Invocations

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Invocations are one of the most ancient forms of worship in the world, appearing in the literature during the Old Kingdom in ancient Egypt. Invocation is the physical act of appealing to a higher power for assistance. There are a number of forms utilized for invocation, including prayer, praise, and conjuration as a style of incantation.
African traditional religion accepts the notion that humans can appeal to authorities higher than humans, and this type of invoking of the divinities or the ancestors is at the heart of invocation in Africa. The great priest Osofo Nana Kwadwo of the Gyemprem Shrine in the Akyem region of Ghana believes that invocations can be traced to the earliest African ancestors who confronted extraordinary situations. In these trying situations, the people often invoked the names of the divinities for support through the ordeal or difficulty.
One could begin such an invocation by announcing the name of the most relevant deity. It is rare in Africa that the name of the Supreme Being is invoked; usually one invokes the names of the ancestors or lesser spirits than the Almighty Creator. This is not to say that it does not ever exist because we know that among some people the names of the creator deities are used in invocation.
The ancient Egyptians raised up the names of Amen-Ra, Ptah, Amen, Atum, and Ra. But they also invoked the names of Heru, Ausar, Auset, and Set. It was not unlike the Egyptians to glory in their ability to call on their divinities in the times of great distress. Ramses II did so when he was in the great battle of Kadesh with the Hittites. He was able to call on “Montu, his father.” During periods when pestilence, famine, or war strike a region, the people are inclined to use invocation more often than at other times. This is not to say that Africans did not act out of a sense of ordinary piety toward the deities because that would be misleading, but rather to say that like Ramses II many African societies accept calling on the major divinities at a time of threatening calamity.
An invocation may be a prayer, but a prayer may not necessarily be an invocation in the African sense. One could express a prayer in a simple form as praise to a divinity, but in the case of an invocation, one is by doing the act of invoking to ask for assistance. Thus, to invoke is to seek aid and support by calling out to the divine.
Among the Akan, priests and priestesses use the name of Nyame, particularly in the form of Oboadee, Odomankoma, Ananse Kokuroko, or Nyankopon, meaning Creator, Infinite, The Great Designer, and Eternal One, respectively. This is an example where the Supreme Being is appealed to for assistance as in ancient Egypt. Yet in most of Africa, religion expresses its invocation through appealing to the nsamanfo (ancestors in Akan). These are the intermediaries that can hear the appeals and be able to do something about them more immediately than the distant Supreme Deity.
It is also possible that a people may designate a certain spiritual place such as Kariba Lake, Lake Bosomtwe, or Kilimanjaro as a sacred region; they may also locate a house, valley, tree, or river bank as a special place for invocations. The act of invocation, however, may occur anywhere and at any time, but it is always reserved for asking the divinities for assistance.

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Further Reading

  • Birnbaum, L. C. (2005). Dark Mother: African Origins and Godmothers. Paris: Menaibuc.
  • Johnson, J. W., Hale, T., and Belcher, S. (Eds.). (1997). Oral Epics From Africa: Vibrant Voices From a Vast Continent. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Mbiti, J. (1969). African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.
  • Ogonna, A. (2000). The Book of Dawn and Invocations: The Search for Philosophic Truth by an African Initiate. London: Karnak House.