Black people in America, and abroad, are taking claim to their African spiritual practices that were lost in chattel slavery and colonization.Op-ed 

African Spirituality: Demon Possessed or Mental illness?


By Sekou Kelleh


I have experienced firsthand the ideological clash between science and religion on the issue of whether people can be demon possessed or they just experience mental health issues. And l was forced to pick a side.  The Italian Red Cross  Society hired me in 2017 as a cultural mediator and a language interpreter between medical professionals and refugees mostly from Africa and the Middle East. Part of my responsibilities was to relay between patients and  doctors.

Initially l was motivated by the cash and the prestige of the job. But it later downed on me  that I was actually in a kind of a school that would change my perception of reality forever. One night a lady was rushed into our clinic half naked by her friends. She was screaming, hitting herself and talking to herself. It was obvious she was hearing voices and talking to invisible beings. I asked her friends who accompanied her to explain what happened. They said she she was “demon possessed” period.

As a west African  and coming from a Muslim background l  did believe in demons. We call  them “jinn” but when I told the doctor about it he smiled and walked away. The nurses came in after and did their normal routines. The lady recovered few hours later and appeared like she had no recollection of what had happened. She was later advised to see a psychologist for therapy. Out of curiosity l asked the doctor to explain the diagnosis. He  claimed that the lady was either suffering from PSYCHOSIS or SCHIZOPHRENIA. And that those are mental conditions characterized by disconnection from reality which results in strange behavior.

The differences are clear, while religion accuses external forces and supernatural beings for the illness  science explains it as a mental disorder caused by different factors of life including genetics, trauma, brain injury, sexual harassment, war and stress. Though I found the scientific reasoning more logical, l still couldn’t give up my belief.

Luckily for me , I found the 3rd explanation in African spirituality. Especially the ancient Egyptian and the Dogon philosophies of west Africa Like science they did not cite demons as the cause of any human behavior but INTERNAL DISORDER. According to ancient Egyptians, humans are a walking system with billions of information circulating in harmonious balance. A slight deviation caused by either internal or external factors can have dire consequences.

Main Photo: African Spirituality /Educate to Liberate

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