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Supernatural Epics in African Tradition

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Whereas Religion submitted the people to forces outside the scope of their powers, Magic compelled those forces into the people's service. Yet, both Religion and Magic appealed to the intervention of the Supernatural. The earliest African religious leaders dealt directly with matters pertaining to the one universal high God. Then African Groits (or Jollies) dispersed this information to the people in stories and plays as part of intimately communicating with their "Living-Dead" Ancestors. In keeping with an African society’s concept of the Supernatural, these "Seeds" branched according to a given society's transcendent world-view--thus imparting its unique values. Since the psyche itself can only be grasped through Images or Symbols conveying meanings of what they represent, as provided by colors, numbers, names, events, people, objects, and actions to receivers--Supernatural language was able to achieve intimate interactions. Hence, the presence of the Supernatural became a “sine-qua-non” (essential) condition for the existence of the African Epic.

The Greek word "Epic" (word, song) is often regarded as embodying a culture's history most worthy of remembrance. It celebrates deeds of "Heroes" (Egyptian for the god "Horus") of history or legends in the form of a narrative verse full of wild poetry and true grandeur. According to Europeans, a truly heroic epic is one in which the hero achieves his major accomplishments, not by means of magic, but by the use of “human means.” In other words, the heroic poetry reflects a heroic outlook by portraying human and natural qualities such as strength, courage, endurance, honor, and power to command. By contrast, African Tradition's Hero characteristics usually differ from one African subculture to another, depending on its history and mythology. However, in the African worldview, the hero is a person who uses more than his God-given powers to achieve the extraordinary. In African mythology, it is the mastery of the Supernatural that determines true heroism and distinguishes the hero from the everyday common person. Moreover, the hero in those epics cannot rely solely on his human capacities as he has to fight forces beyond the human realm. It is the hero’s ability to perform actions that he would not have otherwise been able to undertake if he were not endowed with Super-human powers that distinguish him from any other person.

Throughout this time the use of the Supernatural in African oral epics conformed to Chieftaincy (the divine nature of kingship)--one of the most widespread beliefs in traditional African societies. Also, in these epics, Magic serves mans' egocentricity and is for him a short cut to spiritual bliss. By the people assuming Heroes and Legends to have a connection with the Supernatural as an explanation for their Super-human (possessing a special aura of omnipotence) deeds, their contemporaries and posterity elevated them into a Legend-god status. Others were able to reach a divine state. The best known of the earliest Black African (not Greek) heroes was Hercules, “guesstimated” to exist around 20,000 BC.

Flourishing in this realm are mythologies filled with Metaphors to provide denotative meanings which have reference to altered time and space patterns. One type relates the individual to his/her nature and to the natural world; the other, strictly sociological, links one to a particular society (as part of one organic organism). Myths are metaphorical symbolic messages focused on human beings' spiritual potentiality. This infers that the same powers animating human life also animate the life of the world--and vice versa. For example, a god is a personification of a motivating power or a value system that functions in human life and in the universe--the powers of ones own body and of Nature. Myths depict the typical sequences--the archetypal (or "seed") patterns--in the drama of the psyche (or soul) but in the distilled essence-of-action involved. Sacred Myth is the human's psyche presentation of the life of the individual; of a whole society; and/or the active ingredient of the universe--the dynamics of all three follow certain sequences and patterns which flow as a continuous activity of Nature and the Universe. [Ref: MK. Deme, Heroism and the Supernatural in the African Epic. JBlack Studies 2009 39: 402-419]. This entire series is from Bailey, Post-Traumatic Distress Syndrome].


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