By guest writer, Ivani Greppi: a former Umbanda Spiritist Medium
Like the Medium of Endor in 1 Samuel 28, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM-LA, attempt to call up the dead. The ritual is to publicly recite the names of black victims killed while chanting the African Yoruba term “Asé” after each name. Per the website Rooted Resistance, Asé, pronounced Ah-Shay, has multiple meanings but is mainly defined as “the power to make things happen, or so let it be.”
Anthony Shintai’s Yorubaland article defines Asé as the divine force, energy, and power incarnate in the world. “Asé is an affirmation that is used in greeting and prayers, as well as a concept of spiritual growth.”
“When we speak their names, we invoke that spirit, and those spirits actually become present,” said Cullors during an interview on June 13, 2020, streamed on Facebook’s Fowler Museum at UCLA page, “Spirituality is at the center of Black Lives Matter.” In response, Abdullah, who is also a professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University, added, “We become very intimate with the spirits we call on.” The chanting of “say his/ her name,” per Cullors, is more than a hashtag, “It is literally almost resurrecting a spirit so they can work through us to get the work that we need to get done.”
Hebah Farrag, assistant director of research at USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, researches the “new spiritualities emerging from Black Lives Matter-affiliated organizations.” Ifá is the Yoruba religion or belief system of divination practiced by the BLM leaders. In her article “The Fight for Black Lives is a Spiritual Movement,” Farrag writes how a protest on June 2, 2020, in front of Mayor Garcetti’s house demanding reductions in the city’s funding of police, “began like a religious ceremony.”
During this protest, Abdullah, who led a group of demonstrators, poured libation on the ground while the group chanted “Asé” after names of the deceased were called. The ritual of pouring libation, common in many religions, is an offering to deities or spirits of the dead.
On July 25, 2020, KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian, host of Life Examined, asked Melina Abdullah, “Can you talk about how you begin a protest? Names of ancestors evoked, prayers said for those who haven’t had a chance to participate. How do you characterize these moments?” Abdullah responded, “We generally ask that people not film the openings of our events and demonstrations. And as part of that is the demonization of the way in which we acknowledge spiritual energy. So, I have seen some of those articles, some of those critiques of pouring libation, which is a centuries-old tradition among African people, acknowledging that when bodies are stolen, spirits still remain. So, there was that consciousness, but more than that consciousness, as we pour libation and engage in spiritual work, we actually don’t want that disrupted in any way by filming because we believe filming actually disrupts some of the spiritual energy. All Black Lives Matter meetings and protests begin with the pouring of libation.”
Hebah Farrag’s article for Religion Dispatches, “The Role of Spirit in the #Blacklivesmatter Movement: A Conversation with Activist and Artist Patrisse Cullors,” points out how the BLM movement “expands the definition of ‘faith-based,’ and offers alternate notions of faith, self-care, and wellness as resistance to disrupt a martyr mentality and heal those within traumatized communities.”
During BLM protests, what stood out for Farrag was the “images of a white-clad black woman burning sage across a militarized police line. Altars using sacred images and symbols from multiple faiths placed to hold space for those murdered. Events ending with prayers for the oppressed. Protests called ‘ceremonies’ in front of Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti’s house, with attendees asked to wear all white.”
The African spiritual rituals of Ifá openly practiced by BLM in crowded city and urban streets of the United States may sound like an obscure, rare, and unique religion. But it is not. Many African Diaspora Religions, also known as Afro-American, and African-derived religions are practiced throughout the world. When African slaves were scattered around the globe, they brought with them their beliefs and rituals. Slaves were not allowed to worship in their faith and were usually forced to convert to Catholicism in the New World. However, they continued with their spiritual practices in disguise through syncretism.
Catherine Byer’s article “African Diaspora Religions” on the Learn Religions website gives examples of African Diaspora religions with Yoruba and Catholic influences: Vodou (Voodoo) developed primarily in Haiti and New Orleans; Santeria also known as Lacumi or Regla de Ocha, developed primarily in Cuba; Candomblé, Umbanda, and Quimbanda developed in Brazil. These spiritual systems all worship Yoruba deities called orisas (orishas, or orixás).
What BLM activists now openly practice—Yoruba Ifá—is by no means a new religion. It is not a new type of spirituality. It’s been around for thousands of years. It’s practiced throughout the globe. Johnson Olawale’s article on the Legit website, “Yoruba Religion Ifá History and Interesting Facts,” explains that Ifá is a system of divination that plays a critical role in the culture and traditions of Candomblé, Santeria, Palo, Vodou, Umbanda, and many other Afro-American faiths and in some traditional African religions. The article also points out that Ifá is not, in fact, a religion, but more of a spiritual system based on three components: Olodumare (the Creator of heaven and earth), Orisa (nature spirits, or gods), and the ancestors.
Black Lives Matter founders are not the only ones bringing these spiritual practices to the forefront of American society and culture. During the 2017 Grammy Awards, Beyoncé paid homage to the Yoruba Ifá goddess Osun (or Oshun). Pregnant with twins, wearing a golden gown, Oshun’s sacred color, Beyoncé channeled the goddess of “love, money, and waterways,” or goddess of water and fertility as some headlines claimed.
The Ringer website’s article by Taylor Crumpton, “Glory B: Beyoncé, the African Diaspora, and the Baptism of ‘Black is King,’” describes Beyoncé’s visual album released on Disney+ that reinforces the ancestral lineage of black people as divine beings, born from natural and spiritual forces of the universe. In this video, Beyoncé pays homage to Yemayá—an orisa (orisha), or deity, who is the mother of water and all living things in the Ifá and other Yoruba derived faiths. In this same article, Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, is quoted to reference another Yoruba orisa—Changó (Xangô or Shango), the father of fire, lightning, and thunder, which he raps about.
Ama McKinley’s piece on Huffpost.com titled “Beyoncé Serves African Spirituality in Lemonade” describes her reaction while watching the visual album as being “awestruck.” McKinley writes that she is a practitioner of Ifá and loves to “point out pop culture occurrences of this ancient tradition and its pantheon, the orisha, right here in the West.” She lists some examples: Ricky Ricardo’s 1940’s hit “Babalu” (a detailed ritual to the orisha Babaluaye), Gloria from Orange is the New Black (a Santeria practitioner who worked in a bodega), and Jay-Z’s rap referencing his orisha. Beyoncé’s poem “Denial,” however, caused McKinley to “stop breathing.” The poem describes the requirements of the year-long process of an Ifá practitioner to initiate into the priesthood.
McKinley explains the steps she took in 2012 to become a priestess: She spent 365 consecutive days wearing white (all white), three months of no sex, no looking in mirrors, and taking all meals on a mat on the floor. “And for one year, I could not cut my hair.” This is how she became an Iyawo, a Nigerian Yoruba word for bride. This title is given to those going through Ifá, Santeria, Candomblé initiation rites to become a priest/priestess.
The Dancers Group website has an article by Mary Ellen Hunt titled: “Teacher, Priestess, Dancer: Paying Tribute to Blanche Brown.” Blanche Brown was the wife of former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and began her dance career studies in New York with a Haitian teacher. She also participated in Haitian ceremonies in “the middle of Manhattan.”
“It really showed me how culturally African dance began, what it was for,” Brown explained. “In that community, they were dancing for spirits. It could have been a celebration of a spirit; it could have been for somebody who needed to have that spirit come down and talk to them. But it was for something.” This experience led Brown to the Yoruba tradition, and she was initiated as an Ifá priestess in the early 80s.
Iyanla Vanzant is a lawyer, talk show host, best-selling author, and a Yoruba Ifá priestess initiated at Ola Olu by the Ifá Foundation of North America, Inc. She is the host and producer of “Iyanla: Fix My Life” on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Vibe Magazine recognized her as one of the “100 Most Influential African Americans.” Newsweek featured her as one of the “Women of the Century.” Vanzant’s website offers online workshops and events, “As Founder of Inner Visions World Wide, Iyanla is actively engaged in personal development courses and ongoing training programs for spiritual life coaches, and ordained ministers.”
Many other celebrities currently practice or have practiced this Yoruba spirituality, including Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Celia Cruz, Chaka Khan, 21 Savage, to name a few. Their status and fame significantly impact society and culture by glamorizing this practice through their seductive art. Black Lives Matter, however, has completely exposed Ifá for what it truly is: an occultic spiritual practice that opens participants up to the influence of dark spiritual forces.
In Washington, D.C. in 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo awarded Ivanir dos Santos, a Brazilian Candomblé priest and activist, the International Religious Freedom Award in recognition of dos Santos’s “long and courageous battle for religious freedom and tolerance.” Dos Santos founded CCIR (Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance). Ironically, because of this commission, testimonies of Christians who previously practiced and were delivered from Yoruba derived Candomblé, Umbanda, or Quimbanda are now legally banned in Brazil. This is based on the principle per CCIR that evangelicals are intolerant of Afro-Brazilian religions. These testimonies are deemed as hate speech, racist, and intolerant.
On YouTube last year, I translated from Portuguese to English the powerful testimony of Ivone Silva, an ex-Candomblé priestess. Silva was famous worldwide while practicing Candomblé. Celebrities paid her large sums for consultations, including Sylvester Stallone and Gloria Stefan.
In April of 2019, YouTube notified me via email that they received a court order regarding my translated video stating it was blocked from view in Brazil. This email included an eleven-page annexed court order submitted by the Judiciary Power of the Federal Justice of Rio de Janeiro. The video is still available here in the U.S. but no longer in Brazil. Here is the link to the video with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szlPhlopv94.
At the age of fourteen, I was initiated in the Umbanda religion in Brazil. I, too, channeled and was possessed by Yoruba deities (which are actually false gods impersonated by demons). I often made offerings of libation, candles, and flowers. I bowed at the altar of the orisha gods and called upon the dead for divinations. I was baptized in a waterfall. I wore white clothing and beads around my neck. In 1997, I was saved by Jesus Christ and delivered from decades of spiritual deception and oppression. I know firsthand how dangerous the Ifá Yoruba spiritual practice is, because opened me up to demonic influences and kept me away from encountering the true God. (You can read my personal transformation story at this link: https://www.thetruelight.net/wp/stories/written-stories/ )
Don and Joy Veinot, on the Midwest Christian Outreach website wrote an article titled, “The Occult Religion of #Black Lives Matter.” The writers describe BLM as a “deeply occultic religious group ‘wearing political garb.’” They emphasized that “for the moment, we still have freedom of religion and freedom of worship in this nation, so celebrity actors, singers, entertainers, and their followers, as well as the leaders of BLM, have the freedom to believe and practice as they wish. However, the right to believe and worship as one chooses is not the same thing as affirming that all beliefs are equally true or valid. Some beliefs are false, and some even dangerous.”
Divination and necromancy are forbidden by God in His Word:
“Do not turn to spirits through mediums or necromancers. Do not seek after them to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:31, see also Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
An important question raised in the Veinot’s article puts the entire BLM spiritual movement into perspective: “What sort of spirits are they which cause mayhem, pillaging, looting, burning down businesses and homes, and killing or throwing lethal objects at police officers, as well as brazenly calling for the death of police officers throughout the nation?”
Mark Hunnemann explains in his book, Seeing Ghosts through God’s Eyes, that spirits of the dead are not earthbound, and that “ghosts do not exist; they never have and they never will. However, demons do exist, and they love to wear sheep’s clothing.” “And no wonder! For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).” The Bible teaches that “As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).” So, what spirits are summoned during the BLM marches? What spirits are called on during the Yoruba Ifá ceremonies? I agree with Veinot’s response to this question: “The spirits behind BLM are actual spirit beings, the ‘evil spirits’ condemned in the Bible, obviously the ‘negative disruptive forces known as Ajogun’—demons—referenced in Odu Ifá’s own (sacred text) literature.” I do not believe participants realize this truth; they are probably very sincere in what they are doing (just as I was). So I pray that God will open their eyes.
Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Texas physician born in Africa, who spoke at the Supreme Court Steps regarding Covid-19 and hydroxychloroquine, addresses demonic possession and witchcraft in her Fire Power Ministries social media. In one of her YouTube videos titled, Exposing BLM Witches, Dr. Immanuel prays for this country’s deliverance regarding demonic spiritual attacks.
Sadly, today many Christian pastors and church leaders are not equipped or interested in teaching about spiritual warfare. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War teaches that “if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
In Christianity, we win the battle with love. Many of those in the Black Lives Matter Movement are hurting people who have very legitimate concerns about prejudice and instances of police brutality. I can sympathize with that and relate to the pain they feel (as I do with anyone of any race who is subjected to injustice). So, I am not protesting BLM leaders and their followers as such, but rather, the occult practices and beliefs which they promote (many of which were once the foundation of my life). In like manner, I am not against the practitioners of any non-Christian religion. My heart goes out to them. I am against all false beliefs that derail a person’s spiritual journey through this life. I long to see occultists and BLM participants discard their belief system by discovering the beauty of true salvation that is only found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I feel a strong sense of spiritual responsibility for those involved in Umbanda Spiritism (or similar expressions like Santeria), not only because they are fellow human beings, but because I once embraced a similar belief system. All of us have a common enemy and that is the evil, the power, behind false and deceptive beliefs—Satan and his demons.
My urging to any BLM participants or Umbanda Spiritists who may read this article is simple: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). I also plead with you to surrender your lives to Jesus, the Savior of all people, who gave His life for all of us on the cross. You only need to call on His name with faith in your heart and ask for your sins to be forgiven. Then according to Ephesians 3:17, He “will dwell in your hearts through faith.” That is your answer. Then it will not be multiple spirits, but the Holy Spirit who comes to abide within you. Please open your heart to His amazing and everlasting love for you. You will never be the same.
God’s Word teaches that “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
In the Berkley Forum article by Farrag, “The Fight for Black Lives is a Spiritual Movement,” Cullors said, “The fight to save your life is a spiritual fight.” Cullors embraces ideas that I now know are false, but she is correct that this life is a spiritual fight.
This is spiritual warfare—a battle against spiritual darkness—only won through the power of Jesus Christ, by His blood shed on the cross. Christians must stand together against spiritual evil in prayer and fasting and reach out in love to those who do not yet know the Lord Jesus. Our nation needs revival and deliverance. Our country needs Christian pastors and leaders to equip their flock to put on the armor of God for spiritual protection against this very real invisible war and know how to bring deliverance to those who are yearning to be free.
“For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Ivani Greppi was born in Brazil and is a former Umbanda Medium. Umbanda is a syncretic Yoruba/Afro-Brazilian religion blending Roman Catholicism and spiritism. Her written testimony is available on the True Light website: https://www.thetruelight.net/wp/ivani-greppis-story/.
You may get in touch with the author by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bible Versions Cited: Modern English Version (MEV)