initiation better? I was talking about this post with a dear friend of mine who is also an initiated priest, coincidentally his ancestors actually include royalty. His immediate response was ” Well who the hell were her ancestors ?” As a trained anthropologist I was taught that if you only have one source for your information that is seen as shoddy scholarship, it is also shoddy magick.

Part of the problem is that people lump all African Traditional Religions together. Each one is uniquely influenced by both people and place. While Haitian Vodou has many components from the Arada, Dahomey, and Igbo people, La Regla Lucumi (Santeria) is more influenced by the Yoruba, and also indigenous Taino people. When people speak about Hoodoo, the structure is more fluid. Most of the information in that tradition is handed down from practitioner to practitioner. The easiest way to explain it is using my standard cooking analogy. You may be a great cook taught by your elders for decades, but this is a very different thing than going to cooking school. I know, I cooked everyday of my life, but when my daughter came home from cooking school at Cornell University and showed me how to cut an onion, I realized there were more things to learn. Learning means you are still alive, still evolving, and that’s what really counts.

Then I saw another author post on social media that they had to write 20 more spells for their next book in a few days. While I like and do my best to offer respect to this person, I truly believe spells need to be tested over time in a variety of situations. I don’t say these things out of arrogance, I say them out of humility. When I do spellwork for someone it is backed by decades of experience using these formulas in every context available.

In addition, there is also a question of the relationship between teachers and students in magick. I saw a meme the other day that said if your teacher isn’t a student you should get another teacher. I truly believe this. In all African Traditional Religions learning is a lifelong process. They are a complex system of Elders and Students giving and receiving knowledge. This is aided by rituals and initiations that provide invaluable experience.

Initiation in these systems is something I had the opportunity to talk about at length in the video series Witchcraft & Voodoo. Please watch.


I wouldn’t recommend anything I haven’t done myself. I have initiations in New Orleans Voodoo, Haitian Vodou, and Lucumi (Santeria.) There is much learning that comes from the process, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  For more information please check out the other posts on this Voodoo Universe blog, and my book Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism. As always if you have enjoyed what you read and see here, remember to like comment and share !

About Lilith Dorsey
Lilith Dorsey M.A. , hails from many magickal traditions, including Celtic, Afro-Caribbean, and Native American spirituality. Her traditional education focused on Plant Science, Anthropology, and Film at the University of R.I, New York University and the University of London, and her magickal training includes numerous initiations in Santeria also known as Lucumi, Haitian Vodoun, and New Orleans Voodoo.Lilith Dorsey is a Voodoo Priestess and in that capacity has been doing successful magick since 1991 for patrons, is editor/publisher of Oshun-African Magickal Quarterly, filmmaker of the experimental documentary Bodies of Water :Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation,’ choreographer/performer for jazz legend Dr. John’s “Night Tripper” Voodoo Show, and author of Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism, 55 Ways to Connect to Goddess, The African-American Ritual Cookbook, and Love Magic. You can read more about the author here.
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