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Book Review : The Big Book of Soul

Wellness Reading: The Big Book of Soul

For my Wellness Reading assignment I read “The Big Book of Soul” by Stephanie Rose Bird. It was a great read about Holistic Healing and living a Wellness lifestyle from the African & African American traditions. This book highlights many diverse methodologies of wellness and healing including: drumming, spiritual dancing, singing, chanting, rituals, divination, Hoodoo, magical recipes, power objects, meditation, herbal healing and natural foods, prayer, midwifery and more. This book hopes to inspire African American people and anyone interested in the culture to live and practice a more holistic way of life and to know that Africa has a treasure trove of traditions and knowledge which has been utilized for thousands of years by African people.

The book gives information about so many simple ways of incorporating mindful and natural ways of healing oneself or living a healthy lifestyle. The author gives a history of the African use of herbs and foods like the Wild Yam. “Wild Yam is related to the African Yam but not to what we call a sweet potato or yam in the United States… Wild Yam is edible and medicinal. Ailments treated ancient healers include a plethora of female reproductive organ complaints, including managing PMS and painful or absent periods, childbirth pains, and menopause. The Wild Yam contains high concentrations of dioscin, which is converted chemically into diosgenin, used to manufacture progesterone and other steroid drugs to treat reproductive organs and ailments such as asthma and arthritis.” (Bird 124)

She describes therapeutic ideas such as ‘Living and Dying on Our Own Terms’ and while explaining her remembrances of her father and grandmother living with cancer she describes their use of Licorice. “True licorice sticks, (not the candy) were tied to the necks of some enslaved Africans during the journey across the Atlantic to quell stomachache and anxiety. It is believed to be how the seeds of the plants were transported and later established in the United States. Licorice is still used in the black community for stomach pains and has shown promise in the treatment of AIDS.” (Bird 49)

Bird also describes the practice of Hoodoo, which is a magical tradition within the African American tradition. She tells how Africans had many magical traditions in their indigenous African homelands, but that during slavery many of these traditions were lost. Somehow or another some of these traditions continued to be preserved and practiced on the slave plantations and eventually was mixed with Native American and some European magical traditions and became what is now know as Hoodoo. Hoodoo is not a religion like Voodoo, Vodoun, or Santeria. It is considered a magical system or science practiced by a wide variety of people but predominantly by people who identify themselves as Christian. Some of the primary goals of working Hoodoo are: “Blessing the home, keeping domestic environment peaceful, cleansing and banishing unwanted intrusions or bad vibes brought about by humans, animals, or spirits, love drawing (attracting love partnerships), and money drawing (attracting prosperity), and more.”

Some of the practices in employing Hoodoo are:

“Washes: Environmental washes to cleanse and renew the living environment or work space used blessed, magical, and sacred waters such as lightning water, seawater, and sweet (cologne) waters such as a type called Florida Water.

Baths with Incantations: These baths bring cleansing, relaxation, and a variety of magical herbs into the bathing experience, usually repeated on a set number of odd days (7,9,11,13); ingredients and incantations also often utilize numerology and set patterns.

Candlemancy: Dressed candles used in specific colors and symbolic shapes for a certain number of days or hours, provide space for enlightenment and focus on improvement of a situation.

Brooms: Also called besoms, brooms are natural and carry a great deal of symbolic and deity-related references from Africa. Brooms, especially when blessed, used correctly, treated with specific washes to match the job, are great tools for restructuring the home or work space in a more positive light.

Minerals and magnetic sand: minerals such as Dead Sea salt, chunks from various sources, pyrite dust, and magnetic sand all have specific purposes. Each of these substances might be added to the bath water to lend it healing power for various reasons.

-Pyrite dust, also called fool’s gold, is used in abundance and prosperity work.

-Magnetic sand is finely ground magnetic material sometimes called magnetic dust and used in Hoodoo baths and other rites and tricks to draw love, luck, and money to its user.

-Salt is used to alleviate pain, bring clarity, and cleanse the body, mind, and spirit. Salts have been used for cleansing and healing for thousands of years. They are enjoying a renewed interest by adherents of Feng Shui who use it in the same way as Hoodoo practitioners do. In these disparate practices, salt is placed on the floor and in corners of the room during spiritual cleansing.

-Crystals are used during bathing for curative and restorative properties.” (Bird 23-25)

There are lots more natural items that are used in this fascinating practice of Hoodoo. Bird goes on to explain the similarities and differences of Hoodoo with the religions which also use magic like Voodoo, Vodoun and Santeria.

There are a lot of diverse healing methods and therapeutic ways of living which the author describes with great knowledge, experience and research but that would fill this paper up for pages. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from this book and it also highlighted many of my already existing interests. I chose this book for that reason. I’ve been interested in holistic healing and wellness for years now and some of these mystical traditions like Hoodoo and Voodoo have always fascinated me greatly. African and African American traditions in particular have also been an interest for me as well, especially those shrouded in mystery, the mystical, and the occult or esoteric knowledge or secret initiations and such. What was particularly great about this book was that it covered both mystical and mundane needs of human life. It documents historical and practical information about certain foods and herbs as well as the mysterious science behind Hoodoo and such practices as art therapy, drumming, sacred dancing and chanting mystical names of God.

This book has helped me make wellness lifestyle choices such as utilizing certain herbs and foods for that wholesome and medicinal value and the book encourages a state of mind of abundance, prosperity, humility, simplicity and forgiveness. Also, the practice of Hoodoo fascinates me so much that I can see the book as a seed which has been planted in my heart and mind to grow into a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the sacred science of the Law of Attraction, Karma, willpower, prayer, and intention. Though, I’ve been attempting o implement these truths into my life already, it has reignited that interest and inspired my search for balance and wellness.

Overall, this book has inspired me and in combination with the Living Well class, I’ve come to see my life as an ever expanding search for complete balance and harmony. It is harmony with nature, humanity, sacred traditions, and ultimately my own emotions and aspirations that I seek. One day maybe, I’ll write a book similar to this, or create a documentary film about such topics. This class has been my favorite class and even though I considered myself healthy and living well before I took the class, it has given me the opportunity to see my weaknesses and what I should be working on. My goals are strengthened and now I have better resources to implement to my own personal healing and lifestyle choices. This book and assignment was a great addition to an excellent class. I think everyone regardless of major should take this class, as I believe it would benefit all.

Reference:

Bird, S.R. (2010). “The Big Book of Soul”. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.