I recently did a Mérìndínlógún reading, for what many would label a significantly mentally ill woman. She arrived, accompanied by a friend, for her long anticipated consultation.  Upon first meeting, I instinctually and professionally knew what I was observing . I was able to see with my spiritual and professional eyes, a woman tormented by what is considered in Western terms, a psychiatric disorder with psychosis.
As we progressed with the reading, she distinctly related to the way in which the shells spoke her story. The unknown and the abstract were familiar to her. She understood the concept of misalignment of purpose and unfulfilled destiny. The messages of the Odu’s, normalized her “madness” and allowed her to view her world, explained in prayers, words, symbols, energies and stories. All these aspects resonated with her. The tears flowed, as she finally felt understood and validated. Within her “madness” or altered state of existence, there was insight. Insight into her condition. She was told of things that reconnected her to ancestral roots and past life experiences.
Despite the severity of her condition, she was able to identify ways in which it had impacted her. She understood the ancestor and generational roles and the concept of karmic debt. She was relieved that a system of divination could finally begin to explain the underlying reasons for her current existence… something western modalities were unable to do.
As the session ended, I was led by Spirit to inquire about her concerns, and provided space for her to share her thoughts. She went on to deliver the most profound, accurate spiritual messages, not only for me, but for my children. You see, her ” illness” is actually a gift. A gift, housed by many like her. A gift that is frequently damaged by years of being misunderstood, ignored, demeaned and bullied.  A gift that is altered with the use of street drugs, and the over medication of psychotropic medications. A gift that suffers  with substance abuse, neglect, physical abuse, trauma and homelessness. A gift that is initially pure at its root, but is frequently tainted by trauma, hardship and perpetual sadness. All of the above mentioned, can ultimately alter the biological composition of the brain, compound mental health disorders, in turn making it challenging to view the gifts possessed.

Those that exist in this altered state of existence, are also able to tap into dimensions that most are unable to. They live in the many layers of spiritual realms. They are constantly surrounded by the voices of their ancestors and spirit guides.
Sometimes, they are the catalyst for healing, an accumulation of all the trauma passed from generation to generation. They are the voices of our ancestors crying out for healing.

Furthermore, they are gifted with the ability to channel. Unfortunately, they do so without the appropriate support, guidance and direction. In the course of their lifetime, as a result of their delicate state, they also frequently attract negative energies that are not theirs, that in turn create chaos and misfortune. They reside in a place most don’t understand. They are mistreated and overmedicated and ultimately suffer. What is considered to be a chemical imbalance is frequently a spiritual imbalance as well. They don’t understand how to operate in this world..this existence is not comfortable for them and makes it difficult to function as others do.

This writing is simply to acknowledge the depth of spirituality and the gifts that are unrecognized and lay dormant within the depths of their being. I encourage all to reconsider and reassess mental illness and their view of the mentally ill.
Yes, there are many cases in which western treatments are necessary for improvement of symptoms, but the spiritual component is missing and extremely crucial.
We as practitioners of African traditions, as well as other practices that provide a holistic healing approach, can provide the support that is needed. We can utilize the gifts that our ancestors passed on, to begin to heal individuals such as these. We can impart the knowledge and insight of our practice. A practice that supports their journey, because it upholds the importance of honoring and healing those before us, addressing past life events, breaking generational curses and realigning with nature and ones’ destiny.

Iya Otá Niwé, LCSW