Spiritual Baptist Mourning
The Spiritual Baptist religion is a religion that is a combination of elements of the African and Christian religions in which most of the customs and practiced doctrine are taken from the King James Version of the Bible. Spiritual Baptists believe their religion was derived from John the Baptist. This religion is a system of beliefs and practices e. g. baptism, pilgrimages, thanksgiving and mourning. Some of the items used within this religion include the shepherd rod, cross, tariya, lothar, water, calabash, flowers, candles and candle sticks, incense and bell.
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It also involves being filled with the spirit, shouting, speaking in unknown tongues, ringing of bells, and providing spiritual assistance to those in need (Peza, 1999). To the Spiritual Baptist, mourning is held in high regard. This ritual is considered an important aspect of communicating with God, developing the soul, strengthening the spirit and achieving spiritual knowledge, wisdom and understanding while receiving spiritual gifts (Peza, 1999, 64).
The spiritual gifts include positions within the church such as spiritual mother, father or leader, pointer of souls, prover, captain or teacher, and others (Peza, 1999, 64). It is characterized by fasting, meditating, entering into spiritual travels, and refraining one’s self of the freedom to move about, to speak, to eat, drink, bathe or any other comforts, and the acceptance of the naked earth for a bed, and a stone for pillow (Peza, 1999, 73). During the mourning period, the pilgrim receives spiritual instructions through visions and dreams.
It lasts from Sunday to Sunday and usually takes place in a special mourner room on the church compound (Laitinen, 2002, 113). A Baptist may receive a vision to go down on the ground to mourn (higher heights, deeper depth) and would notify the mother or leader of the church of their intentions. It may be in a dream during prayer and meditating or under directions from the pointer of the church. The pointer is an individual who prepares the mourning ground, and places and cares for the pilgrim on the mourning ground.
They point the way for the pilgrim and is responsible for the welfare of the pilgrim during their spiritual journey (Bonas, 2012). They must first cleanse their bodies by prayer, fasting and purging, wearing proper clothes, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, liming, sexual relations etc. They must also gather items to be used during the period of mourning, e. g. white and coloured candles, oil, honey, Kananga water, Florida water, perfumes, talcum powder, and coloured polyester cotton for bands, pail to be used as a toilet, mugs, towels and underwear.
Women must also bring along sanitary napkins to pad off for protection during their journey within the spiritual world (Laitinen, 2002, 115) The pointer must also be prepared both physically and spiritually as the symbols and procedures of the rituals are shown in their visions which are crucial to the ritual’s success. The colour, amount, order of the mourning bands, the sacred seals to be drawn on them, directions for the pilgrim’s journey and the password that is to be whispered in the pilgrim’s ear (Laitinen, 2002, 117). On the day of mourning the pilgrim must go to the church for even further preparations.
This involves a “bush bath” with special bushes and Kananga water, “embalming” the body with powder mixed with perfumed spices held in a calabash and dressing in simple blue gowns with white and blue head tie. The embalming is to ensure that the individual does not smell due to lack of personal hygiene during the period of mourning. The mourning area is also consecrated by the pointer or elder. This is done by bounding it off with chalk seals on the floor and walls, use of incense, flowers in water, setting up seven lit candles, ringing of the bell, prayer and sprinkling libations of water and talcum powder and lighting incense (Bonas, 2012).
After the bush bath and being embalmed, the pilgrims participate in the pointing ceremony which is conducted during church service. There they are told about the seriousness of mourning and what to expect when they go down to mourn. Biblical reference to this interpretation can be found in Acts 9 vs. 8 and 9. They are placed on the mercy seat which is a long wooden bench that is sanctified with chalk seals, talcum powder, water from a lota, calabash over the seals with a lit candle and the ringing of a bell.
They are also prayed for, anointed with oil, sealed with chalk and their eyes and ears are bound with five bands (pieces of sanctified cloth) to prevent distraction. After this service the pilgrims are led to the inner chamber (mourning room) (Bonas, 2012). The period of mourning begins with the bound pilgrims being put on the road and placed their backs “in their graves” the stony floor where they fast, prayer, meditate and journey throughout the spiritual realm. They are tended by nurses, the pointer and the mother or elder of the church during the period of mourning (Laitinen, 2002).
Every morning their mouths are cleaned and they are given three sips of bush tea or water for the three daily meals. On the fifth day they are given fruit with honey which is referred to as “angel food” (Bonas, 2012). On the third day of mourning, the pilgrims are taken up from the ground, bathed and dressed in clean clothes and embalmed. The first five bands are sanctified with incense and seven more swaddling bands are added about the body e. g. head, wrist. The pilgrims’ graves are cleaned and re-sanctified with new seals; Kananga water and ringing of the bell; after a service the pilgrims are replaced in their graves (Bonas, 2012).
The end of the mourning period, the time to return to the carnal world, is determined by the pointer, who is given an envelope in the spirit which releases the pilgrims. Their bands are untied; heads tied with a single band, eyes cleaned with olive oil and fed with light food. Still wearing their mourning clothes, the pilgrims go to the sea to be cleansed and sanctified and upon return to the church don simple gowns and bands. In preparation for the closing service the pilgrims are dressed in white gowns and head ties, blindfolded holding candles. They are then led from the mourning room marching and dancing.
There they share accounts of their spiritual journeys to the entire congregation (Laitinen, 2002, 167) Mourning is the most sacred of the Spiritual Baptist rituals; it provides increased knowledge, higher status and insight to an individual willing to enhance themselves within the Spiritual Baptist hierarchy (Laitinen, 2002, 169). The ceremony involves symbolic death and rebirth in order to build and strengthen the bodies of the pilgrim.