One of the first things that I tell my coaching clients about embarking on any new endeavor is to count up the costs. This basically means doing your research. Understand what you are getting yourself into – know the cost of admission. And when it comes to traditional spirituality, this concept applies three times over. Always know the cost of practicing African spirituality before embarking upon such a journey.
Nothing is free in the spirit realm, regardless of what spiritual system you practice. Churches ask for tithes and offerings. Islam teaches the concept of zakat or almsgiving. Hindus regularly donate hair and other sacrificial offerings to their temples. And the list goes on…
African traditional systems are no different with respect to paying for services rendered. However, they contrast other religious systems in how, when, and why an individual reimburses for spiritual services. Even more than monetary costs, African spiritual systems require that you pay in other ways to reap the many benefits they offer. So, if you are considering venturing into an African or African diaspora tradition, you should know the costs involved in the practice.
Practicing within an African traditional religion (ATR) can be fairly costly from a monetary perspective. In general, an ATR devotee in a westernized country can expect to spend $300-$1,000 a month on average. The cost for practitioners in developing regions may be less, but the cost can still be significant in relation to the average devotee’s income bracket. The average devotee can easily spend 3-10% or more of their income engaging with an ATR regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Divination services and spiritual supplies such as candles, spiritual colognes, alcohol and food offerings, altar paraphernalia, etc., are regular expenditures for many devotees. Additional costs may include initiation rituals for those who choose this route. I have seen costs for these types of services add up to anywhere between $1,000-$30,000. Though, the average cost of an initiation ceremony is generally between $5,000-$10,000.
Adherents may also have to pay fees for special ceremonies such as festivals, fets, etc. In some cases, they may also have to pay for travel related to such events. You can easily spend $5,000-$15,000 or much more in any given year if you are a dedicated devotee who wishes to fully engage with an African spiritual system.
For Christians and religious adherents who faithfully pay their tithes and offerings, this may not be a major transition for you. However, if you typically don’t spend this much on your spiritual practice, such costs can be prohibitive. So, definitely be mindful of these dynamics before committing to a practice.
Committed devotees of African spiritual systems often spend considerable time engaged in rituals and ceremonies. One can easily spend 5-10 or more hours a week engaging with their spiritual system. Many factors will determine the average amount of time that you spend in such a practice.
Primary among these factors is the size of the devotee’s spiritual team. Secondary to this is the devotee’s desire to have a strong connection with his or her spiritual team. When you engage in traditional spirituality, you usually won’t know what deities or spirits are working with you and what they want you to do to honor them until you get a reading.
Aside from your ancestors, many other spirits can and do guide your life experience. Sometimes these spirits want to have a casual connection with you whereby you spend little time serving them. Other times they may request that you set up altars or icons in their honor and spend daily time with them.
Some people only have one or two spirits that may make such requests. Other people may have five or more spirits who wish to habitat with them on a continual basis. Oftentimes these spirits require continual offerings, feedings, rituals, and sometimes elaborate ceremonies as a means of appeasing them. In such cases, it is easy to spend 30-60 minutes or more several times a week paying homage to your spiritual team.
Aside from this dynamic, you will have to spend considerable time studying and learning about the spiritual system if it is new to you. You may even have to spend time becoming intimately familiar with another language or culture. Such lessons can consume countless amount of hours, which may change many aspects of your life.
If you are not ready for this level of devotion, it can be a major burden. In which case, I often advise my clients to consider their schedule, needs, and desires before fully adopting an ATR. It is better not to initiate a relationship with a spirit rather than to connect with a spirit and thereafter neglect to serve it properly. Doing so can cause a number of problems in your life.
It’s no secret that ATR is not a commonly practiced or accepted form of spirituality in some societies. It is often looked at with disdain and distrust because it has been heavily demonized. As such, practicing within an ATR can significantly impair and sometimes destroy relationship dynamics.
I have witnessed separations, breakups, and even divorce among couples because of ATR. I have likewise seen many friendships and family connections come to an end when someone decided to devote themselves to an African spiritual system. Some have even lost their employment or social status, political position, and other beneficial connections due to their spiritual beliefs.
In some cases, this happened because individuals or organizations disowned these individuals. In other instances, these relationships were broken because the ATR devotee was advised to end such connections by their spiritual team. Either way, the loss of important relationships may be a significant cost to pay if you decide to practice African spirituality.
Practicing ATR can also significantly alter your lifestyle. Depending on which system you engage with, you may have to change how you dress, what colors you wear, where you go, where you work, where you live, when you go out, when you have sex, etc.
Particularly in West African traditions like Ifa and Benin Vodun, divination may reveal that you have certain taboos. Taboos are things that you should or should not do based on your soul contracts or agreements. These can include common spiritual guidelines like not lying, stealing, getting upset, using profanity, etc. Or they can be more specific, like not working at midnight or not traveling during a certain time.
You never really know what Spirit will say until you get a reading. It may seem benign initially, but these things can seriously change your entire lifestyle. This is a small price to pay to enjoy a more fruitful, prosperous life for some. For others, these lifestyle dynamics can be hindering and overwhelming. So, choose wisely when deciding to practice ATR.
While it is quite demanding at times, engaging with African spirituality can be rewarding and enjoyable. The information in this post was by no means meant to discourage you from engaging in this practice. Instead, it was meant to shed light on what it means to be an ATR devotee.
I have personally enjoyed a very satisfying experience with two African spiritual systems for several years. However, the journey has not always been easy, and it has definitely been costly. But these are costs that I am willing to pay based on the rewards I receive from devoting myself to African spirituality.
There are a number of resources that may be useful in your journey as you learn more about the costs of practicing ATR. Check my list of African spirituality resources to learn more.
To learn more about the cost of spiritual services, listen to this episode of the African Reintegrated + Reimagined podcast: